The gig economy is huge and growing all the time. The flexibility offered by using freelancers to fulfill crunch or add temporary expertise to a project cannot be overstated but there are easy ways to do that and hard ways. There are a number of websites where you can hire a freelance software developer but they are not all created equal.
Some sites are actually more trouble than they are worth and you could spend more time managing the freelancer and their work than completing the project itself. We don’t want that to happen so have put this list of five top-class sites that offer pre-screened and vetted freelancers that can actually deliver on their promises.
If you want to hire a freelance software developer with specific expertise in a specific language for a specific goal, wouldn’t it be easier to have them vetted beforehand? Where freelancers have to be assessed and pass specific tests in order to offer a particular skill? If you’re looking to hire a freelance developer, you need to read this first!
What is a freelance software developer?
A freelance software developer is exactly what the name implies. A software developer who works freelance rather than as an employee. They will often be brought on board to fulfill a skill requirement, help with a deadline or provide some other expertise and will usually be paid per hour, per day or per project.
Like any developer, freelance software developers will have a particular area of expertise, be that Python, Java, Ruby, LISP, C, Perl or something else. More freelancers will also have knowledge of project management principles such as Agile or PRINCE2 even if they don’t have a qualification in it.
The downside of freelance sites like Upwork
Upwork and freelancer sites like it have opened up the world of freelancing and made it more mainstream. Freelancers can showcase their wares and bid on open projects and businesses can quickly hire freelancers for projects. Both have a platform with which to communicate, a clear fee scale and the oversight of Upwork to take care of them.
In practice, using Upwork can be a soul-destroying experience. As someone who has used it as a freelancer and as an employer, I dislike freelancing websites like these. As a freelancer, the jobs on these sites are usually low quality and offered by inexperienced employers who think you can create an entire eCommerce store in 48 hours for less than $100. The majority of employers do not value you, your input or your experience. They want the job done, done fast and done cheaply.
As an employer, you have to contend with freelancers who don’t even read the brief, who say they can code in a particular language but cannot, who say they can meet a deadline or budget just to get the gig and worry about delivering later or those who want to complete a project their way instead of meeting your goals.
There are obviously exceptions to all of these. I worked for some excellent employers on Upwork. I also worked with some very reliable freelancers but they were the exception rather than the rule. For low skilled work, Upwork and the like are fine. For skilled projects with specific requirements, not so much.
Why hiring vetted software developers is better
We typically hire freelancers because we need specific expertise or we’re in a hurry and need extra hands on deck. Using a website that only offers vetted, reliable freelancers who will deliver is the only way to do that as far as I’m concerned. If you’re up against it, you are much better off having someone else handle the administration involved in verifying someone’s skills, testing them, interviewing them, assessing soft skills and all the things that take time.
Using a vetted freelancer website means you can concentrate on what counts. Getting the right skills for the job and getting that job finished as quickly with as high a quality as possible.
Using websites that vet freelancers beforehand means you don’t have to make sure they are up to the task before you hire them. No having to set paid tests, no having to find someone to soft interview the freelancer before you take them on and no more hoping rather than knowing they will get the job done.
Top 5 Sites for Hiring a Freelance Software Developer
In my experience, these five websites are where you should look to hire your software developer. Each vets their candidates beforehand and will often guarantee their work and/or their quality.
This list of sites looks like this:
- Fiverr Pro
Toptal says they only work with the top three percentile of freelance software developers. They screen all candidates beforehand including tests, detailed interviews, live interviews and even test projects. It’s a lot of hurdles for a software developer to overcome but benefits clients immensely.
Toptal, Top Talent, has software developers from across the world, who speak multiple languages and can program in multiple languages too. There is risk-free trial so you can assess the skills of freelancers and the website itself. This is one of the few freelancer websites that genuinely guarantees the quality of its candidates so is well worth checking out.
Using Toptal to hire freelancers is a relatively pain-free experience. Sign up, add your company details, set up a payment option, list a role and wait for the recommendations to come in. The process takes between 48 hours and 21 days depending on what you need.
2. Gun.io - quickly boost the resources of your engineering team
Gun.io is not a typical self-serve marketplace; instead, their primary focus is to help you quickly recruit more resources to your existing engineering team.
While the name may leave a lot to be desired (or at least, you might not make an immediate association), the hired guns you can see on Gun.io are all pre-vetted, had their skills checked and verified and are ready to go. There is quite a process for a prospective freelance software developer to go through to feature on the website including a professional-standard interview, a full technical assessment, character assessment and a reference check.
This approach takes time and effort but results in a much closer and more complete understanding of each candidate. This benefits you as an employer as the site, or the people behind it, have a lot more data to match the right developer with the right project. According to Gun.io, they can match you with the right freelance software developer within 48 hours.
Hiring a freelance software developer from Gun.io is quite straightforward. Set up an account as an employer, set your project timescale of between 1 month and 1 year, set a rate and the team will send you candidates.
Hired also has a strict vetting process but is more about hiring permanent staff than it is about freelancers. You can hire freelancers or contractors here though. Hired uses the same principles as these other websites. Candidates can apply to feature on the website and are assessed on their capabilities. An algorithm will match your needs with available vetted candidates and provide a list of possibilities.
As candidates have already completed technical assessments and Hired has a selection of ready-made further assessments you can use, it is very straightforward to hire freelance developer even if you don’t know much about the industry yourself. Again, Hired is more about more permanent positions but there is a very strong freelance element.
Using Hired to find talent is simple. The account process is quick and painless and once you have outlined your requirements, set a geographical area or language and experience levels, the Hired team will sort through candidates and send you a shortlist. You can then connect with them and hire them. Typical time to hire is apparently 25 days from uploading the job to hiring.
