Three reasons you shouldn’t outsource your freelance work

This is a guest post by Zack Shapiro.
elance logo smallI have been using freelance websites for the past few years and truthfully, I’ve never had a great experience. I have never walked away with a good feeling after a product had been delivered thinking, “I’m freelancing again next time I need a project done!”
Why? Three reasons:
The language barrier
Chances are, if you’re using mainstream freelancing websites, the cheapest client with the most experience that looks the most attractive won’t have the same native language as you. Nothing against skilled workers from other countries but the language barrier that often comes up ads hours of work per day trying to communicate exactly what you want.
The wasted time is reason enough to pay extra and work with freelancers who speak your language and speak it well.
It’s exploitative
Spec work websites ask for freelancers to do the work that you want with a very little chance for payment. The model seems great for those looking for cheap work and bids from a variety of freelancers but it sucks for the people on the other end of the equation.
It’s like asking a group of architects to build you a house, which cost them time and resources, then you’ll choose which house you want to live in and pay for. At the end, there are 16 houses and only one architect gets paid. How is that fair to them?
Authenticity concerns
How can you be sure that the work done is for you? I’m referring here to website design program coding than anything else.
I had an experience with a freelancer who, instead of designing the WordPress theme that I paid him for, went out and found a theme that already existed. Then modified it a little and sold it off. After seeing it and before paying, I tried my hardest to make sure that he hadn’t just bitten my theme off of another one. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it. And he had in fact used someone else’s work and passed it off as his own.
Another freelancer told me that he would own the sole rights to my iPhone code so that he could reuse pieces of code for future customers. Needless to say, I didn’t hire him.

How do you know the work they’re doing for you isn’t going to be resold to someone else in some form or another? You don’t.
Work with someone you can meet with, someone you can trust. Sign some documents stating that the work done is only being done for you and that you get to keep the work that you pay form.
I’d rather pay more for a trusted freelancer than a cheap outsource. I want to feel good about the product that I pay for, however it gets done. That’s why I don’t outsource my freelance work.

Zack Shapiro is The Startup Student, a student entrepreneur in Boulder, Colorado. He is the founder of 59thirty, an iPhone development company. You can find Zack on his blog at http://thestartupstudent.com or on Twitter @ZackShapiro.

5 comments on “Three reasons you shouldn’t outsource your freelance work

  1. Interesting article, but I find it a bit disingenuous. Why not just say “don’t outsource to third-world countries”? That is, after all seems to be your main message … I don’t think you have to worry about anyone suing you for saying it.
    I’m a US born and bred man who lives in the Philippines by choice (actually couldn’t stand the reactionary intolerance in Colorado, but that’s a comment for a different time.)
    Living here, I know about “outsourcing” from both sides of the coin. If you think paying people a decent local wage so they can exercise their training and fulfill their desires (not to mention feeding their children) is “exploitation”, so be it.
    But when you imply that the only standard of fairness is to apply the US wage scale it begs the question as to who in this world decides “fairness”?
    Did those folks on eLance sign up of their own free will, or were they coerced? Did the Mexican field hand who picked the tasty, upscale “Organic Boulder arugula” in your luncheon salad take the job of his own free will, or was he coerced as well?
    One answer is, “Of course they weren’t coerced, they volunteered.”
    The other answer is, “Yes they were coerced, must assuredly, by an empty stomach and by tucking in the children with an empty stomach every night.”
    Is one answer correct, or both, or neither? Your call.
    Not looking for a fight, just hoping to provide a little viewpoint from the other side of the Pacific(and the broad economic) ocean.
    Your other concerns about outsourcing, originality, respect for IP rules, etc., are well taken and apply to outsourcing in any environment.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Dave. I really appreciate your take on the freelancer from the other side of the pond.
    Fairness, as you point out, is a somewhat subjective thing. I agree.
    I don’t think that giving a freelancing job is always exploitation. In my post my point was that spec work is exploitation. Asking freelancers to do the work for a small chance that they’ll get paid is exploitation. Awarding a freelancer the winning big on eLance based on solid reviews and samples is not exploitation.
    The exploitative part can come in later when people choose not to pay the agreed upon amount. That’s outside of the reach of this post though.

  3. I must say that I completely disagree with the article. I have been using freelancers on eLance for over a year now and I’m very happy.
    I never had a problem with language barrier, I don’t ask anyone to build me anything before being awarded the project, and if you work with providers who have good reviews, the risk of having them screw you over in the way you describe is next to none. The providers I work with once, I end up developing a long term relationship and keep sending them work over and over again. From a cost-effective point of view, I can’t use a local provider because I would have to pay 5x what providers in less developed countries charge. Just consider this, the GDP per capita in the US is $44k/year; in India it’s $1.2k/year. My dollar gives me more buying power, and quality of work, in India than in the US.

  4. On “your” iPhone code, I don’t think you understand how software development works. Most parts of a software product are generic, and it would be a waste to not reuse them across projects. It’s not like building something physical like a house where you are the only person living in it. Software is a set of designs that once brought into existence can benefit humanity as a whole over and over again. See http://agalltyr.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/intellectual-property/

  5. I understand what you’re saying, Matthew — and have a background in software development and a degree in compsci — but I’ll say from a business perspective it’s fine to have a hired developer share core modules and functions, but ultimately the code written for hire needs to be the property of the client. Otherwise they’re funding their competitors being on par, which is just daft business.

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