I’ve just finished outsourcing a major development project to a programmer on the other side of the world through oDesk.com. By and large, it was a great experience and in this Communication Is The Key blog post, I’m going to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing.
The development project was for uHouse, a property website that helps people in London find accommodation cheaply. There was one problem that needed fixing: It was crap. Not one to leave things in a shoddy state, I started again and hired some help on oDesk.
Advantages of Outsourcing
- The selection of applicants is vast. When you’re posting a development job, there are tens of thousands of potential candidates who can do it. I set the highest possible requirements (5* feedback scores, 500+ hours of experience, 5/5 English capability) and pushed for a hard bargain. I received twelve applicants of which one was perfect.
- You can say exactly what you want. Within my job description, I attached a photoshopped image of what I wanted uHouse to look like, and other example websites that had various features I wanted. This is an important step I learnt. If you give room for creative lee-way, it’ll end up looking not quite how you had envisioned it.
- Work is done whilst you sleep. As part of the experiment with outsourcing, I had it all done whilst I was swinging in a hammock in Malaysia. I asked for a daily update from the developer, and because I checked it everyday, we were able to move quite quickly through problems that arose. Note – problems will arise, and always ask the developer if there’s an alternative method. Quite often they know of one, but don’t say it from the offset.
- The possibilities are endless. The greatest advantage of outsourcing is that you can do it with anything. Once you start, you just can’t stop. If you’re careful with your purse, you can free-up so much of your time. I’m now looking into outsourcing the management of my outsourcing.
- Get some work done for free. A small, secret advantage of outsourcing is that you can usually get a bit of work done for free. When you want to test that an applicant knows what they’re talking about, ask them to do a sample of work for you. If you get thirty samples of work done for free, that adds up to quite a bit!
Disadvantages of Outsourcing
- It will go over the deadline. From the very beginning, just forget about the deadline. At least be prepared for it to take double the time. If you’re inexperienced and don’t know what’s involved, putting a deadline is just a guess at how long it will take. A way to encourage speedy work is to pay bonuses if it’s done on time. Also, try not to pay per hour, as this encourages workers to take as long as possible. You must be patient, and if you don’t hear from the developer in a while, do send them a message asking what’s up.
- You don’t know what’s happening. When it comes to development for a website, you don’t really know what they’re doing (if you’re not a developer yourself). But you need to find out, because if you ever want something changed, you don’t want to have to chase down the same guy. You want to be able to point anyone in the right direction. So as the developer is working, ask him where he’s creating/editing the files, and whether he could take the time to teach you a thing or two. For example, I wanted the ability to add custom markers to the Google Map on the front page of uHouse. He kept saying just to tell him where and he’d do it, but I knew that I would have to learn for myself. So I asked him to use Screenr to record exactly what he did.
- It’s cheap, but not that cheap. Everyone says outsourcing is the cheapest thing in the world. Well, it is cheap, but unless you’re willing to pay a bit more, you’re going to get bad work done. Experienced developers come with a slightly higher price tag. Be prepared for your budget being stretched, but always, always negotiate a hard bargain. Because they know you don’t have a clue, they’re at liberty to charge you any old figure. I was told it would cost $300 extra due to a problem that arose. I knocked that down (too easily) to $110. In hindsight, it could probably have been even less.
- You have to do some things yourself. A disadvantage of outsourcing is that you can’t realistically ask them to do everything. It’ll just piss them off if you keep asking for colour changes or slightly different sized gaps. Steve Jobs infuriated his staff by doing this, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept mediocre results. Hire someone local with the relevant skills to sit with you for half a day and go through it.
A Personally Recommended Developer
I would like to take this opportunity to personally recommend Muhammad Umair on oDesk. If you need someone that knows everything, hire him. Tell him Tom Church says hello and he might give you a better price if you’re nice.
One More Thing…
Have you any other advantages or disadvantages of outsourcing that you would like to add? Use the comment box below and say your piece. Be specific and explain what your project was about. Feel free to add a URL to it so we can check it out as well!
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