Freelance Fail

(Photo Credit)

In this Two-Part Series, I’ll show you exactly how I turned a failed freelance job’s prospects from 5 unqualified candidates at 10-15x over budget, to 31 pre-qualified candidates at ½ the budget (AND in half the timeframe)! But first…  

I hate it when a job goes unassigned. It’s like sitting down in a restaurant, and seeing a half-eaten meal at the empty table beside you… those people left already? Don’t they know about doggy-bags!?

The thought of something being left unfinished, just staring back at you, begging for completion, can be discomforting for some, myself included.

But I couldn’t do it.

I simply couldn’t award the job that was posted at the beginning of October (discussed in my previous post here – about building my first app) for a few reasons:

  1. The pool of candidates was not large enough;
  2. The skill level of candidates’ who did response was not on par with expectations; and
  3. The quote from the one candidate who I would’ve confidently hired was too high.

…And I blame myself.


Why you should always blame yourself

When I first dissected the issue, looking for deficiencies, it has to fall on the project manager… And I say this at the risk of sounding like the boardroom scene from an episode of The Apprentice (which apparently is coming back in 2015 – Yeah! – simply more proof that Donald Trump reads this blog).

A lot has been written about not assigning work-for-work’s-sake (W4W), not hiring others to do what you (yourself) cannot complete, understand, or (at the very least) clearly explain.

Poor instructions will result in poor execution – whether you’re completing a task yourself, or giving it to others. This is true when preparing project details on the functionalities of a product to-be-developed, but it’s also true when outlining the job description to outsource that project to others.


Job Description vs. Project Instructions

There’s a distinction here, that may be obvious to some, but others may not have considered, if you’ve never attempted to outsource work before:

  • You have to be able to craft the job description – e.g. scope of work, terms of reference, potential sources, milestones, budget, necessary skills, abilities, and education, etc.; AS WELL AS,
  • Be able to craft the project instructions – e.g. define the end product, design attributes, detail functionalities, user experience, etc.

I believe many people might focus on the project instructions, at the expense of putting together a clear and foundational job description that would set the tone for executing the project instructions.

It’s vitally important (and a bit of a challenge) to convey the nature of the project and work that you need completed, without fully describing the exact details of the final product itself (which likely contains some proprietary information). Before you ever release the details of what you want developed, it’s highly recommended that you have your short-listed prospects sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) / Non-Circumvent Agreement. Need to know more, or want my template copy? Contact me!

So, when outsourcing – before you even get into the weeds of the development of any product – you will first have to describe the job you want completed in detail, post the job description, solicit candidates, review potential freelancers, and then begin to share your project instructions (after an NDA has been signed).

Using the very recent example of my own job/project description posted on Elance, this two-part series will show you how to increase the number of freelance proposals you get, ensuing your receive better responses, from more qualified candidates, within or under your budget.

Ultimately, the buck stops here, and I’ll show you why in this teardown of my earlier Elance job description for the development of a stock-related app. There is, however, a happy ending – it’s called learning from mistakes (what a concept!) – and I outline those in next week’s post under “Lessons Learned” – subscribe to make sure you don’t miss it!

What Went Wrong

First, let’s look at the innocent victims here: the candidates from my initial job post. This is actually what bothers me the most about posting a job and then not awarding it.

Yes, it’s “just business”, but at the same time, these people or organizations took the time to review and respond to your job prospects. Therefore you need to be as clear as possible at all times, otherwise you’re just involving others in your circular projects – it’s unfair and wasteful.

Giving a brief, non-identifying description of the candidates from my first posting is important, because it helped inform the deficiencies in what I had described the job as, and gave key insight as to how it read to others.

The Candidates:

Firstly, I only received 5 candidates – probably not a good sign for a freelance marketplace where there is literally 103,473 people who list “app development” as their core competency!

Of the five candidates:

  • One freelancer essentially recognized that they have no experience with developing apps, but does have backend development work with complex financial instruments. Impressive (I think…) or worst-pickup-line-ever. Either way, not what I’m looking for.
  • Two freelancers had zero experience (0/5 stars). That’s a non-starter for obvious reasons.
  • In conversation with my second choice, they admitted that they had no experience with stock-related apps (not a deal breaker), but also wanted to know more about the APIs (application programming interface) needed. I kindly had to respond that I didn’t know that much about them either, and that I was hoping the developer would (hence the job hiring).
  • My first choice was a group with lots of experience, already had a stock-related app under their belt, and had other well-designed apps from what I could see of their portfolio.

The main issues: development would take several months (which is potentially realistic) and their price was 15-times what I had listed as the budget! After some negotiations, they reduced it by 25%, which was still ten-times my initial budget. Stalemate.

I truly appreciated that they tried to meet me halfway, but this was where I had to step back and recognize that there was a flaw with my job description and I can get further ahead, by taking a couple steps back.

In the next post, Part 2 of this Two-Part Series, I teardown the exact job description used – showing you the changes made and lessons learned; and how this led to six-times more qualified freelancers at a fraction of the time and cost.

Action you can take:

  • Thinking of outsourcing a job or task? Use Elance and don’t forget to use my lessons learned above.
  • Have you had a #FreelanceFail? Join me and Click to Tweet it here.
  • Have any friends or colleagues who could use outsourcing tips? Share this blog post with them!
  • And if you haven’t already, sign-up as a newsletter subscriber and automatically receive our blueprint, The Architecture of Testing the Muse, and much more! Sign-up below.


Best Always,


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