X-Team is another reliable website that let’s you hire a software developer, freelance software engineer or whatever you need. They vet their candidates and ensure they pass structured technical tests before being made available on the site. This should offer all the reassurance you need to be able to hire technical staff for a project or longer term.
Unlike many freelance websites, freelancers you get from X-Team are dedicated to that project and won’t be juggling multiple projects at once. As anyone who has used this type of site before will attest, that is rare indeed. Most freelancers will have several projects on the go at once, often to the detriment of your deadline.
Using X-Team to hire a freelance software developer is very similar to these others. You set up an account, register your business, add a payment method, outline your requirements and let the team shortlist and offer their freelancers. You select one or more, chat to them and hire them for the duration. That’s it.
5. Fiverr Pro
Fiverr may be known for offering all manner of gigs for very little pay but Fiverr Pro steps it up a few notches. Unlike the main marketplace of Fiverr, every candidate on Fiverr Pro has been vetted and verified to make sure they can deliver what they say they can. Only freelancers with the highest feedback scores in Fiverr are permitted to join, meaning you get the cream of the crop when you hire.
You can hire freelance developers, software engineers, designers and all kinds of talent too. Like Fiverr, accepted candidates will pitch themselves for your gig and apply for the job in the traditional way. Where Hired or Gun.io does the selection for you, it is up to you to write a detailed job specification and then select candidates from those who apply. It’s a little more work for you but still delivers quality freelancers.
Using Fiverr Pro is similar to the other websites in this list but freelancers pitch directly to you. As before, you sign up as an employer, fill out the form, add a payment method, outline a job spec and publish it. Freelancers will (hopefully) read the spec properly and will pitch or apply directly. You will need to decide which freelancer to go with and chat, interview or whatever until you’re happy.
I have listed some common questions with some answers below. These are the questions I hear most often when discussing freelancers, either hiring or becoming one.
1. How much does a freelance software developer make?
How much you make depends on your experience, language proficiency and expertise. Other features such as soft skills, project management experience and industry experience can also influence how much you can make.
A rough guide for earnings rates for freelance software developers ranges from around $80 per hour to around a $100. Senior developers can expect $100 an hour easy.
2. How do I become a freelance programmer?
The path to becoming a freelance programmer is long and arduous but like all such careers, rewards your efforts with some very well paying roles. Typically, you would want to learn to become a full stack developer so you know the entire process of programming and software development. That would include requirement gathering, database development, UX, graphic design, services, UI development, deployment, testing and performance monitoring.
If you already know all that and work as a programmer, your task is made shorter but no less easy. Most developers and programmers take on freelance gigs outside their day job. This is to build a reputation as a reliable freelancer and hopefully acquire regular clients. This involves long hours and some late nights but is well worth the effort!
Specialisation. There is nothing to say you should specialise, but you should. Having a Unique Selling Point (USP) is key to becoming a successful freelance programmer or developer. There are hundreds of general programmers out there all competing for the same kind of roles. Specialisation allows you to target a specific niche. It will narrow your appeal to some employers but drastically improve your appeal with others.
When you’re ready, sign up to any or all of the five freelance websites above. Getting listed takes a while and involves a lot of steps but the result will be well worth the effort.
3. How do freelance developers make money?
Freelance developers make money by working for the websites listed above, working for a single client on multiple projects, working white labelled for a studio, through their own website or through word of mouth.
One of the downsides about being a freelancer is that you have to go out and find your own clients. One of the upsides of being a freelancer is the ability to choose your own clients.
4. How much does it cost to hire a software developer?
Much depends on where in the world you live, where you want to hire from, what the gig entails and how fast or how involved that gig is. The higher the skill demand, the higher the cost. The shorter the deadline or lead time, the higher the cost.
In North America, a freelance developer with 5 years’ experience can expect to earn between $75k - $230k (69k€ to 200k€) per year. In Western Europe, that’s a little lower, around $50k - $175k (45k€ to 157k€) per year.
Broken down to hourly rates, the majority of freelance software developers will bill between $60 - $100 per hour (55€ to 90€). Expect those costs to increase if you need full-stack, senior roles or specific niche skills.
5. How do I hire a software developer?
By far the easiest way to hire a freelance software developer is to use Toptal, Gun.io, Hired, X-Team or Fiverr Pro. Other websites are available but these five perform the testing, vetting, interviewing and checks necessary to guarantee you get the right fit for the role. The process is relatively straightforward. You write a job specification, add it to the site and either allow freelancers to pitch for it or let the staff select applicants for you. You should then have the option to interview, ask for specific testing or check out the candidates before making a decision. Payments will usually be held in escrow until the project is complete and you sign off on the work to release it.
6. Where can I hire freelance programmers?
The answer to hiring freelance programmers is the same as for developers. Use Toptal, Gun.io, Hired, X-Team or Fiverr Pro. They work with both and more so will make short work of selection and shortlisting so all you need to do is select from a shortlist and hire.
Some sites offer the ability to request specific testing but all candidates from these five freelancer websites have been tested and had their skills verified. See above for the main hiring process.
The freelance economy is large and getting larger. With more people having given up the 9 to 5 in the past ten years than ever before and more people taking responsibility for their own success, hiring talent has never been easier. As always, there are many ways to achieve your goal and hire a competent freelance software developer but there are only a few truly effective ways.
To me, hiring freelancers that have already been weighed, measured and not found wanting takes the headache and the insecurity away from inviting a stranger into your business to help you out when you need it most. I imagine most businesses out there would agree.
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