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Outsourcing question regarding replies from candidates

This question is for anybody who's ever tried to outsource a project (software or otherwise) through one of the various online job sites.

As I mentioned in another thread, I went through this effort last year mostly as an exercise to see what I'd encounter. I'm a software developer, and posted a job req for something I could do myself, but decided to see what it would take to outsource it.

In response to my post, I found I got back three types of responses:

1) Hello, Mr. David, I/we are an experienced software development shop with a large staff of highly experience developers who possess all of the skills needed to fulfill your project on-time and within budget. To convince you of that, here are a dozen more paragraphs bragging about how we manage our shop, how we're ISO 9000 compliant, and how we've worked with many Fortune 1000 companies for decades.... [not one word about my project or needs, just their company]. If you decide to work with us, Mr. David, the first step will be to arrange several meetings with our incredible staff so we may document your requirements in detail, and then plan out the project and deliverables. [needless to say, this is all a bunch of mostly meaningless boilerplate designed to attract corporate big wigs.]

2) Hi, regarding your project, I have the necessary Wordpress experience you're looking for. I've written many custom plugins and themes, have a lot of experience with php, as well as experience writing REST interfaces using JSON. What libraries do you plan to use? I've worked with xx, yy, and zz.

3) Hi, I don't have much experience with Wordpress plugins, but I'm experienced with php and would love to work with you on this.

These happen to coincide with most-expensive and time-consuming at the top, to least-expensive (but unknown time) at the bottom.

It's interesting that every one of them claimed in their online profiles that they had the experience and skill sets I was looking for. My experience with the ones I chose proved otherwise.

None of the quoted bids and times were close to my own estimates -- the smallest was twice my budget and took two weeks (instead of two days).

THE QUESTION I HAVE IS THIS ... which type of the above reply do you find most inviting or promising?

Based on your experience, what's the best kind of reply to look for?

12 Replies

Chris Carruth
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Chris Carruth Advisor
VP/Director. Strategy | Business Development | Operations | Product | Solutions
IMHO the reply should address the specific skills, technical or otherwise, that were posted by the hiring source - no?

If the details were not specific but more general it will create room for responses from resources that simply don't fit..but how would they know anyway?

I don't see responding to a freelancer gig much different than applying for a job. From the respondents side shouldn't the same rules of showcasing not only capabilities but also showcasing past successes?
Esaias Tong
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Esaias Tong Entrepreneur
VP Operations, Software Engineer, Data Analyst
I've had experience with outsourcing. Didn't turn out well. Only deal with highly reputable outsource freelancers if you don't want to lose your money or expect cheap labor and cheap results.
Michael Barnathan
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Michael Barnathan Entrepreneur • Advisor
Co-Founder of The Mountaintop Program, Google Alum
I wouldn't hire any of those, but #3 is the closest to sanity in terms of approach. #1 sounds like a firm that's not going to give you enough of their attention, and no one should ever ask "what libraries you want to use" because that's an implementation detail that a competent dev should be able to figure out on his or her own. "I've done X, Y, and Z that sound similar to your project, here are the websites/github links. Can we chat about your requirements?" would be the ideal approach I'd be looking for.
Lawrence I Lerner
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Lawrence I Lerner Entrepreneur • Advisor
Digitalization and Transformation Coach
Number 2 is possibly the best written response. The only way you'll really know is by speaking to them and their references. My suggestion is that you send back a response outline, again, what you're looking for and ask for a paragraph and bulleted response. Tell them you want three references (whether they've done the work in your area or not you'll know it was for someone else to work with them) that you can speak with live.

My own background is having grown several very large scale (10,000+) IT outsourcing companies. You'll find a wide variety of people and to be fair if they're not self-promoting they aren't going to attract customer. They should give you detailed and specific answers to questions. If not, pass.

How did you develop your estimate of two days? That's very little time to design, code and test. Have you looked at free and paid for, plugins?
Jake Carlson
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Jake Carlson Entrepreneur • Advisor
Software Development Manager at Oracle
#2. Up front about what they've worked with and how well their skills match up against the requirements. I find nothing wrong with asking the client if he/she has any pre-determined bias toward existing libraries. That's not them asking you to do their work for them, that's understanding the client. If you say something they disagree with, then they should chime in with a contrary recommendation.
Steve Owens
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Steve Owens Entrepreneur • Advisor
Finish Line - A Better Way for Small Companies to Develop Products
As a product development company, we both post jobs on these sites, as well as bid on jobs.

