Elance Buyers Share Outsourcing Tipselance_rupa | Jun 30, 2008
Experience is a great teacher – but gaining experience takes time. To get new buyers up to speed quickly, we asked buyers who post and award numerous Elance projects to share their wisdom.
The following are just some of the great tips we received for communicating with providers, evaluating bids, and managing the projects you award. Plus we’ve included some additional tips to help you succeed when hiring on demand.
Communication is Key
Evaluate Providers Like a Pro
Proactively Manage Your Projects
Communication is Key
Your project is only as good as your requirements. Take the time to write your project descriptions and specifications clearly and precisely. Ambiguity can lead to problems later – make sure to take the time to get your project descriptions right.
Make project descriptions concise and to the point. While that may sound like a contradiction of the first bullet, it’s not. State exactly what you want bidders to provide, precisely what your deliverables are, and your exact timeline. Clean and tight project descriptions also yield more accurate bids.
Clearly define the scope of your project. Leave no room for confusion about what must be delivered. (If you’re not sure about the scope, how can potential providers be?) Don’t leave deliverables open-ended – that’s the easiest way to create misunderstandings that can derail your project.
Don’t expect providers to go “above and beyond” your scope. Providers should be expected to meet your expectations. If you ask for 10 articles to be written, don’t expect 15. (If you need 15, specify 15.)
Communicate with providers through the PMB during the bidding period. Not only can you answer questions and provide additional info, you’ll also get a sense of how well you communicate with different providers. See your pre-award PMBs as a communication “trial run.”
Stay in regular contact. Be available to answer questions from Elancers within hours, not days. If you don’t have time to write a comprehensive answer right away, let the provider know when more information will be available. Keeping the dialogue going – at all stages of the project – shows Elancers how important your projects are to you.
Keep in mind miscommunication can still occur. If it does, providing more explanation or detail is usually better than less. If you’re not sure there is a communication issue, be proactive and ask questions to make sure there are no misunderstandings. Clearing up details early can save both of you time and effort.
Determine your criteria ahead of time. As part of the project posting process, think about the criteria you will use to assess potential providers: feedback, similar project experience, strength of portfolio, price, etc. Decide which criteria are most important for your project before you start to evaluate the bids.
Use your criteria to perform a quick screening. Narrow down the bidders to a shortlist that you can examine in detail.
Consider giving weight to providers with verified credentials. Verified credentials can demonstrate a provider’s educational background, certifications, and track record.
Do your homework and a little due diligence. Feedback ratings are a great start for evaluating providers, but if you post a large project, ask for contact details of previous and current customers so you can get additional reference information.
Allow time for communication and interaction. Different people have different styles and preferences, and even though you’re the buyer, adapting your approach to suit theirs is often a very effective approach. For example, some providers prefer phone calls, others email, others IM. Some like lots of detail, others want bullet points, and some appreciate drawings or diagrams. Be flexible in your communication approach so you get the outcome you want.
Look for providers with a number of repeat buyers. Repeat business is a sure sign a buyer is happy with the services a particular provider delivers.
For large and complex projects, consider developing a functionality brief. Some providers specialize in developing job specifications and functionality documents for large and complex projects. (Think of it like you would hiring an architect; the architect won’t build the skyscraper, but they will develop the plans and specifications that the contractor will follow.) If you know in general what you want but aren’t sure you can correctly communicate the minutiae, hiring out a comprehensive project description and functionality brief may be the perfect way to avoid misunderstandings and delays.
Set clear milestones. Milestones are a great way to ensure work is getting done and your project is on track. And don’t set your milestones too far apart – frequent milestones are a concrete way of “checking in” on how the provider is doing.
Use Elance Escrow so you only pay as work is completed to your specifications. Using Elance Escrow can help ensure you don’t pay for work that has not been done to your pre-determined standards.
Set business terms that ensure accurate delivery. For example, if your provider is creating a software application, require the application to be bug-free before final payment is made. If you posted a writing project, make your final payment only when all edits are complete.
Be ethical and fair. Do not add to the original project scope. If you have an unexpected need for additional services, request a quote for that service. Don’t expect providers to do additional work for free. And never assume the provider will automatically perform a task or service that was not originally specified. (Remember, providers will rate you as a buyer.)
Pay on time. You expect your project will be delivered on time. In return, your provider expects to be paid on time. Meeting your commitments sets a great example and helps build the foundation for long-term business relationships.
Make sure you know exactly what you need. You may think you only need a simple website, but your future needs may be much greater. Know your project’s technical requirements – both for now and for what may be required in the future.
Break large projects into several small projects. Small projects are a great way to try out new providers, and they let you closely monitor the progress of each phase of the project. And if one provider is struggling, you can quickly step in to correct the problem without delaying the entire project.
If price is a concern, talk to the provider. Many providers will be willing to work with you by determining alternative ways to deliver your project or by taking a more cost-effective approach.
When you find a good provider, stick with them. Developing a good working relationship requires an investment, at least in time – don’t let that investment go to waste.
Make decisions on a rational, business-oriented basis. Don’t let business become personal.
Follow up every few days to make sure the project stays on track. Better yet, request periodic updates as part of your original project description.
Take baby steps with new providers, especially for large or long-term projects. Don’t immediately assume you’ve found a provider for life. Take the time to get to know each other and determine if you’ll work well together over the long haul. If the first month goes well, add more responsibility and more tasks. Great relationships are built over time.
And finally, build a great buyer-provider relationship by:
- Paying on time
- Rewarding hard work with appropriate and thorough feedback.
- Inviting your favorite providers to bid on your new projects. Not only do you want them to know about the project, but your invitation shows you respect and appreciate the work they’ve done in the past.
Thanks to all the buyers who generously offered their advice. Are you an Elance buyer with advice to share? Post your tip by leaving a comment.