Several years ago I was a sub-par designer making an ok amount of money. Three years later, I’m a OK designer who makes a nice chunk of change every year. What happened in those three years that quadrupled my income? I read The 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris. This is not a post to sing the books praise, its actually not that great. However, I did take one great idea from it; the more work you hand to others, the more you can do.
Tim uses this creed of sorts to let him do whatever he wants; travel, learn a forgien language, be a tool, etc. I decided to see if I, a arguable crappy designer, could grow my business by partnering up with others in the industry or independent contractors.
To this day, I believe that this was the best business decision I have ever made.
I Can Do It All
One of the first hurdles I had to cross in deciding to start hiring contractors was justifying to myself why I should pay someone to do what I could easily do myself? Why should I let this stranger take a large portion of my bottom line? This is likely many peoples first thoughts on the subject of hiring contractors.
For what ever reason, people in this industry (myself included) feel that because they can do it all, they should do it all. That idea is great if you are a A-List designer/developer like Elliot Jay Stocks who can charge a premium for being a one man show. But not all of us red carpet wannabes can afford the luxury of premium pricing.
Most of the one man shows often have to take on more work than they can handle so that they have a steady stream of income. This is understandable, but what if there was a way you could take on more work, do less, and make more money?
You guessed it, hiring contractors is the answer to that equation.
Pros and Cons of Contractors
I might be going out on a limb here, but I am willing to say that the pros of hiring contractors greatly out way the cons. Having said that, some of the cons can at times be down right debilitating.
Unless you know the person you want to hire on as contractor, you are going to have to start working with a complete stranger. This is a major drawback for obvious reasons, which I will talk about more later. This con doesnt have to be a bad thing, but if the contractor goes AWOL on you or the relationship turns bad, you can be put into a very tight spot with a deadline fast approaching and not enough hours to meet it.
Unfortunately I have found no solution to that con other than a much more strict interview process.
Another con I have come to learn to live with is time difference. There’s a good chance that the person or people you partner up with will be in another time zone or even another country. So learning to deal with, and having to deal with, them can sometimes be a problem. As a result, communication with your new team members can be sporadic at best sometimes.
The last somewhat major con is the management one. Hiring a contractor means you have another person to be in charge of other than yourself and the client. You now have someone you have to relay information to, follow up with, and play boss to. Some people don’t want this kind of responsibility, so it may be a con for some.
At its most simple, the pros to this are simply; more money with less work or happier work.
The idea is, if you are currently a designer/developer, but love to design a lot more than code, you should partner up with a developer. In doing so, two major pros will come into play. One, you will be able to take on twice as much work, because you will only be doing half as much as you used to. Two, you will be much happier and probably create better work because you will only be doing the part of the project you truly enjoy. Which, if you ask me is the major selling point in hiring contractors.
If you are a truly ambitious freelancer, you could use the above model to really grow your business into a mini agency. For example, if you were to hire a designer and a developer, you could in theory, do nothing but find jobs and collect money. Ok, its not that easy, but you get the idea. To grow your business to a larger scale just rinse and repeat the above until it becomes to much for you to manage yourself. Whats nice about having a team of designers and developers is that you could pick and choose what projects you personally work on. You could pass on all the boring corporate stuff and only work on the projects that excited you.
HOW TO HIRE A CONTRACTOR
You know the old saying, “you get what you pay for?” That is certainly true when it comes to hiring contractors. If you expect to get Matthew Smith quality work from a design contractor who charges $20 a hour, you might be in for a rude awakening on your first project together.
Where to Look
There certainly isn’t a shortage of job boards out there these days. And there are even more Elance style market places. With so many sites to choose from, it can be dizzying to know where to start. I make no claims to be a professional headhunter, but I can tell you what I have learned about where to start looking for quality contractors.
It never hurts to start your search by contacting people directly. Browse portfolio and showcase type websites to look for people who have a style or quality you are looking for. Contact them directly and see if you can find a way to work together. The worst they can do is say no. Below are some of my favorite places to look for designers and developers.
If you don’t make any connections off contacting people directly, have no fear. There is an ocean of people who want to work with you. OK, maybe not you specifically, but who want to work none the less. I have found the job boards that require the “poster” to pay a fee tend to have better results as far as the quality and quantity of applicants. Make no mistake about it though, you WILL get a ton of shitty applicants though.
One would think that job boards where the applicants had to pay a fee to sign up or respond would solve this problem. However, it has been my experience that these types of sites tend to be over run with “firms” from third world countries and should generally be avoided. But, do what you like.
Here are some of my favorite job board posting sites:
Freelance Switch Job Board (Free to Post)
Writing a Good Job Opening Post
Writing a good job post is one of the most important parts of this process. A well written post will help keep you organized and make it easy to weed out a number applicants right up front. Do yourself a favor and spend some time writing your job posting, don’t just throw it together when you find a job board site you like. In doing so you are likely to forget important criteria you may want from the applicant and just make a lot of headache for yourself when trying view applications and portfolios.
A good job posting should include the following sections:
- Quick Overview: This section should be a short paragraph that gives a summary of what the job opening is. Nothing too elaborate, as we will discuss it in more detail later in the posting.
- Requirements: Most people tend to put this list of requirements toward the bottom of the listing, which is silly to me. Why not put them up top so that the job seeker knows right away if he is a fit for you or not? This area tends to be a bullet list of required skills or experience.
- Detailed Overview: It is here that you write the full description of the job and what you are looking for in an applicant. Generally a solid two paragraphs is more than enough information to cover the position.
- Benefits: This area may or may not be relevant to you or you may just not feel comfortable posting it. Use this area to post compensation amounts and any other benefits that come along with working for you.
- How to Apply: This is one of the most important parts of the job posting and the part that will help you weed out a number of people right off the bat. In this section, included very specific directions on how a person should apply and what should be included in their initial contact with you. If an applicant hasn’t followed any of the steps, you know that person is simply copy/pasting their info on every possible job opening and is probably not someone you want to hire.
The Interview Process
Unless you are trying to partner up with someone with a very specific skill, you will probably get 50+ responses. If you are just looking for a designer or developer, expect well over 100. Due to the sheer volume, it makes the most sense to wait and view the applicants after a certain cut off date. Trying to view and respond to applications as they come is a very poor way to do things. I have found that create a spreadsheet of some sort is the best way to go. That way you have everything organized in one spot and can quickly run though the list and short list those applicants you want to learn more about.
Once you have your super short list, I strongly encourage you to call and chat with the applicants if possible. Even though you may never plan on calling them, it is a good way to see if you “click” with one other. To me, this is an important quality and probably equally as important as their quality of work. If the two of you click, then the odds are in your favor that you will be able to work well together. i find it important to be able to work with someone who can pickup things that I forget without having to talk to me about it first. In other words, I have found that contractors I click with often do a better job micro-managing themselves and cause me less headaches.
Here are a couple great books on the subject of growing your business, hiring people, and how to interview them.