Working With Freelancers – Experience From A Veteran

Working with freelancers is one of the best form of leverage you can get in internet marketing. You leverage on two resources: time and skill.

The disadvantage is you are now in a position to manage people, and people management can be problematic, sometimes.

This is what one of our members, Gerald Lum, is facing.

Read his full question to me:

Hi Kenneth,

I’m facing some problem with my online business. Its not as easy as it seems to be. Being an affiliate is easier than become the creator of the site. One of the problem that I faced is finding the right freelancer for my website development. I also have problem with designer. I usually outsource my website programming and design separately as my own experience tells me that most programmers have no good design senses.

My lst project I got ripped off $1k without getting my website till now. My currently new website designer cannot be contacted for a month. I have not gotten my design for my new website project and hence its delay. My programmer does give me a cheap prices. This could be the reason of the bad services. But I have budget and I really have to try my luck.

There is so many freelancer websites like, But how can we really find a good freelancer with budget prices? I have wasted a lot of time waiting for them to deliver my project. How do you find a reliable and with cheap services??

Thank you so much!

Gerald Lum

Let me reorganize his challenge into 4 separate questions and answer them one by one:

1) How to stop yourself from being ripped off?

The golden rule is: Never pay your freelancers in advance, regardless of how good your freelancer “sweet talk”!

I had an experience where a freelancer, who had worked with me on several projects, requested that I pay him some money in advance because he had some financial problems. Considering our past working experience, I agreed. He then went missing for a couple of months.

If your freelancer insists that you pay him first before he can start work, the best you can do is to transfer the money to an escrow account. It is a third party account where your money is held by the freelancing website and will only be released to the freelancer when the project is completed to your satisfaction. Escrow protects both you and the freelancer.

You should never be ripped off if you insists on paying after project completion or using an escrow service.

2) How to prevent your freelancer from going missing in action?

You can’t stop this problem from happening, but you can prevent it.

And you prevent it right at the beginning……

Before you award a freelancer with the job, you should always PM (private message) the freelancer. You can PM a few preferred freelancers and see who can respond fast and well. Those who don’t even bother to reply a PM will never get a job from me.

Through PM, you can tell whether they are serious and competent in the project. Sometimes, you can also tell if they are professional or simply a student trying to make some quick bucks.

Also check if they use Skype, Yahoo or MSN Messenger. I will not engage a freelancer who is not ready to chat online.

When the project begins, always make it a habit to ask the freelancer for a dateline in everything he does. Be friendly and not being pushy. You can ask something like “When do you think this part can be done?”. Let him suggest a date to you.

Frankly, I don’t expect freelancers to meet the datelines. Having a dateline is just a way to make them commit, to give them a clear target to aim for and an excuse for me to press them for results.

In the event if you feel that the freelancer is not progressing, you can always use the dateline as the REAL dateline for the project. If the freelancer failed to deliver by the dateline, you can cancel the project and get another freelancer. In my entire online career, I’ve only done it once. In my case, the freelancer went the extreme of not answering all my emails after committing to the project. Thus I cancel the project after the first dateline.

Lastly, make it an effort to email your freelancer every few days and ask them if there is any update for you. This will further reduce the chance of them going missing in action.

3) How to ensure that your job can be completed on time?

If you need something to be done in a hurry, you must let the freelancer know the urgency before you award him with the job. Or else, you should understand that “most freelancers cannot complete their project on time!”

Sounds like a joke but this is the truth.

Once you understand this fact, all you have to do is to give enough buffer for your real dateline.

Let’s say a freelancer says he can get the project done in 7 days, you can expect the project to be completed in 3 to 5 weeks!

I’m not exaggerating.

This is especially true for programming type of job, where there are testing and debugging to be done.

If you expect the completion date to be 3 to 5 times longer than the suggested dateline, you will be happy that most of your projects are done “on time”.

4) How to find good freelancer at budget prices?

The key is this: The more you know, the less you pay and the better freelancer you can get.

For a $1000 project, I can have freelancers bidding from $250 to $1000. The question is, do you dare to choose the low-bidder.

You can try your luck, but ‘luck’ is not always reliable.

Alternatively, you can ask.

During the bidding phase, you can PM a few low-bidders, check if they understand your requirement fully and understand how they intend to deliver the project.

Some low-bidders will not reply your PM. Ignore them. Some may tell you that they’ve under priced. Ask them to re-quote. But there are some who really understand your requirement well and are willing to provide you with their solutions for the price that they offer.

If the proposed solution sounds, you can go ahead award the project to that freelancer.

However, this is only possible if you know exactly what you want. That’s why I said “The more you know, the less you pay and the better freelancer you can get.”

In some cases, you may not know exactly what you want. In such cases, you may have to add a bit of premium to the project and get a freelancer with good reviews, which usually will mean a higher price.

14 thoughts to “Working With Freelancers – Experience From A Veteran”

  1. Hey Kenneth,

    THanks again for this super article. I’m saving this one in my files again because this is advice you don’t normally get in a such a succinct informative way

  2. I agree with a lot of what you have to say Kenneth and Gerald, I feel your pain, but don’t give up hope on finding someone that can really help you.

    As a developer & consultant, I think the key problem with all of this is honesty. A lot of developers and consultants that I know personally are not honest with their clients and potential clients. I have gotten plenty of emergency calls from them, when they have taken on a project that they do not have the skills to complete. The lure of the almighty dollar makes them say, “YES, I CAN DO ANYTHING YOU WANT!” That is not my style. I do not personally work with Macromedia Flash, so if you ask me for that, I will have to decline on that portion of your project. Being honest may have lost me a few contracts here and there, but those clients have always come back with other opportunities for me, because they appreciate my honesty.

