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How to motivate startup's subcontractors to do their job on time?

I have a 6 months old design company still in the prototype phase. I find myself in the situation where my product development has been delayed by months. Some reasons are natural, for example I had to change the manufacturing technique I originally had in mind, and I also had to change manufacturers a couple of times. But some of the delays seem so unnecessary, and I wonder how to reduce those, as those delays have a domino effect on me.

I particularly have problems with freelancers who I order services from. I also have a problem with a factory delaying and postponing things, but this I can understand since they are very busy and product developing is time consuming and risky from their perspective. I know startups are not very appealing to all of them. But what I cannot understand is why individual people working as freelancers cannot deliver. I always ask if they are busy at the moment, and they say no. And then I ask if they could send me the file this week (for a very minor change for example) or for the following week. But still it takes a lot more time (not for technical reasons) for them to deliver and 2-3 reminders, which is very frustrating. The thing is I've already browsed through some freelancers before these, and either these that I've found have better software / are technically better or more versatile or have a very competitive price. How do you guys handle freelancers? One of them was very motivated in the beginning and returned all the work ASAP, but then suddenly lost interest in delivering although nothing has changed. I'd like to find "natural ways" of motivating the freelancers if possible, whether it's better communication or offering to pay a bit extra if they deliver fast. Desperation is never appealing to anyone, so I haven't wanted to tell them how desperately I need their work so far. But I'm quite desperate even to start doing that if nothing else helps...

14 Replies

Jerod Moore
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Jerod Moore Entrepreneur
UX Designer at Lakeway Web Design
unconditional daily checkin of work via bitbucket private repo. They dont do it, they dont get paid. It does NOT matter if the file is done, it allows you to see progress is actually being made. Daily. Do not be nice to freelancers, kindness is not repaid with better work.
Irwin Stein
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Irwin Stein Advisor
Very experienced (40 years) corporate,securities and real estate attorney.
There are freelancers who freelance because they want more free time and there are those who freelance because they want to make more money. When I hire someone I usually let them tell me when they can deliver the project. If it is acceptable I tell them that since they set the date, I expect delivery on that date. I promise to pay promptly upon getting their invoice. If they are hungry they will usually deliver. We baby-boomers used to deliver on-time because we took pride in our work, called our selves professionals and cared about our reputation in the marketplace. Young people today, not so much.
Riyaz Shaikh
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Riyaz Shaikh Entrepreneur
Entrepreneur at heart, technologist by trade
After working with (and as) freelancers for the last couple years, here's my take on motivational problems:

1. If you are paying for minor tasks, you need to structure punctuality into the hourly rate. Something like +20% for same week delivery (and maybe -20% if more than couple weekends).

2. If you are not paying for minor tasks, try bundling your requests. Either bundle with an upcoming paid task, or bundle with other unpaid requests. Remember that a freelancer is motivated to allocate more time to paid tasks vs. unpaid ones.

Finally, do not indicate you are desperate. That will backfire. Instead, just try saying thank you to every single little task!
Mia Kahma
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Mia Kahma Entrepreneur
Founder, CEO at Voaki Ltd
Thanks for the advices. Actually I was thinking of suggesting them paying +20 % for the same week delivery. Good to hear it works.

As for the "deadlines" (I haven't used that exact word to be honest), I always ask when they could deliver it and go along with their schedule. But still a few weeks of delay almost always. I will definitely have a project management tool and written project contracts when the company gets off from the ground, but for now I can't change this policy all of a sudden. They wouldn't actually need my projects, and for me the main thing is to find partners that would want to work with me in the future too so I'd like to be as nice as possible.
Arseni R
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Arseni R Entrepreneur
I design digital experiences that propel brands forward and attract the right audiences
What do you think about creating a platform where project progress could be documented automatically and open to public ? For example, if a freelancer does not respond for weeks, or does not communicate clearly - all this would be visible to anyone who has the patience to look at your communication threads. Both you and freelancer would need to agree to make all project communication and the final result (physical project or url) public. Maybe all discussions of prices could be automatically hidden by the system. So the goal of this would be complete transparancy and a digital "record" for the sake of your and freelancer's reputation. This way hopefully you can see how other projects by this freelancer went with real clients, what the timing was, how good the result was. I am willing to make all my project communication with both freelancers and my clients public. And you?






