Tips/anecdotes/experinece for outsourcing web development work to eLance, RentACoder etc.
August 5, 2007 6:17 AM   Subscribe

Tips/anecdotes/experinece for outsourcing web development work to eLance, RentACoder etc.

I have an idea for an ecommerce website that is a bit different to existing sites, and I haven't been able to find an off the shelf package. I am considering posting to, RentACoder or eLance to get a developer to build it from the ground up. I figure 50-100 hours of PHP coding.
I have some experience working with development teams and drawing up specifications, but only on large projects with in-house developers. I have novice PHP skills, so I can discuss somewhat intelligently during the development process.
Looking through the outsourcing boards it seems most of the jobs are flimsy, ill-specified requests.
Has anyone got examples or templates for outsourced web site development requirements and specifications? It also seems that a lot of the jobs are asking a lot of work for a few hundred dollars. Are the coders on these boards really working so cheap, or am I just seeing wishful thinking posts?

Any tips, experiences etc. would be appreciated.

And just to head off comments that a local developer will be a better bet, that might be possible in future, but this idea won't get built if it needs $100+ an hour programmers.
posted by bystander to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, a good specification from someone with some skills in the implementation language is never wasted work. Secondly, depending on where the coders live, ‘working so cheap’ may well be charging a big chunk more than a living wage.

Secondly, in your position, worrying to some extent about the quality of the people doing the work, I would break the spec down into separate deliverables, with the option of calling further coding off if the first part is not up to scratch. This both minimises your financial exposure in the event that something goes wrong, and scares off the real scammers.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 7:48 AM on August 5, 2007

The coders on those boards are taking those low estimates and providing low-quality work. If you keep watching, you'll see many of the same projects show up twice after the first developer turns out to be worth about as much as they're charging. You might get lucky, but quality developers generally don't hang out on those race-to-the-bottom sites.

Instead, they use sites like Authentic Jobs, CrunchBoard, jobs.JoelOnSoftware, jobs.37Signals, and other boards directly affiliated with respected development communities. But those are better sites because they weed out the poorly planned projects by charging money to post. If you need high quality work at a low rate, I'd say your best bet is to seek out university students. You might also consider MeFi jobs.
posted by scottreynen at 7:51 AM on August 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

(Apologies for my innumeracy. Maybe you shouldn't be taking advice from me.)
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 8:39 AM on August 5, 2007

There is a lot of room between the Rent-A-Coders and the $100+/hour local expert programmer. 90% of the "coders" on those bid-to-the bottom sites aren't worth the meager amount that you're paying them (and you will end up paying for tasks to be repeated two and three times). The more established communities that scottraynen mentions above aren't a bad start.

But for PHP work, especially if it's a pretty straightforward 50-100 hours, you can get a lot for $20-30/hour paid to a current college student or moonlighting recent graduate.
posted by toxic at 11:07 AM on August 5, 2007

I do a lot of freelance work via the web. Recently I've started taking on some pretty big projects -- but not as the coder. Instead, I offer my services as a project manager. It's then my job to draw up the specs and manage the $3/hour coders who do the actual work. This may be a route you want to consider.

The advantage (as I sell it to clients who think they can post a $5000 job and get something they want from sites like this) are two fold:

1) They get someone managing the process who knows something about the development process, and who knows the types of issues that need to be addressed before any code is put to paper; and

2) They don't have to spend n hours a day monitoring the progress of the project and (trying to) communicate with the coder or coders doing the work.

So it may behoove you to look into shelling out an extra couple hundred dollars who can manage the minute-to-minute details; most of the folks above are dead-on -- you can hire a $3/hour coder, but unless you know exactly what you need (down to the last detail), you're going to get exactly what you pay for.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 3:10 PM on August 5, 2007

Here's something you should read before using these sites.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:17 PM on August 5, 2007

You might want to use a trusted friend (or mefi) to get a better estimate. I have serious doubts about 50-100 billable hours getting you a 'built-from-the-ground-up' website.

If you're just prototyping, I'd suggest looking for an open source package that has most of the feature-set you want and then paying someone to modify the codebase to support your additional features. Look for someone who has worked with that application previously.

To get the best results from most contract work you need GOOD specifications. Doofus Magoo's advice of finding a go-between with some experience outsourcing work is a very good suggestion. At the very least I'd try to have some comps or mockups so that have some chance of getting the UI close to how you want it to look on the final.

Still, you're unlikely to find someone who can develop AND design at the price point you're paying, and most out-sourced scripting dev I've seen half-asses the output, inlining it rather than using templates -- you might end up having to pay someone else who knows enough script to modify the look.

At the price points you are considering (I'm guessing $2000 or so, if you're thinking outsourced dev work and 100 hours) be prepared to be very disappointed with the results -- $2000 barely buys you a competent static HTML website. I wish I was able to link to some of the work my past company had outsourced. Everything 'worked' but the flow was retarded, the code was non-extensible, and the UI was ugly as sin.
posted by fishfucker at 12:53 PM on August 6, 2007

My girlfriend and I have done a lot of research and experimentation with personal outsourcing. We are currently in the process of outsourcing the redesign of our blog, and blogging the process. We used rentacoder and have been really happy with the results so far, but we were very careful about the selection process.

The woman we found lives in Buenos Aires and has a great design sense, has been incredibly good about working with us, and has built us a complete Wordpress theme for $300. It's clear that the amount of time she's spent on it is more than you could get for a US designer for that much.

If you're interested you can read about our experiences here:
posted by kiwitobes at 4:05 PM on September 11, 2007

I should have made that a link, sorry, it's been a while since I used this site:
posted by kiwitobes at 4:06 PM on September 11, 2007

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