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You might need a freelance programmer ASAP to meet a looming deadline. Or perhaps you can take the time to find the perfect candidate for a long-term assignment. Whatever your needs, there are different ways you can hire a freelance software developer.
Each approach to finding a freelancer has its advantages and disadvantages. But whichever approach you take in your search, you need to:
- Define who you need
- Search for candidates
- Make sure they’re a good fit for the job
We’ve created a guide to help you tackle these steps and hire a freelance software developer easily. We’re going to examine exactly what you need to prepare, what you need to do in your search, and where to look for candidates.
Easily jump to different sections of this guide through the links below, or simply read on!
Table of contents
- What You Need to Hire a Freelance Software Developer
- How to Screen Freelance Programmers
- Have Someone Else Screen Freelancers for You
- Where to Actually Find a Freelance Software Dev
What you Need to Hire a Freelance Software Developer
As with many areas of life, good preparation is the key to success when hiring a freelance programmer.
Before you launch your search, there are some things you need to prepare or plan for. This will make it easier to find and hire a good freelancer. Some key areas that you want to look at before you start searching for a freelancer include:
- Project definition
- Job description
- Screening process
- Interview process
- Vetting (including test task)
- Template contract
- Setting the rate
But how do you go about preparing these things? In the next section, we’ll examine this. We’ll also consider some ways to get everything in place before you start your search.
Ask yourself this question
The first question you need to answer is:
Do you need a freelancer for a single project, or will they be filling a long-term need in an ongoing role?
If you’re hiring for an ongoing role, you might be tempted to skip straight to the job description section below. But as software development is typically broken down into projects, it’s worth considering how you can define a project.
Defining the project
- What tasks will be assigned to the freelancer?
- What skills do they need?
- When do they need to be available?
- With whom will they be working?
To get the answers to questions like this, you need to know what phases, tasks and activities have been defined for the project. The project or product manager is the first person to ask for this information. They will also understand the human resources (head count, skills, person-hours) needed.
Creating a job description
Once you have the suitable project definitions ready, it’s time to create the job description.
Every job description should start with a summary description of the ideal candidate. This summary outlines the core characteristics of the ideal candidate. It also gives a broad overview of their responsibilities, and details the key required skills.
This is no different for a freelancer than for a normal employee. However, you may want to stress experience even more, as you’re hiring for a temporary role.
A basic job description for a freelancer also includes lists that expand these areas:
- Duties and responsibilities
- Key requirements needed for the job
Based on the project definition, you should already have some idea of what belongs in those lists. Based on those lists, you can create a summary.
It’s not easy to get a good grasp of these different aspects of a job description. So talk to your senior programmers, team leads and human resources department. They can give you a better idea of who you need for this freelance role.
With that information in hand, you should be able to answer questions like:
- What are the minimum qualifications needed?
- What kind of experience and in what markets/businesses is required?
- What is the minimum number of years’ experience?
- What qualifications or experiences are nice to have (bonus) but aren’t required?
- Is the job remote, office-based, or hybrid?
- What hours will they be working?
- What kinds of problems need to be solved?
Allocating resources for searching & hiring
It’s also important to assess what resources you have available for the search and hiring phases. Some candidate search and hiring options can take a lot of work off your plate or help you save time if you’re battling to meet a deadline. Other options are cheaper, but you’ll have to invest more time and energy.
While you’re discussing the requirements with your team members, consider who is available to help with different phases of the search, screening, vetting and interviewing phases.
How to Screen Freelance Programmers
It’s great having “the perfect candidate” but you need to ensure the freelancer truly has the skills, qualifications and experience you need. Plus they should fit in well with your team.
You can do so in a few different ways. For instance, using solid interview questions, a technical interview or coding test, or professional references. But make sure to start before applications arrive!
Start before applications arrive
You might think the screening phase begins when you receive proposals and applications from candidates. This isn’t always true.
If you search for freelancers on a platform that performs the screening and vetting for you, you’ll have to provide the information they need to help filter the candidates.
Some of this information — qualifications, skills, experience, for example — you should already have. It’s also important to provide the range of rates you can afford and the hours freelancers will work. The sooner you find out if candidates are available when you need them and willing to work for your rates, the better.
Once that’s settled, you can start considering interview questions.
Ask the right (interview) questions
You can find millions of interview questions online, but it’s useful to pinpoint the questions you need to hire the right freelance programmer.
