11 steps to getting the most out of your freelance developers

Working with Freelance Developers

A handy guide for clients working with freelance developers so nobody gets hurt…

Working with freelancers can be, for some, the equivalent of playing with a loaded gun. It can work out, but there are times when it can really affect your business and your life. As a client, you need a handy guide to working with freelance developers to ensure that every person working on the project comes out on top.

Step 01: A clear view

You need to understand your product and its requirements very intricately before you move into a relationship with a freelance developer. You can’t brief something in to someone until you know it really well. This also ensures you have a very clear vision of the final product and will inform all your engagements with your freelancer.

Step 02: Have a basic understanding

You will need some basic knowledge of web and development before you embark on this adventure. Yes, you are hiring a professional to take on your project so theoretically you shouldn’t need to know a thing. The fact is, if you have a modicum of understanding then you will have more realistic ideas around time frames, deliverables and project potential (and the magic Foo of your developer).

Step 03: Budget is everything

Don’t expect your freelance developer to be happy to cut their rates to suit your budget.The work they do is complex and specialised. Instead, be prepared to cut your requirements to fit your budget. That way you are assured of quality work from a reliable developer.

Step 04: Clarify your requirements

This is an extension of Step 01. Why? Because this is the most important step of all – it will cost you money and time if your requirements are vague so spend time on clarifying them. It’s worth it.

Step 05: Develop a clear timeframe

Work closely with your freelance developer to break the project down into achievable phases,each with their own milestones and deliverables. This will ensure that both you and your freelance development team are on the same page and working towards the same goals. This way nobody can say that they didn’t know that X had to be done by Y date…And this includes you providing your development team with the information and materials they need to achieve these goals.

Step 06: Create communication channels

From Slack to Asana to Evernote to Skype – there are plenty of communication and collaboration tools available to help you streamline communication with your freelance developers. Many of these offer timeline and deadline management tools as well, making it really easy for you to track timing and status.

Step 07: Don’t hover

The headline says it all. Science has shown that for every interruption, it takes a person at least 20 minutes to get their concentration back. Every time you interrupt,you slow your project down.

Step 08: Test

Every step, every aspect, every phase – test. Test assumptions, capabilities, developer promises and results. This will ensure that the final product has had most of the kinks ironed out iteratively rather than a messy tangle to unwrap at the end.

Step 09: Feedback

There is bad feedback, there is good feedback and there is great feedback. Learn how to do the last two types of feedback really well. Good feedback is defined as giving the person the information they need to make changes, fix problems, address issues and overcome obstacles with precision. Vague and wishy-washy comments like, ‘Yeah, it doesn’t feel right’ are not helpful. Nor are nasty and antagonistic ones. Nobody puts passion into a project for someone they don’t like.

Step 10: Everything is in writing

From the onset of your project to the phases and timelines to the final deliverables ensure that your project is clearly documented and that all parties have read and signed every document. You do not want to end up at the end of a messy conversation or project with someone saying that something was never clarified.Assume the best, prepare for the worst.

Step 11: Manage expectations

Your developer won’t always be around to leap to your requests or requirements. This is very normal and you may not be their only client. Be patient and trust that they will get back to you and respect your urgency.

The definitive guide to calculating your billable rate

Recently on the WordPress South Africa Slack channel, a member asked the following question:

“Can we talk pricing? How do you figure out how much to charge for WordPress Development? What factors influence your pricing?”

A bunch of other freelancers (including myself) piped in and gave our opinions, but it was Nathan Jeffery’s post that really nailed it. (The figures below are quoted for South African currency/costs, but you can adjust it to your specific situation).

“Whether you charge a fixed rate or hourly the important thing to do is figure out your costs and from there work out your billable rate.

For example:

Monthly costs

  • Rent: 7,000.00
  • Adsl/Fibre/3G: 2,000.00
  • Electricity: 1,500.00
  • Food: 3,000.00
  • Hardware (50k depreciated over 3 years): ±1,400.00
  • Accounts and Auditing (10k per year split over 12 months): ±900.00

This makes your target income 15,800.00. Add a buffer of 20% for rainy day and savings, giving you 18,960.00 per month as a target

Potential billable hours

Next we need to determine how many hours can actually be worked in a month (on average).

If we assume you’re willing to work 10 hours per day and 6 days per week, that gives us 60 hours a week (240 hours per month) to work with.

Let’s assume that 60% of your time will be spent doing promotions, looking for opportunities, quoting, doing admin etc. This means you’ve only got 96 hours available in the month to work on paid work which is 4.8 hours of productive time per day, which is pretty reasonable.

Calculate your hourly rate

Based on these values we can work out an initial hourly rate.

Target (18,960.00) divided by potential billable hours (96) = 197.50 per hour, let’s round this up to 200.00.

This means if you’re booked 100% of your billable time, you could survive by charging 200.00 per hour.

The reality of the matter is that it’s unlikely you will be booked 100% of the time, at least not in the beginning, so you need to factor that into your survival costing.

Let’s assume you’ll be working 50% of the time which means you’ll need to charge twice as much per hour, therefore 400.00.

When working out your fixed cost quotes, you can/should use at least 400.00 per hour as your base rate to calculate what you should be charging.

You should also factor in time you need to allocate towards things like:

  • Having a holiday and paying for it (if that is your thing)
  • Learning and continued self development (the more you can do and the quicker you can do it, the more you can charge per hour)
  • Time off sick (it sucks but it is a reality so you need to budget for it)
  • Reserve for tax etc, if you’re invoicing in your own name you’ll be taxed as an individual and probably need to register for provisional tax. You need to make sure you keep enough money aside to pay your taxes when it’s required, don’t want to get in trouble with the taxman

This model can obviously be tweaked but should give you some idea as to what you’ll need to consider.”

Nathan was also kind enough to share a Generic Freelancer Costing Template that can be used to calculate your billable rate.

I can honestly say that is the best guide I’ve ever seen for calculating your billable rate. Instead of focusing on what your competitors are charging and merely going lower, are you billing according to your costs vs available work hours?

You can read about Nathan on his website or follow him on Twitter.