Inspired by a recent Ask HN thread asking how to hire competent freelancers, and having been on both sides of the fence, I decided to post my tips to help you choose and hire a freelancer and minimize your risk – especially if you’re hiring a freelancer for the first time.  Although the question focused on the various freelancing websites like Elance or oDesk, I believe the same principles apply in most cases.

1. Look for good communication skills

Miscommunication is one of the most common reasons that freelance projects fail and one of the biggest fears for potential employers. Removing the language barrier significantly reduces the chances of a misunderstanding.  When you have a list of potential freelancers, have a conversation with them. Chat on Skype or get them on the phone. Make sure they can clearly understand you and they have no issues expressing themselves and communicating. Clear communication helps both parties get on the same page, and avoid spending money and time redoing parts of the project due to a misunderstanding.

Assumptions can cause major problems, especially in a world where so many decisions are made by email. – Samuel Ryan 

Also read: 5 easy steps for clear communication with clients and Client Communication: The Most Important Part of Freelancing

2. Have a realistic budget

You always usually get what you pay for. This does not necessarily mean that everyone who charges $5 an hour is not talented, but at $5 an hour the signal to noise ratio is too low and chances are you’ll end up with someone who either cannot deliver what he promised, cannot communicate clearly or just disappears mid-project. Having a realistic budget will most probably minimize your risk and increase the chances you’ll get what you wanted, and get it right the first time.

3. Look into past experience

Don’t just take people’s words on their experience or contributions to the apps in their portfolio. Anyone can add an app in their portfolio, or make up a testimonial. If you’re not sure, ask for references. In my experience, anyone (especially those who have been burned before) who has worked with a freelancer and is happy with their work, is more than happy to tell everyone how good they are at what they do. Ask for the contact information of someone involved in the project and contact them personally to find out.

4. Start with a small part of the project

Clearly define a small subset of the project – a part this is fairly independent – and start with that. This will give both parties a chance to see how the other side works,  and whether they can work together for the main project.

These can probably make up a separate blog post but here is what I look for, when I’m hiring or being hired:


  1. Do they understand they requirements?
  2. Do they blindly follow my requirements or do they provide feedback based on their experience?
  3. Can they complete the project in a reasonable amount of time?


  1. Are they micromanaging?
  2. Are they responsive to queries?
  3. Can they clearly communicate the requirements?

What do you look for in a freelancer? Share your tips in the comments!

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  1. Pingback: I have an app idea. Now what? | Nick Nicolaou

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