Consider for instance specific interview questions such as:
- Give examples of solutions you worked on or built yourself.
- Show us your portfolio. (Good programmers should have a portfolio of coding work, often ‘pet’ projects, that might be found on repositories like GitHub.)
- Give some examples of when you worked well with colleagues. How did this contribute to your work performance and the team’s performance?
- Give an example of when something went wrong and how you handled it.
- What do you do if you don’t know the answer to a coding question?
- Are you active on Stack Overflow? Are you mentoring junior coders?
- If you’re hiring them to work remotely, ask about their remote working experience.
- Is their schedule flexible? Can they adjust it to suit the needs of the job?
- What questions do you have for me? (You can learn a lot about a candidate from their answers to this question.)
Preparing a technical interview (or coding test)
There’s no substitute for hard proof that a candidate has the skills you need. It’s also important to verify that they can perform under pressure. And most programmers generally expect technical interviews (typically with lead/senior programmers) and coding tests.
So make sure that you hold these too. Some things to assess with a technical interview:
- Can they complete the tasks?
- Can they estimate the time and skills needed for the tasks?
- Do they communicate well?
- Can they explain what’s needed and what they did?
- If they aren’t sure about something, do they seek clarification or do they make assumptions?
To prepare for this phase of the hiring process, you need to clarify things like:
- Who will handle your technical interviews? Will you do it yourself or will it be your team members?
- Who will design and assess the coding test?
- Will the interview/test phase be held locally or remotely?
- What in-house tools do you have for local testing?
- For remote interviews/testing, what platform will you use?
Remote technical interviews can often be held via platforms like Skype or interview tools like CoderPad. Screen sharing helps to make the experience very much like an in-person interview.
Get professional references
Lastly, we always advise people hiring freelance devs to get some professional references. Ask the candidate why they chose these people as their references. Contact the references, ideally by telephone. This is a great way to learn more about the candidate, as they will be able to specifically tell you if the candidate did a good job as a freelance contractor.
While contacting references is normally the last step in the vetting process, we advise you to do so early on. That way, you can immediately find out if a freelancer is the right one for you.
Have Someone Else Screen Freelancers for You
If you don’t have the time, resources or skills needed to screen freelance programmers yourself, don’t worry.
In fact, the screening offered by freelancer platforms ranges from true vetting managed by humans (like Gun.io) to simple keyword matching based on the information candidates enter (like Upwork does).
In addition, some platforms provide enhanced support for hirers. This can include industry experts (who advise on and/or manage hiring), trial employment periods, and hand-picked talent.
Many platforms also use rating and feedback systems. These let you see how well candidates performed in past jobs.
However, not all rating and feedback systems are reliable. In some cases, freelancers learn how to ‘game’ the rating system. In other cases, freelancers fall victim to unfair criticism. Therefore, it’s always worth considering the freelance platform in question and doing a few Google searches about its reliability.
A template contract that fits with your business
You don’t want to find the perfect candidate and have them agree to your terms, only to lose time drawing up a hiring contract.
There are two main ways you can avoid this problem:
- Prepare a template contract
- Use a search platform that handles the contract for you
If you’re hiring a freelance programmer directly, you need to prepare a contract that can be modified as needed. If your HR department can’t supply a standard contract wording, you can find plenty of contract templates online. Make sure the template wording suits the laws that apply in all relevant legal jurisdictions.
Alternatively, most freelance platforms (like the ones mentioned above) eliminate the need to create your own contracts. You can let the platform handle this, plus other administrative aspects like taxes and paying the freelancer.
Setting the right rate
As a business, you want to keep your costs down. This means you want to pay as little as possible for freelancers. But the old saying, “Pay peanuts, get monkeys,” applies to hiring programmers, too.
Rather than trying to pay the lowest rate, it’s better to know the minimum rates you can expect to pay and the maximum you can afford. Then, you can focus on finding a freelancer who provides the best value within this price range.
Also bear in mind that if you hire a freelancer through a platform like Upwork or Fiverr, the platform deducts service fees before paying the freelancer. If you don’t pay enough to make up for this difference, you might end up with lower-quality candidates. Other platforms add a fee to the freelancer’s rate, pushing up your cost.
