The Secret Art of Contract Worker Management

If you’re developing an app or software product but don’t have the technical know-how to build the product yourself, you may be in the market for a contract developer. Why go contract instead of full-time employee? For most people, it’s a matter of cost.

A full-time employee is expensive. On top of that, for a simple app or software product, a lot of longterm upkeep may not really required, so why bring on a full-time employee for whom you can only foresee a few months of steady work? Contract employees don’t need salaries, benefits, or longterm commitments of work. Perfect!

But — managing a contract employee (most of whom will be working remotely, maybe even from another country) brings a whole new world of complications and challenges. Before diving in with a short-term contract worker, be sure your eyes are open about how to manage that relationship effectively so you both get what you need.

Before you start

The best place to find a good contract worker is through someone you know. They can tell you exactly what to expect, what kind of work this person does, and how they are to work with. Are they always on time? Sloppy? A perfectionist? These are honest details unlikely to come out in an interview, so seek out direct referrals from your network first.

If you find someone through a job board or other non-referral source, always ask for references and links to previous work; skipping this step will bite you every time. Ask previous clients how the contract worker was not just technically, but how easy they were to work with too. Having to hassle and beg someone to email you or update the project is usually more trouble than it’s worth.

Once you’ve found someone, it’s a good idea to have them sign a contract outlining the details of the work to be completed, the deadline for completion, and payment. Even if it’s a fairly straightforward, low-cost project, it only takes one misunderstanding to cause a pretty bad situation; it’s better to protect both of you by putting together at least a simple contract ahead of time (many templates for which can be found with a simple Google search).

Ensuring on-time, high quality work

Managing a remote employee for the first time can be confusing. How do you track the work of someone you don’t see every day?

First, you can start them on a trial basis. Have them complete a small deliverable (for which you will pay them) to make sure their work is on the quality level that you need. You’ll get to see how they work, and get a sense for how they will be to work with. If the work is good, then they continue the project. If not, then you’ve spent maybe $150 to find out that this person was not the right one for the job (which is much easier to swallow than $5000 and starting from scratch with a new developer).

Once they’re on the assignment, there are a ton of tools (like Trello) that allow you to create deliverables that your employee can update as they complete them. You can also ask that they keep their work updated in a github repository that they share with you. That way, you don’t have to take their word for what they’ve accomplished — you can see it all right in front of you.

If you’re super non-technical, ask a technically-minded friend to check in on the work for you too to let you know if your developer is making reasonable progress. It’s a good idea to get someone like this on your side checking in from time to time so you can be notified if there’s a problem before the developer presents you wish a finished product you have to pay for. It’s better to catch small mistakes early than to have a big mistake at the end.

Money matters

If you’re looking to save money by hiring a young or new developer, you can negotiate lower rates by offering to put a testimonial or case study on their website, or by offering to refer future clients to them. However, be careful of cutting the worker’s rate too much; money talks, and without it, people will have less incentive to pull long hours or do their best when you need them to.

Communication is key

At every turn during a contract assignment, communication is the most important deliverable for you and your worker to complete. Be clear upfront about expectations, and if you get the sense that this person is not communicating well early on — go ahead and assume they’re not going to get better about it, and think about finding someone else.

A contract worker who you can’t check in on every day face to face must be able to assure you that your work is being completed in a timely manner according to specifications. Trust your gut, and choose the person who comes most highly recommended and who gives you the best feeling. If it goes well, you may develop a longterm, mutually beneficial relationship that will pay you back again and again for your investment.

Want to learn more?

Check out these awesome posts from Hubspot and Trevor McKendrick on working with contractors.