When you start looking, you will notice that there’s absolutely no shortage of freelance web designers to collaborate with. Online freelance marketplaces such as Fiverr are packed with these skilled candidates. On top of those, you’re bound to find at least ten or twenty in the nearest town.
Now, you’re left with the difficult task of narrowing this pool of talent down to the one that will work most effectively with you. It’s hard even if you have some technical knowledge, but it can seem near impossible if you don’t. On the other hand, it’s easy to think technical considerations are the only ones that matter. Anyone who has hired a genius who is impossible to work with can tell you just how wrong-headed that can be.
In this article, we’ll focus on a few ways you can be sure you’re getting the most compatible partner.
CHECK OUT THEIR WORK/PORTFOLIO
Ask to see some of the designer’s finished work. Before you start evaluating, make sure you understand the parts your prospect worked on. Spend some time to explore their project. Make notes of what you like and don’t like. Maybe they built a website that’s really fast, but it places some odd constraints on the user’s password. Ask them what led them to make those decisions.
If you know a little about code yourself, you can dig into the designer’s CodePen account to see what they’ve written and which projects they have contributed to. Seeing their code will help you understand if they are a good fit from a technical perspective. This gives you a more concrete idea of what that designer’s list of accomplishments actually means in terms of skill.
FIND OUT HOW (AND WHAT) THEY LEARN
From the best practices to the actual technology used, software development changes at a rapid pace. If you end up with a designer who is stuck in the practices and tech of 10 years ago, you’ll miss out on tools and techniques that could make your project better, faster, and easier to maintain.
Ask prospects how they learn new things and what is the most recent thing they’ve learned that helps them in their development. What did they gain from learning it? What’s the next thing they would like to learn and why?
Even if you aren’t familiar with the specifics of their answers, you can get a sense for how curious this designer is. Too much curiosity can lead to projects being built on experimental, unproven foundations, but, in general, a curious designer can bring more to your project.
FIND A COMPATIBLE COMMUNICATOR
Communication can make or break a project. Make sure the designers you work with are willing and able to communicate in a way and with a frequency that you can live with. Most designers have communication tools in place they use with colleagues. Look into those and see if they will work for you. If not, find out if the designer is OK using the alternative tools you suggest.
This is also a great time to find out how often you’ll be hearing from the designer. If the answer is, “Once at the end of each milestone,” you’re probably going to be unhappy. What are the chances the designer will understand your project exactly the way you intend it the first time? What are the chances that every distinct piece that makes up a completed milestone will be perfectly in place just as you imagined it?
Regular check-ins (at least once every five days) can fix small misunderstandings before they become big ones.
TEST THEM WITH A PROJECT
You’ll learn more with this method than with all the others combined. Asking probing questions and peeking into their code can only give you tiny glimpses of what working with a person is like. The best way to understand what it’s like to work with them is to do it. A test is also your best opportunity to get past the technical stuff and into the stuff that really matters: Are we going to be miserable trying to work with this person?
If possible, break off a small piece of your project and work with the prospect to complete it. If at all possible, pay them to do it. This does a few nice things for you:
- it gives you a low-risk way to test working with the designer;
- it leaves you with a useful deliverable even if the relationship doesn’t work out;
- if you can afford to pay a fair rate it’s mutually beneficial for both you and the designer.
I mention this last point because sometimes companies are tempted to ask designers to build a small test project for free for the purposes of evaluating them and their work style. This is not a good way to start a relationship with your designer. If they can build something that will be useful to you — even if, in the beginning, it’s not the entire project you want to build — isn’t that worth paying for?
It’s probably best you don’t present this to the designer as a test project. You don’t need to lie or deceive them in any way, but present this as the project. In fact, it is the project for now. If everything works out, you’ll have another project to offer, but don’t hold this over them. It will adversely affect the relationship dynamic. No one wants to be the subject of experimentation. If everything goes well, the designer will want to work with you on future projects; you don’t have to use that, in the beginning, to keep them on the hook.
During this engagement, keep your eyes open for red flags. Think carefully about what kinds of behavior you can’t work around.
CAREFUL VETTING PAYS OFF
If your timeline for project completion is approaching and you don’t have time to take all these steps, at least do the test project. Have your prospect build a piece of the larger project, that way your risk is low and no time is wasted. It’s an extremely valuable tool to ensure this is a relationship you want to have. Even if it fails and you have to find someone else, it will cost you less time and money than committing to a partner to build the entire project only to have it fall through.
It’s much easier in the beginning to pick someone you like and hope for the best. Sometimes that can work out, but, for the good of your project, you should enter into relationships with your eyes open as much as possible.
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