How to find the right freelancer for your agency

How to find the right freelancer for your agency

Written on: 02/01/2023

Agencies are always on the lookout for freelance web developers. But hiring a web developer is not an easy task, especially if you don’t have a dedicated pool to source from.

The process of linking up with, and onboarding a new developer can be time-consuming, and the agency needs to take a leap of faith before they can start contributing to the company’s goals.

The web developer is crucial to the agency’s success. They are the ones who take care of the website in such a way that it can be easily accessed and used by their clients. The web developers also make sure that all the content on the website is up to date and does not have any errors or bugs. It is important for agencies to find a reliable web developer so that they can provide their clients with an excellent experience.

The agency should not just hire any web developer, but one who has experience in building websites for agencies, and someone who really understands their needs. They should also have good communication skills as they will need to work closely with the agency’s staff members on a daily basis.

A growing demand for web developers

The demand for web developers is growing exponentially, and it seems that there is no shortage of work. But the truth is that many agencies are struggling to find and hire a web developer for a long term relationship.

This post will explore the reasons why agencies are struggling to find great web developers and offer solutions on how they can do this easier.

The first thing you need to work out, is do you want someone local who can come into your offices? Or are you happy with a freelancer who is further afield? If you don’t need someone down the road, then you have a second question: Do you want someone in the UK, who works on your timezone and speaks your language fluently? Or are you happy to swap those things for a cheaper alternative overseas?

Overseas developers vs UK developers

There are a lot of benefits of hiring overseas developers, and a lot of agencies I support will do that as well as having me on the books. Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, India etc… these are all hot-beds for great development talent.

I suppose the “issue” many agencies can find, is the reliability of someone who isn’t UK based, who doesn’t understand the market properly, and who doesn’t have experience working with smaller agencies on a day to day basis.

I think that overseas development are usually fantastic for slightly bigger agencies, who perhaps have a technical director, or at least someone who can code, within their team, and the overseas staff are used for the bulk of the development, but it is still overseen by an internal staff member from a technical standpoint.

UK developers are probably better suited to smaller agencies, with little or no technical knowledge within the agency. This is who I am speaking to most. As an agency with little technical know-how internally, you are really at the mercy of a web developer. If they tell you something will take 10 days, you can only really take that at face value. For the reason, it is so important that you build a relationship based on trust and mutual respect.

A great web developer can help to accelerate your agency. If you are a PR agency, a marketing agency, a traditional advertising agency or even a social media agency, it doesn’t always make sense to have a web developer on salary. You are paying them month in, month out, even if you don’t have any large development projects on the go. And whilst that might suit some agencies, a lot of agencies won’t want that overhead, they will prefer to simply pay a great freelancer as and when the need arises.

So how can you get the best out of your freelancer? Well my first tip, is to work out your combined working methodology. How are you expecting your developer to work? What are their preferred working style? What is yours? How can you merge this together? I am going to break this down into smaller sections and hopefully expand on those for you.

Quoting a New Project

When you are quoting a new project for a client, it is essential that you get it right. The last thing you want as an agency, is to have your profit margin obliterated by unexpected scope creep. Some freelancers will only want to work on a daily rate (I will talk more about day-rates in an upcoming post) – and I get that, I really do get that. But it isn’t always in the agencies best interests, because how do you know that the freelancer is going to work at 100%? They could be taking their time, to rack up the days, right?

Another way to work, is to get a fixed project fee agreed with your freelancer. This can be difficult too. As a web developer, I find it hard to give a fixed quote without a proper technical specification and even the designs or wireframes laid out in front of me, and of course, that doesn’t usually happen until you (the agency) have the job I the bag… and you can’t get the job in the bag without a quote. So you’re caught between a rock and a hard place at times.

If you are agreeing a fixed fee, it is really important that you agree a technical specification and scope of work, so all parties (you, the freelancer and the client) all know the parameters of what will be delivered. It may even be worth you getting the web developer to help with this, on a day rate of course, to ensure you have a bullet-proof scope listed out.

Once you have that scope, most web developers will be able to give you a much better idea of costs – even if it isn’t 100% fixed, you can likely get a range. That allows you to work out your costs as an agency, and then put that back to the client with your fees accounted for.

Project Management

For project management, I personally lean towards Trello, Slack and agile sprints of work. Every agency will have their own preferences, and it is important that you and your freelancer are on the same page. You need to ensure you set out timelines and deliverables that are agreed in advance, and unless scope changes, those deadlines should always be hit.

I would always recommend allowing for a few days buffer time between delivery from the developer to showing the client, and even better, you should really have some sort of internal QA (quality assurance) process in place before the client ever sees things. But you definitely need to build in some time for emergencies. Even the best freelancers in the world have real emergencies, and might have a valid reason that they have had to delay delivery of a project, or part of a project. If you give yourself zero buffer time, then you have to try to explain to your client what has gone wrong.

I mentioned QA just now, and that is a vital part of the process. If you send a site from developer to client, you run the risk of the client finding a multitude of issues, and having to relay them back to you. This doesn’t always look great for the agency, so I really think you should have a few things in place to prevent this happening.

QA can be done internally or externally (you can hire external QA testers pretty cheaply) – and if you do it internally, you should have a checklist of things you absolutely need to check through before it is considered ready for client. You can search Google for a list of QA tasks to go through.

Freelancer transparency

Every agency will handle this differently. What do I mean by transparency? It is how much the client knows about the freelancer. Do they think this person is a part of your agency (and if so, does this mean your freelancer has an agency email address?) – or does the client know that you use a trusted freelancer who you work with? Either way, you absolutely need to agree this in advance, so that everyone is on the same page.

There is nothing more embarrassing than you telling the client you employ a freelancer, only for them to see the freelancer’s email address somewhere in a chain and the whole thing unravels. I suggest always being open and honest with your client – explain that you can’t be specialists in everything and you have a great, long term relationship with a developer who acts like part of the team for the duration of a project.

You need to always ensure you freelancer knows the official party line, otherwise they could easily put their foot in their mouth on a call or similar.

Domains, Staging Sites, Hosting and Maintenance

A client will usually control their own primary domain, but it isn’t always easy for them to set up sub-domains and/or staging server space for testing of websites. What most of the agencies I work with tend to do, based on my advice, is to have their own staging server, with their own staging URL for use. So for example, if your agency is called Big Red Cucumber (no idea where that name came from!?) – then you could buy as a root domain, and then use as the staging url, which is locked with a server level username and password, as well as being blocked from Google bots etc… this is a really important step, as you don’t want staging content ending up on Google as indexed content.

As for hosting and maintenance of the main site, if you aren’t doing maintenance for your clients, then you are missing a trick. It is money for old rope, so to speak, and you keep a good relationship with your client in the process. I would usually suggest a monthly, or bi-monthly review of the site – ensure it is secure, all plugins are up to date, the core is also up to date. Ensure the site is bug free, there are no issues going on etc… but for the most part, maintenance is just keeping plugins and core updated and making sure the site isn’t being hacked.

Wrapping up

As a final note, you should make a list of what your primary aims are for finding a good freelancer to work with? Is cost the biggest driving force of your choice? If so, then overseas will definitely be your best bet. If you want a long lasting relationship, with a developer who effectively becomes part of the furniture, then hire me! I work with a handful of agencies, and have worked with a couple of my agencies for over 10 years each.

Finding a great partnership is a wonderful thing. You only pay for the development resource you need, you mark it all up accordingly so your agency makes money, and you end up with a wonderful working relationship, where clients are happy, your directors are happy and I’m happy!

Good luck in your search for a freelance web developer. It is a great next step for your agency.

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