For many companies 2009 was a tough year, and business owners will be glad to see it go.
As you prepare for 2010, technology could well play a larger role than ever in making your business more productive and helping you capitalize on new business opportunities.
That means that your needs for tech help could grow. Your ability to capture revenue opportunities could depend on the tech implementation. So resolve in 2010 to hire the best talent you can afford as service providers, for software programming, Web design, network administration, SEO and other technical work.
Skimping on tech help is more expensive in the long run. Your business objectives end up being delayed due to errors caused by someone who’s in over their head and struggling. You may end up micromanaging projects, eating up precious management time. Before I learned my lesson the hard way, I even had to hire others to re-do botched projects, doubling my out-of-pocket expense.
I’ve outsourced a lot of technical projects – with varying degrees of success. Based on my experiences, I’ve come up with 10 frank pointers for hiring outside tech help successfully:
(1) Take the time to write down your requirements
Start with a clear idea of what you need done, including the skills required. Take the time to think through the project requirements and write them down in detail. This step will save you headaches and hours of wasted time later on. No matter how busy you are, do NOT shortcut this step.
(2) Go for the expert, not the jack of all trades generalist.
Look for a specific skills match. One of the reasons you outsource projects is for the flexibility of bringing in experts – experts you normally wouldn’t have working in-house. Quiz candidates closely on past projects they’ve done to see how similar they are. Example – a Web designer may or may not know about SEO. A software programmer may or may not have design skills. No one can be good at everything. The depth of skills is usually in inverse proportion to the number of skills someone claims to have. At places like Elance, you can search for providers who are certified as having certain skills – taking some of the risk out of it.
(3) Look beyond the hourly rate.
There’s a reason for an extremely low hourly rate – often not a good one. The person is probably inexperienced and will end up spending more hours on a project – or worse, will deliver substandard work. Or a firm is just quoting a ridiculously low rate in order to get the job, and you’ll be rudely surprised at the hours they put in. If the hourly rate sounds too good to be true, trust me, it is. Don’t cheap out.
(4) Start with a small “test” project if you can.
If possible, hire a new tech provider for a relatively small project, before hiring for that big ugly behemoth of a project that intimidates the heck out of everyone. Or maybe you can break down a big project into 2 or 3 smaller ones. You’ll have less risk on a smaller project and it’s easier to cut the cord if things aren’t working out. It’s not always possible to start with a small project, but it helps.
(5) Ask for recommendations among your network.
Other business owners and even other service providers who work for you are good sources of referrals for tech help. For instance, marketing/PR firms often know good Web designers that they work with; they’ll be happy to make referrals. Also, ask your Twitter followers -- I’ve found Twitter to be a great place to seek out referrals for tech help. You will be pleasantly surprised at how willing people are to make referrals.
(6) Break it down into milestones.
Specific milestones bring discipline to projects. Projects have a tendency to drift without strict time discipline – especially large projects. Break it down into steps, assign dates to the steps, and schedule regular progress reviews. Payment installments should be tied to milestones whenever possible.
(7) How are the candidate’s communication skills?
Communication between project owner and service provider is one of the single biggest keys to a successful project, I’ve discovered. If communication is poor, chances are you will resent being kept in the dark like a mushroom. The service provider may not provide you with what you need, because he or she didn’t ask enough questions. Really assess how much and how well the candidate communicates during the bidding/interview process. It almost never gets any better after that.
(8) Do a background check as if you were hiring an employee.
Do as much of a background check as you can. Check the kinds of things you would check on if you were hiring an employee. Ask for references; look at their portfolio; inquire in detail into relevant education and experience. At places like Elance, you can also check their feedback from others.
(9) Document, document, document!
Have a written contract, specifying who owns the intellectual property at the end (that should your company). The contract should also specify the price, how it will be calculated (hourly vs flat fee), and when price installments are earned. One of the advantages to using a service such as Rentacoder.com, is they will provide you with a contract form, a system for tracking milestones, an escrow payment system so installments can be doled out as milestones are reached, and a dispute resolution mechanism.
(10) Don’t forget to discuss support and follow-up.
I find that there are often small things to tweak even once a project is completed. In some cases you may need a source of regular ongoing support for a software application. Be sure to inquire upfront on these points: Will he or she agree to provide you with email instructions for how to tweak or adjust minor things on your own (such as changing a font size on a Web page, or how to add content to a page)? Will your service provider be available by email or phone to answer follow-up questions? What about providing ongoing support during the year? How much will ongoing support be charged at? These are all questions to inquire into.
If you follow these 10 tips, you’ll be able to hire great technical talent to help your business get to the next level.