Aleksandra Czajka
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Aleksandra Czajka Entrepreneur
Freelance Senior Software Engineer, Developer, Web Developer, Programmer - Full Stack
"The thing is I've already browsed through some freelancers before these, and either these that I've found have better software / are technically better or more versatile or have a very competitive price"

You haven't once questioned how to hire good people? Do you really think "technically better" or "competitive price" is what to look for?

It looks like you need to look into how to hire good people... people with integrity, dedication and honestly at their core. People who genuinely want to help. What would be the driving force behind that? Reputation. As freelancers, this is all we got. If we don't establish a good reputation, we won't get good contracts or any contracts at all. Intelligent freelancers know this. Intelligent freelancers are business people as well, because this is what they're running.

You need to hire people with integrity and, for this, you need good references and good intuition during the interview. Do they come off as genuine? Or do they try to bully you and make you feel like you simply don't understand technology so you wont understand why they're good. The later is what a bad business person would try to connote and, arguably, a bad technologist because they can't clearly communicate their skills.

i write about stuff like this on my blog too:http://thecodebug.com/vetting-a-technical-person/
Arseni R
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Arseni R Entrepreneur
I design digital experiences that propel brands forward and attract the right audiences
Should then there be a way to digitally "record reputation" in a way that is no word-of-mouth ? To me reputation is a sum of all business relationships one has had. LinkedIn as a platform does not show the dozens of projects I worked on and how they went. So if there a need that is not met ?
Mia Kahma
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Mia Kahma Entrepreneur
Founder, CEO at Voaki Ltd
Thanks again for ideas. Yes, well, the freelancers I use don't have an interview - I think I'd be better at hiring people than finding the right freelancers. I think it would also be easier to manage employees than subcontractors... It goes so that I call around, and then go visit the one that seems good based on the phone call. These are mini projects of a few hours (freelancers work from their home or office, usually it's a one person office).

By 'technically better' I mean for example, that I've already tried out different 3D modelers and them using different software. The freelancer that I'm using now is using the 5th 3D software that has been used for my project, and only that one works (as the 4 previous SF couldn't do what I wanted design-wise). So right now I'm just looking for someone who can do the job. If I was hiring I'd look for something else too. One of the freelancers on the other hand seems very reliable, but I think he might have his own art projects interfering and I think he might suffer from depression. But he's one of the best generalists I've met plus really good at details, so I'd actually consider hiring him as a first employee in time (would be much easier to motivate an employee). So paradoxically, I think he might be a good employee (at least worth trying for the trial period) but as a freelancer subcontractor he's been average.

I could use project management tools later, but right now I didn't find one that would be good for product development (tried DaPulse, Slack and Asana). In the future I'll still try the one attached to Zoho Mail system. Creating a whole new reputation platform sounds like a new business idea for someone that I wouldn't have resources for. I also don't feel comfortable sharing negative comments about someone in public.

As I have a very young startup and I'm mainly doing everything on my own I don't have time for big changes about working with freelancers now. So "light weight" tips for motivating them is what I'm looking for, and tips on how you guys choose where do order work performances from based on phone calls and quick visit would be nice too.


Dennis Storz
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Dennis Storz Entrepreneur
Products, People, Operations
If they are "losing interest" then it's likely that one or more of these are in play:
  • Your project is so small that it always gets the lowest priority
  • You aren't paying them enough (sounds like you are paying hourly)
  • They are junior people and you aren't giving them clear direction
  • They don't really know what is expected of them
  • They think your idea is stupid
  • They don't think you are serious or they don't like you
Your comment about the only 3D software that "works" is suspicious in it sounds like you may not really know what you need. How clear have you made your deliverables?




Barney Kramer
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Barney Kramer Entrepreneur • Advisor
Business Advisor, Executive, Trainer & Coach, Public Speaker,
Lots of great ideas in thinking stage but not so many leaders to bring them to fruition. Good luck!
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