When InTheDoor.com CEO and chief of product Liz Carlson decided to build her company, she didn't let technical costs hold her back. Bootstrapping her business, she was committed to building a prototype quickly and finding business partners. After looking around, she realized offshore contractors were her most cost-effective strategy.
She searched for an offshore contractor to build her proof of concept. "It's possible to find a good contractor from $15 to $40 per project on sites like Elance or through referrals," Carlson says. And though she admits her website's first iteration wasn't perfect, she explains that the offshore contractors helped her develop what she needed to get her idea off the ground. Carlson adds, "It gave me a lot of credibility, and it got me to a point where I was able to partner with a local engineer to take the site to the next level."
Follow these three rules to protect yourself and your business when hiring anyone from overseas.
1. Trust referrals and reputations–above all else. Many business owners are hesitant to work with an offshore contractor. "They feel that an offshore developer is inherently less trustworthy than an American contractor," she explains. To be more confident in your choice of contractor, you should read your potential hire's reviews: "The tech community is small, and the Internet is able to provide recourse," Carlson says. "Great work gets you referrals, and poor work gets you one star."
Carlson recommends hiring a contractor with a proven track record. Ultimately, the work produced needs to complement your needs and style, but it's important to note that an attractive portfolio is not always the right fit for the working relationship that you and your company need. "Trust referrals even more than portfolios," Carlson advises. "The first designer I hired was an American with a glamorous portfolio. He charged exactly double and took twice as long to give lower quality results."
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2. Know what you want—before you start your search. Would you be happier working with an individual contributor, or would you prefer the guarantee of a larger firm? Do you enjoy communicating with designers or business development teams? Carlson suggests that you know the answer to these questions. Even if you aren't sure, you should aim to figure out your needs quickly.
"I've had great luck with an agency working in South America from a friend's referral," she says. "They are small enough to control quality but large enough where there is an economy of scale. I communicated design requirements to an account manager who translated them to the designers and was blown away by the results."
Think of your offshore team as an extension of your organization. Know your goals, and communicate them clearly.
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3. Control the contract. Especially when outsourcing internationally, you need to make sure to protect your organization with a legal contract.
"Make sure you have a clear contract, and make sure you control the code if it's a technical project," she emphasizes. "We contracted an offshore developer to build a prototype for an iPhone app. They didn't pay their Github bill, and parts of our code base was public for a couple weeks. Github's customer service team was fortunately great about removing it. Lesson learned!"
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Ritika is a San Francisco based blogger who writes about trends in business, internet culture, and marketing. She's inspired by the intersection between technology, entrepreneurship, and sociology. Ritika blogs via Contently.com.
Photo: Courtesy of InTheDoor.com