Are Freelance Developer Sites Worth Your Time?

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Many websites allow you to look for freelance programming jobs or Web development work. (Hongkiat.com, for example, offers links to several dozen.) The problem for developers in the European Union and the United States is that competition from rivals in developing countries is crushing fees for everybody, as the latter can often undercut on price.

This isn’t a situation unique to software development; look at how globalization has compelled manufacturing jobs to move offshore, for example.

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The big question, of course, isn’t so much cost as quality, and you can find excellent code anywhere from Indiana to India. I once commissioned some Flash development work via a freelance site and received a range of bids from $30 to $5,000; I shortlisted five and asked to see evidence of previous work from them. One was an Indian guy living in Thailand with a really extensive portfolio. I picked him and he didn’t disappoint: For $150 I got a terrific piece of work done, which included source code. (It was so well done I gave him a $75 bonus.)

There are reasons to stick closer to home, of course, when selecting a freelancer. Time zone differences can delay changes; trying to arrange discussions with a developer eight (or more) time zones away can quickly become a real pain—even if you leave as detailed instructions as possible, chances are good you’ll still have to talk to him or her face-to-face. But cheaper prices are nonetheless a strong motivation for picking developers in developing countries.

Freelance Websites

With all that in mind, I surveyed some freelance websites; I was especially interested in the ones that catered to Western developers, who typically need to operate at price-points higher than that of their counterparts in many developing nations.

The old 37 Signals job site has transformed into WeWorkRemotely.com, a site devoted to listing remote-working jobs. The jobs can be anywhere in the world, although most seem to be U.S.-based, and mainly for Web development. A few of the U.S.-based ones ask that their remote workers live in the U.S. or within four time zones (which allows Canadians, as well as Central and Southern American developers to compete).

Freelancer.com (formerly getafreelancer.com) is one of the oldest freelancing sites and certainly amongst the biggest, with over 14 million developers. In addition to project hiring and bidding for projects, the site encourages developers to take exams in order to demonstrate competency in many subjects. (These exams cost between $5 and $15.) Apart from a few local job categories, which don’t have much activity, Western developers have to compete on price.

Then there’s Odesk, which detected that I was based in the U.K. and localized its offerings accordingly. (But localization only works if the site has enough business for individual niches; for example, I checked out Technical Articles and found that none were U.K.-oriented.) Odesk does offer technology groups where businesses can hire prescreened freelancers, but breaking into these prescreened groups takes time. The biggest group is BigCommerce with over a thousand developers, but smaller ones aim at particular technologies—Facebook development or Corona SDK, for instance.

Slightly different is ProBlogger Jobs, which offers freelancing jobs for bloggers, both English-speaking and otherwise. There is a wide gulf in jobs offered; some offer just $5 per article, while technical pieces can earn a writer $300-$500.

The last site I visited was Envato Studio, a reworking of the existing Freelanceswitch jobs site. Instead of the usual list of freelance jobs and freelance developers, each freelancer has a page listing what they can do, as well as how many jobs they’ve done, recommendations, and costs. Prices are definitely cheaper here but not stupidly so; one Italian company charges $2,000 for developing a game on iOS and Android using Unity 3D. Another in India will convert websites to Android apps in one day at $50 each. Price, reputation and number of jobs count here.

Conclusion

All the above sites are largely global in scope, although some (most notably WeWorkRemotely) seem to have more of a local focus than others. It’s my impression that the bottom has already been reached, in terms of contractor pricing; to compete these days, it’s not just a question of price, but also quality and speed.

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