You've probably heard stories about how mega companies like Apple, Google, or Amazon started in someone's garage. Fact or fiction, the concept rings true; when you have no money and few supporters, resources are scarce. That's why we hear the cliche phrase, "wearing many hats" in the startup world.
From marketing to design to programming, the skills and experiences needed to build a startup and succeed as an entrepreneur are vast. Unless you're a superhero, chances are you won't have the expertise (or time) to do everything.
But as a cash-strapped entrepreneur, it's unreasonable -- even reckless -- to hire someone full time. The solution?
But with no budget, little time, and lots of freedom, how do you make sure you hire and manage good freelancers? Follow these steps.
Know a little about what you're outsourcing.
You don't need to be an expert, but you need to know some basics so you can manage both yourself and the contractor. Watch some videos on Lynda.com, take a Codecademy tutorial, or borrow a Finance 101 book from the library. This background knowledge will help you communicate expectations clearly, which prevents rework. You'll also have a better understand of the quality of a contractor's work.
I'm no engineering expert, but over the years, I've learned enough to understand systems and code from a high level. When I work with a contractor, I know which questions to ask and how to understand what they're saying. This has been monumentally helpful.
Find good talent; ask for referrals.
Good freelance work requires smart contractors. Find them through referrals. These referrals can come from a variety of sources. Ask your friends or former coworkers. Consider posting a LinkedIn update asking your network. Or send out a message to members of a networking group. Use the internet's scope to your advantage and reach beyond your usual tribe.
Once you have a shortlist of freelancers, look at online reviews of their work and call their references. When speaking with references, ask how much work they did together and how they did at specific aspects of work. You'll be surprised what you learn by asking specific questions.
Prioritize your needs.
You're building a business -- you're going to need a lot of work. And it ain't free.
You need to find a way to fit it into your budget. Think about which projects have the highest potential to grow your business. Separate what needs to be "great" from what can be "good enough." The cheapest contractor is probably not the best. So prioritizing your projects will help you determine when it's worth it to invest and when you can go with someone less experienced for the time being.
Listen to your contractors.
Even if you've dabbled in their area, you hired contractors because they have domain expertise that you don't. Listen to them. Be open to their ideas and take full advantage of their knowledge. It can only make your business stronger.
If you run into issues with them (and you don't fully understand the subject), use common sense. For example, if they're late on a project, understand the specifics of why. They could be slacking off, but they also could have hit an unforeseen issue that any contractor would have hit. Always take the opportunity to learn.
Keep projects in scope by starting small.
Many contractors aren't comfortable pushing back. If the work is overwhelming or expectations are unrealistic, things will get off track. And before you know it, the project will be a mess -- missed deadlines, poor work quality, etc.
Start projects small, and keep contractors focused on specific deliverables and deadlines. If project scope starts to creep up, take a step back and reset expectations. Once you start to see results and feel comfortable working together, you can your contractor can increase project size.
When hired and managed properly, freelancers can bring your business to levels you could never have achieved without them. You'll need to go through some trial and error, but remember these tips and you'll start off on the right foot.