How to Recruit Freelance Developers

It’s difficult to recruit the right freelance developer.

There may well be plenty of fish in the sea (just type “freelance developer” in Google’s search bar and hit enter, your screen will be filled with hundreds of links to networking platforms or freelance showcase sites!), it’s still not easy to identify the right freelancer for your project.

So, we’ve put together our best tips and advice. Wondering if you need to recruit a freelance developer? Not sure how to go about it? Read on.

> Oh, by the way, we’ve put all of our articles and resources on how to find and hire developers here. <

When to favor a freelance developer rather than an employee?

You have two alternatives: hire a full-time developer or recruit a freelance developer for a specific time frame or project. Why and when should you opt for the second solution?

Advantage number 1: flexibility

This is the main advantage of working with a freelance developer.

Let’s say you’ve recently recruited two full-time permanent contract developers (Tom and George). Everything’s going well, Tom and George are living up to your expectations (?), they’ve slotted into the existing team smoothly, they’ve completed their onboarding, etc.

Then, the technical team come across a huge project that’s to be completed in a very short period of time. Tom and George are good, but they can’t do it all! So, what do you do? Hire another full-time developer?

Not necessarily. It would take a considerable amount of effort and money to recruit another developer – you’re not sure how long it would take to find somebody suitable and the project can’t wait! Plus, you’re not sure the technical team will still need this extra resource once the project in question has been completed (you need to stick to your hiring budget!).

By hiring a freelance developer, you can meet a temporary need without increasing the payroll and associated fixed costs.

Advantage number 2: access to a wider market

Online freelance platforms provide access to developer profiles from all continents and countries. Choosing to recruit a freelance developer gives you access to a much larger market of developers, possibly with a better price/quality ratio.

You can also hope to collaborate with developers working/having worked within prestigious companies. For example: in practice, it’d be difficult for you to poach a Data Scientist who works at Google. On the other hand, there’s a good chance that a Google Data Scientist (or two) might be willing to accept short or occasional assignments outside their day job.

World map
Work with freelance developers from all over the world ?

Advantage number 3: specialization

The Canadian newspaper “The Globe and Mail” published an article entitled “Specialized freelancers shaking up the traditional advertising business model“. The author of the article highlights a significant change in the way the advertising industry operates. The latter is increasingly calling on freelancers to find specialized talent. This change actually concerns all companies with IT development needs.

If you want to recruit an expert developer in a very specific field, choosing to use a freelancer will give you access to an incalculably higher number of specialized profiles.

When to recruit a freelance developer?

After the “why”, comes the question of the “when”. Some people think that only startups recruit freelance developers. It’s true that many startups started by recruiting freelance developers. However, the big groups are doing the same thing: Facebook, IBM, PayPal and Nintendo continue to recruit freelance developers today.

Regardless of the size of the company, the “freelance developer” option is relevant. Here are some examples of situations where working with a freelancer clearly makes sense.

1. When you run out of time

As we said earlier, there are certain situations where you’ll be short on time. When you have a big project to deal with, with a very short deadline, recruiting freelancers is the best option. This will also allow you to recruit a freelancer who meets your needs exactly and is therefore able to do the job faster (again, saving you time).

2. When your team has a limited field of expertise

Business News Daily interviewed a large freelance platform. It emerged that 70% of companies that recruit freelancers use them to fill very specific skill gaps in their team. For example, developing a plugin for a CMS (Drupal, WordPress) or setting up servers.

Another example, if you want to create an iPhone application and no one in your team is an iOS developer, you have two options: train your team or recruit a freelance iOS developer. The first option will be very expensive in time, but also in money (and time is money!). The second solution is the simplest, and the cheapest – although the balance might tip if you plan to update the app frequently.

3. When you have a tight budget

As mentioned above, hiring a full-time developer costs a lot of money. In fact, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM’s) Human Capital Benchmarking Report, the average cost-per-hire in the United States is $4,129. Not all companies and startups have the budget to afford this option.

How to find a “good” freelance developer?

Let us now turn to the question of “how”. You’ve decided to recruit a freelance developer, but you’re now looking for a way to recruit one that best meets your needs and expectations.