And if you’re not hiring through a platform, you will have to negotiate a rate. There are many tactics to negotiate rates from the freelancer’s point of view. So before entering the discussion, consider those, and what the maximum is you want to pay.
Where to Actually Find & Hire a Freelance Software Dev
Now that you know how to vet potential candidates, it’s important to consider WHERE you will find these freelance coders.
In today’s always-connected world, you might think online job platforms are the best place to search for freelance coders. That is indeed an easy way to do it, but we would argue that some of the best options are offline, not online.
So let’s consider personal referrals, recruitment agents, freelancer platforms, job boards, and more.
Ask for personal referrals
Nothing beats having someone we trust recommend a freelancer based on their personal experience. Personal referrals are often the best way to find the perfect candidate for your freelance developer needs.
Contact people you’ve worked with in the past (and whose knowledge/opinions you trust). Tell them what you need and ask them to recommend some programmers. Speak to senior members of your existing development teams. They might know the perfect person for the job. They can also help sell your company to the freelancer, making it easier to hire them.
- Doesn’t cost anything.
- Trusted referrals should be strong candidates.
- Candidates are more likely to have experience in areas you need.
- You get a sense of the candidates’ real-world abilities.
- Builds on an existing relationship.
- Can be a slow process and take a long time to generate results.
- Typically, doesn’t produce a big number of candidates.
- Referrals might be for candidates who are already working.
- Candidates might be otherwise unavailable or not interested.
Professional referrals offer key advantages when it comes to hiring a freelancer. It builds on an existing professional relationship and experience. This can help reduce the cost of vetting and evaluation. On the other hand, this approach normally doesn’t produce a lot of candidates. Also, those that you do find might not be available at that time to work for you.
Use a recruitment agent
Recruitment agents eliminate much of the time and energy involved in screening and vetting freelance coders. But you need to know which agents are effective.
You can start by asking people you trust which recruitment agents they use. When you talk to the agents, make sure they ask you the right questions.
Do they demonstrate a strong understanding of your industry and your business? Is it clear that they understand the technologies you use, the programming skills required and the ideal types of candidates?
Are their proposed rates in line with your expectations? How do they screen and evaluate candidates (so you don’t have to)?
- Might have an existing pool of candidates ready to be evaluated.
- Can save time and energy.
- Can help avoid costly mistakes.
- Can provide initial screening and vetting of candidates.
- Can be a great way to find quality candidates quickly (ideal if you don’t have much time).
- Can help you set realistic objectives (rates, candidate availability, how long the search will take).
- Can be expensive.
- Not all recruitment agents are useful.
- Requires some screening/management of agents on your part.
- You might have to filter through a large number of unsuitable candidates.
Agents can be expensive; usually a recruiter adds between 10% and 20% to the freelancer’s hourly or daily rate. But there’s a big difference between agents that add a lot of value (by saving you time and energy) and those that simply send you a big bill.
In conclusion, if you’re facing a tight deadline, an agency might have the perfect candidate ready to start. However, you’ll have to invest some time and energy in vetting the agents.
Freelance platforms and marketplaces
The number of freelancer platforms and job marketplaces has exploded in recent years. Consider for instance generic international platforms (like Upwork), or specific platforms for developers in the Netherlands. We don’t have enough time or space to list them all, so here are a few of the top websites.
Generally, you won’t be able to take freelancers off these sites and work directly with them. You’ll have to communicate with and manage them through the site, which makes things a bit more complex.
These platforms can help you identify good candidates and protect you when freelancers don’t deliver what you need. However, they can cost significant time and money. They also force you (and the freelancer) to adapt to a different working style.
Consider, for instance:
- Large pool of candidates.
- Freelancers are already evaluated/filtered in areas like skills, experience, past performance.
- Some platforms offer expert support to help find more suitable candidates.
- The platform handles administrative tasks like contracts, monitoring of time-based work, invoicing, taxes, and payment.
- Rather than needing to pay American or European developer rates, you can find freelancers from developing countries on such platforms; making it often (much) less expensive than a recruitment agency
- Some platforms are expensive – for you and/or the freelancer.
- You still need to undertake your own screening and evaluation.
- You might get large numbers of unsuitable candidates.
- They generally don’t allow communication outside the platform, especially before a contract has been agreed. So always familiarise yourself with a platform’s TOS before launching your recruitment drive.
Freelance marketplaces are popular places to find freelance programmers, especially for project work. The platforms often help you manage the freelancer and take care of contracts and payments.