When we bid, we would fall in your category #1 type, boiler plate - but we only work with small companies and startups; however, our message is a lot shorter. For our type of customers, they often propose a solution, and not a problem - its pointless to start describing a solution until you understand the problem first. Our goal is to get them on the phone so we can have a dialog. The site we use allows them to see all the other projects we have done, so it is easy for the person to understand we know what we are doing and have the correct skill set.

When we post, we pretty much ignore what they write and just look at their portfolio. Then we call them and call their references. Finally, our internal technical expert in that subject will interview them. Out of a 100 we look at, we hire one. In my opinion, most the people on these sites are a waste of time and money - but that is likely true anywhere you go. The point is not so much what they post, but in doing your research and forming a long term relationship with someone who is truly great at what they do.

As far as cost and time goes, we do a lot of bench marking on this issue. What we find is that, assuming you're working with a real professional, cost are pretty much the same anywhere you go. A non professional will cost a lot more. A big red flag for us is someone saying they can write code for $25/hr - we have tried lots of these, and it just is not true. We do not bother with anyone unless they are charging a competitive rate. A low price almost always means they are not very good.

Finding good engineers is not easy. It has taken us years to develope our team and get them to function together as a high performance group. There are no short cuts.
Lane Campbell
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Lane Campbell Advisor
Lifelong Entrepreneur
David,

If you are doing an email blast to drive business I think asking a question is more valuable than stating your capabilities. First, this might sound silly but make sure you have an email list with the right kind of contacts. If you don't know who your ideal customer is then you can do some trial and error but once you have it down this is much more effective.

Second, the emails I send have a very high open rate because the subject is usually "Quick Question". I don't like to profess our capabilities in an email. I prefer to try and uncover "pain points" that the lead has to ensure we handle them appropriately. The body of the email should ask in a sentence or two (maximum two) something like "Are you looking at any software development initiatives this year that we can talk about?".

That will get people interested in what you have to offer.

At the end of the day though, there is no substitute for warm referrals to really drive business. Try and see if you can leverage an indirect sales model whereby you solicit business from companies that have customers of their own and need a partner like you to help deliver additional value outside of their core proposition.
Isaiah McPeak
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Isaiah McPeak Advisor
Entrepreneur and Debate Coach
I've had some success with folks falling into the Category 2 response above. It's the one I'd gravitate for. With that said, some common things that happen:

1) Posing. One person replies, but actually represents a network of friends/classmates that may end up doing the work, depending on what it is. Antidote: single-task tasks. Don't try and get the kitchen sink when outsourcing. Outsource UX/UI one place, front-end dev with another, database with another, UNLESS you hire an outsourced team.

2) Shoddy work. The person just doesn't know how to handle the project. Antidote: Work sample + a Skype call where the person walks you through how they achieved some of the work samples. This will help you gauge the mental processes of this person (if, indeed, it's the real person... see point 1).
Chris Carruth
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Chris Carruth Advisor
VP/Director. Strategy | Business Development | Operations | Product | Solutions

A vetted development outsourcing site, TopTal, has a guide for interviewing technical personnel. If you have not been around software being developed it may still be a bit rough but it boils things down and is more focused onhow clearly and succinct the answer is.

Sure there are many others..

Hugo Messer
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Hugo Messer Entrepreneur
Co Founder & CEO at ekipa.co; Owner at Bridge
I think none of the replies are good enough. If I had to choose, I'd pick number 2, cause it's short and at least they ask a couple of questions (which I think is key for any provider/freelancer to understand what you really need + propose the right solution).
I wonder to what extent sites like Odesk and Elance are a good source for startups to build their software. I've been working on a marketplace in this space, for outsourcing to top, vetted software teams from around the planet. You have a stadium full of teams shouting' pick us, we're the best'; we tell you which one to pick for your particular project. Have a look and let me know any feedback you have ([removed to protect privacy]); http://www.ekipa.co
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