Don’t know how to code? If you have the money, hiring freelancers to do the technical work is one option. Here's how to avoid being burned.
Non-technical founders are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to launching a tech-based startup. Sooner or later, it will make sense to find a technical cofounder. However, good people are usually already busy pursuing exciting opportunities. The best route is to follow the Lean Startup methodology and begin with an MVP (minimum viable product) to validate the idea and have something to show to potential partners.
But, what if you're so tech-illiterate that you can't even cobble together a bare-bones MVP? If you have the budget available, you can work with freelancers. Sites such as Conyac operate as a marketplace where you can post jobs in a broad range of work categories. You should have no trouble finding people who can compensate for whatever skills you lack.
Let's take a look at how to work with freelancers without burning a lot of money. I am speaking from a mixture of personal experiences. I'll spare you the details (just know that it was painful) but will share with you the lessons I learned the hard way.
1. Stay Calm and Slow Down
Be warned —it's easy to get burned. When you are browsing technical specialists who claim to be able to build anything for a tiny fee, it is easy to get excited. You start imagining all the possibilities, and you can't believe nobody beat you to it. If you're starting to feel like this, then you need to slow down.
Poorly defining your requirements, having a vague scope of work, selecting the wrong freelancers, and neglecting to manage the process carefully can lead to a whole world of pain and frustration. And, the worst thing is that you'll be hooked. Like a cocaine addict, you'll think that if you just throw another wad of money at it, you'll push through and solve everything. Meanwhile, in reality, you're just digging a deeper hole.
2. Plan Carefully
As a non-technical person, you likely are thinking of your idea and its components as being relatively straightforward. However, you're probably missing a lot of the necessary details that would enable you to plan the project in milestones. Technologists don't think like everyday people. Without a clear roadmap to keep them on track, they will build something with poor usability or some other major hurdle.
Before hiring a freelancer to start building, it can pay first to hire one who has excellent communication skills in the capacity of a consultant. You can have a call to explain what you want and then have them research the technologies required to build it. Based on this, they can draft a project plan.
3. Consider Hiring a Project Manager
If, upon reading said project plan, you're feeling lost, and out of your depth, it may be worthwhile hiring a freelance project manager (PM). This is a technical professional who can act as a bridge between you, normie, and an engineer who will be doing the actual building. Their job will be to ensure everybody is on the same page, has reasonable expectations, deadlines are met, and you stay under budget.
Coders love to get into a cozy flow and focus on building. They don't like being interrupted, pestered for updates, or having to answer a lot of questions. Many engineers are quite straightforward people and come across as overly blunt. They can also be quite proud and take affront if they feel their competence is being questioned. A good PM will know how to handle both sides—you and the engineer—and act as a buffer between.
Ideally, work with a PM who has entrepreneurial experience and can understand your mindset, ask the right questions, and help you design optimal launch plans. This type of freelance PM can see beyond merely building a piece of software that works from a technical standpoint. They can help produce something that people will want to use, and that you can monetize.
4. Build An Audience — Or Buy Traffic
Once your MVP is ready, you'll want to put it out into the world to get feedback. Even if it's just a landing page with an email sign-up form, you'll want to attract potential users.
There are two ways to attract relevant traffic:
Build an Audience: For example, having a blog and/or social media presence that publishes content that your target market would find interesting. However, this is a long and hard road to take. Nowadays, the internet is flooded by content—much of which is professionally produced. So, it can be hard to gain traction unless your content is significantly better and optimized for organic reach (SEO, hashtags, etc.).
Buy Traffic: Otherwise known as advertising. Google lets you target what people are actively searching for. In contrast, Facebook enables you to target people's interests and show up for them passively. My preference is the latter since it's generally easier to get started. Test with a small budget first and examine the data. Be methodical about it because advertising is another way to quickly burn through a ton of money if you're not careful.
5. Set Business Goals
Many people believe business plans to be a waste of time. Still, I think they help force you to think things through and consider various scenarios. If you are weak in one or more areas required to produce a solid business plan, this is where freelancers on a site such as Conyac can be helpful. They can assist with market research, financial projections, and even making the final plan look aesthetically pleasing if you need to show it to people.
6. Know When to Transition to Full-Time Hires
Freelancers operate as mini service businesses. They may be compensated on either an hourly or fixed fee. However, you need to remember that since they have no equity in your project, they have no desire to go beyond the agreed scope of work. Once the money stops flowing, they will drop your project like a hot stone.
Startups of all sizes and stages find freelancers to be a useful resource—sometimes on a long-term basis. However, they are not the solution to everything. Once your MVP and business plan are ready, I suggest you seek out cofounders whose strengths complement yours. If attracting investment is one of your goals, you will find it much easier if you have two or three people committed to the same vision.
You can build and operate a startup relying solely on freelancers. However, if used correctly, they can be a tremendously valuable resource. Freelancer sites such as Conyac are a treasure trove full of talent. You just need to proceed carefully and know what you're doing.
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