However, in some cases, your inbox can overflow with applications from weak candidates. And adapting to a platform’s rules and processes can make it hard to integrate a freelancer into your existing team or work flow.
Finally, the platform’s fees can reduce a freelancer’s pay so much that you struggle to find strong candidates that fit your budget.
Finding freelancers on job boards
Job boards offer some advantages over more modern platforms. They can make it easier to post a job ad, find a good candidate, and take them offline for a more personal interaction. It’s also easier to integrate the freelancer into your own remote-working structure (or have them work at your offices).
Again, there are countless job boards, but here are some where you could find freelance developers. Note, though, that these are often used for finding internal candidates (i.e. employees), too:
- Large number of candidates
- Offers a wide range of candidates and rates
- Can produce results very quickly
- You’re not bound to the platform’s employment contract, invoicing/payment system, communications channels. Once you hire a freelancer, you can onboard them into your own systems.
- Freelance programmers aren’t screened or vetted
- Screening candidates can demand a lot of your resources
- There’s no indication/guidance on candidates’ past work performance
- Job boards with rating systems can be ‘gamed’
- These are often not only for freelancers
LinkedIn is just one of the many social networks you can use to post your job ad and reach large numbers of candidates. But we wanted to mention it here too, because it offers a two-pronged approach to finding freelance software engineers.
First, LinkedIn can help you get referrals from your network. You can post something in your timeline, and you might find the right person quickly with minimum effort.
Second, you can post job ads and search for candidates with the relevant skills. Then, you’re actively scouting LinkedIn for the right candidates, and indeed, LinkedIn can be a great way to find freelance programmers.
The structure and wording of their profiles provides an idea of their communication skills. However, you still depend on screening, vetting and testing yourself to ensure claims about candidates’ abilities stand up to scrutiny.
- Handy search tools to find the best possible candidate
- Big audience
- Quickly get a sense of a candidate’s suitability
- Free options for posting job ads
- Use personal referrals easily
- Many of the same problems as other platforms (i.e. you’ll need to spend time screening and evaluating candidates)
- The pro job ads option, LinkedIn Recruiter, costs $140/month
- It’s not immediately clear whether potential candidates are available to work on a short notice
Online forums, communities & coding platforms
Software developers tend to spend a lot of time in online tech forums. As such, this is also an avenue to find potential new freelancers who can help you out. In addition, these forums allow you to check their technical profiles and posting history.
Many forums have job listing pages. Some forums are attached to coding platforms or code repositories. These are a good place to study a developer’s experience, skills, and interests.
Ask your existing developers which forums they recommend for finding and hiring freelancers. Some of these forums include:
- Highly targeted audiences
- Potentially useful idea of candidates’ real skills and previous projects
- Excellent option for making direct contact with candidates
- Many are free to use
- Can require rigorous attention to forum rules/requirements
- Can take a lot of time and energy to set up the process
- No guarantee of suitable applicants
- Still requires suitable screening/evaluation process
- Some platforms, like Stack Overflow, have paid plans for posting jobs
Google is your friend
When all else fails, search the GOOG. If you’re struggling to find suitable candidates through other channels, it never hurts to search Google.
Basically, you’re trying to find freelance developers whose backgrounds fit with what you’re looking for — and who have their own websites or social media profiles.
- Cheap (Costs only time, not money)
- Easy to access
- Takes a lot of time to get results, and there’s no guarantee that it will work
- There’s no clear way to approach the search
- Requires a lot of work on screening/evaluation
- Again: no guarantee of availability
Start Your Search
We hope this guide to hiring a freelancer to support software development helps you get the job done more easily.
Simply put, in this article we’ve covered the two main areas of the process:
- WHAT you need to hire a freelance developer.
- WHERE you can find a freelance developer.
We’ve discussed defining the ideal candidate and evaluating candidates. We detailed some good places to search for candidates (from TopTal to Reddit). But that said, there are plenty of other channels through which you may find the right person for your company.
And remember: the work doesn’t end once you’ve hired a freelance software developer. You still need to make sure they’re onboarded properly, integrated into their work teams and projects, and supported as they find their feet in your organisation.
Finding and hiring a good freelance programmer is a detailed process. There’s always room to improve, but we hope we’ve helped you on the path to easily find the freelance software engineer you need.