    As far as deadlines are concerned, many clients have lofty expectations in that area. As Kenneth said, some projects can change rapidly based on a client’s whim. I just ask that clients keep in mind that the development process is not an easy one and while some changes and modifications might take a minute, others can take days.

    The old adage, “You get what you pay for.” is not always true though. I have had to step in for several clients that paid abnormally high rates for work that was sub-par to say the least, so you can’t always use higher price as an indication of good work.

    Gerald, if you’re reading this, please feel to contact me. All the best.


    The Business : ANSUN Software Corp.
    The Blog : What’s the word on the street?

  3. Kenneth,

    Thanks for a very informative article. I’ve just recently decided to start writing freelance articles and have written a sales page on my site but I’ve asked for payment in advance. How does a freelancer protect themseves against someone who gets an article but doens’t pay for it?



    1. Escrow is so far the best solution. While we as buyers have to learn to protect ourselves, freelancers have to learn to protect themselves too. Freelancers should always have the buyers to give them a checklist of features they would like to see. In the event of dispute, that checklist can be used against the buyer and the freelancer can demand the freelancing site to release the payment due to project completion.

  4. Thanks for the advice Kenneth, I do a lot of my own work, but I have found in the past when I have had freelance work done for me to save time to allow for extra days. Some how transactions get unread.

  5. Thanks Kenneth! Your answer will help me when I place my first project next month at one of the coding websites. Website security will be the focus of that script installation project :)

    Note: 1 year ago, I downloaded one of the most popular free article directory script and installed it myself. It got hacked in less than 1 month. Later I found that most of the sites using that “free” script were getting hacked :( It was a learning lesson for me though I had not lost any money due to hacking of my website. Moral of the story: FREE/cheap sometimes ends up being much costlier, so I request my reader friends to focus on security more than the cost while doing any website programming related tasks/projects :)

  6. See, this just illustrates the verbal adage, “If you don’t ASK,
    You’ll never know”. You belong to a reputable digital network
    (just like the one that yer digital bitch got printed in),like,
    say……LeadsLeap? Why don’t you know that you could’ve put the word out to the community via advertising that we’re allowed as members? And it’s renewable as long as you belong to LeadsLeap-you knew that right? Come on, tell me you did?! To me, this smacks of poor planning enhanced by speed-led profit visions resulting in the inability to see your way through to your own back yard. I’ve been a member for the last year and if I’d known anybody was in need of coding/
    sitebuilding skills freelance help, I could’ve easily provided
    honest, THOROUGH, site content provision – PRE-PAYMENT, and
    faster than the wipe of an ass (lol!). As I can put up, all interested parties can check my URL above my comments to see
    my current creation skillset. Uh, guy? In the future….ASK!!

  7. This is very good advice, thankfully my comment is not based on bitter experience. I did my first outsourcing for a local community website when I realised my learning curve was going to be way too slow for getting everything to hang together. Fortunately my freelancer is an established designer and a friend who has set me upo with a full CMS system based on Joomla so that not only can we get local information out to residents but we can also access advertising revenues in a flexible way.

  8. Let me speak from the other side, as I’m a freelancer, but also hiring other freelancers to help me out in bigger projects.

    I have recommended myself as a professional local(Lithuanian market) from A to Z developer of unique designs and complex programmer and am able to guarantee the project will be in top notch design for 4-5 years by being right after my customers when ever he needs me for minor updates. Right now I charge higher than average (for companies) price for my project and simply won’t take any project for lower than that and won’t hire any freelancer that goes for a $1200 for the simplest website (considering he’ll do full project, otherwise split price in half for design and coding).

    What I’m trying to say is that only beginner freelancer will go to very low bids. You will be at risk of never finishing your project, or having to look around again and again. Yes, sometimes you will get lucky, but believe me I had my experience and this happens so rarely I doubt you will be that lucky to meet one in your lifetime. Low bidders can do the work but how long will it last or how would you rate the result? I’ve seen thousands of all a like websites in US markets I started to think what kind of businessmen run them? Isn’t your website supposed to be exclusive at least in some way, so people won’t forget you at least a year? This is where price starts to go up.

    As for me I’m not taking a project without 50% advance payment and won’t take in freelancer that does not require one.

    Let me tell you why. First of all you will never and I mean NEVER get highly motivated person for your project.

    Secondly, without putting in a significant amount into the project YOU will not be entitled to finish it on time. I had $5000 project with 30% of advance payment and customer had been dragging time in every step of production for 6 months (that’s his own problem), but you can’t expect your freelancer to be on needles for half a year waiting for you to wake up, HE NEEDS TO EAT. He’s not a vending machine that can sit for a year until someone buys a can of Coke.

    Ok. My point is- budget project should not be lower than $1200, as this is the minimum investment that is worth and repay itself with a pile above of what you spent, otherwise I would not recommend investing at all and try doing website for yourself.

    And please don’t get me wrong and picture me protecting freelancers. NO! As I said I’m a constant freelance hunter myself and my practice tought me from both sides of the fence. I had lost quite a lot of money by choosing bad developers, but there simply is no other way for getting the best result possible.

    Yours sincerely,
    Mantas Mackevicius

  9. Thank you Kenneth for such great tips! Sorry for the late reply as I’m creating and testing a new website!

    I’m always friendly towards my developers, but there are lots of different kinds of people around so sometime we got to be extra careful.

    I’m learning how to use dreamweaver myself so I can do some editing for the sites. You know freelancers can be so forgetful and leave out some simple details. You can only manage to get them few days later. So I figure out I got to learn some HTML code myself.

    I have see nice responses in here and I will defintely read through each and everyone! I have few project qenuing up. Some are just simple ideas. But all successful project started from simple ideas! I will contact you guys when I ready!

    Thanks guys! Especially to Kenneth!


    Gerald Lum

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