Get the basics down to a T

Back to basics. Make sure you:

  • Describe your need, accurately and concisely (for the description of the call for tenders in particular).
  • Use the right freelance platforms.

Here are some questions to ask yourself in order to successfully write a description of your project and attract talented freelancers:

  • What is the problem leading you to use a freelance developer?
  • What is the objective of the project?
  • What are the solutions you have considered?
  • What are the consequences of the problem in question on your bottom line?
  • How much does it cost you to not solve this problem?

In describing your problem and project, do not be too vague or too specific. If you describe your problem too specifically, you may frighten your potential candidates! If you’re too vague, you’ll struggle to engage candidates! (we know… it’s a pickle).

Choose a freelance developer who is responsive and easy to reach

When a company is looking to recruit a freelance developer, the first selection criterion is the level of skills. However, this is not the only criterion to be taken into account, nor perhaps the most important. You need to find a freelance developer who is easy to reach and with whom you can easily communicate. The criterion of communication is often neglected, wrongly.

Phone box in the woods
Make sure the freelance developers you choose to work with are easy to reach

Failure to communicate can have a huge impact on the success of your project. Favor a reactive freelancer, available, able to give you regular feedback, strength of proposal. Ask yourself what tools you will use to improve communication: Skype, Webex, Slack, Trello, etc. If your candidates don’t use the same tools as you, anticipate fallback solutions.

Extra tips

Once you’ve identified a dozen profiles of developers that interest you, all you have to do is contact them, evaluate their skills, discuss the project and negotiate the terms of the collaboration. Here are some extra tips:

  • Invite them to take a short technical assessment. A platform like CodinGame Assessment enables you to build a custom test that’s short, precise, and relevant to your project in only a few clicks. This will give you a good idea of freelancers’ skill level and help you shortlist your favorites fast.
  • Take time to examine candidates’ portfolio, their references. Do not hesitate, to start, to ask them for examples of work that is closer to your project.
  • Call them (Skype, phone…) to find out more about them, their personality, their way of expressing themselves, their work… ask them about their past missions.
  • Ask them how they train themselves in new computer languages and technologies. A talented developer is forever a learner.
  • Remember to check out their blog, Stack Overflow or GitHub accounts. Many developers write about the technologies they use and their current projects, share their knowledge and lend a hand to peer developers.

The most important thing when evaluating if a freelancer is right for your job is – obviously – to discuss the project in detail. You must discuss the specific points (the different modules, technologies…) of your project and analyze the relevance of his or her reactions.

Once these steps are completed and you’ve identified two or three good freelancers, consider offering them a trial period (paid), entrusting them with a small part of your project. This will allow you to assess whether the freelancer is able to apprehend the big picture of your project, apply good development practices and finish his work on time.

Avoid free trial periods, otherwise the freelancer will not invest 100% in his work. Not to mention that respecting developers’ time and effort will put towards establishing a lasting relationship of trust and respect.

Finally, here are some tips to ensure that the working relationship between your company and the freelance developer runs smoothly:

  • Provide your freelancer with a clear roadmap, detailing each step of the mission. This is a big deal. In our 2019 CodinGame Developer Survey, developers stated “unclear direction” as their biggest professional challenge.
  • Require detailed documentation of the developer’s actions/modifications. Documentation can take different forms: code comments, API descriptions, user guides, help files, etc.
  • Communicate frequently with the freelancer. Ask them regularly where they stand, if they need additional information/documentation, etc. Give him or her feedback on the tasks accomplished (without bombarding your freelancer with comments or questions, allowing him or her to work calmly!).
  • Give them access to all the resources they need to get the job done.
  • Pay on time, to maintain the quality of your relationship!

Recruiting a freelance developer, when you want to do things right, is clearly not an easy feat. We hope our tips and tricks will help you out. Also, if you’re a freelancer yourself, you’ll find some tips about how to become a freelance here.


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Nathalie Figuière

Nathalie is Content Manager at CodinGame. When she's not busy creating quality #techrecruitment content, chances are she’s watching Friends or snuggling her little grey cat, Moon.