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How to hire a #freelance #designer or #developer

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A 3-step guide to helping you find the right person

Jory MacKay

Jory MacKay

February 16, 2016

Whether you’re making a website, mobile app, or logo, knowing how to hire a freelance designer or developer—and how to hire the right one for your job—will be one of the most important decisions you make.

Why? Because even your idea, which might seem like everything, is worthless without proper execution.

The challenge is, you likely want to know if a designer or developer is the right fit for your project before you start working together. You don’t want to waste time and/or money working with someone who might not be the right fit.

At Crew, we’ve refined a process to increase the odds of choosing the right professional to work with.

It’s not a foolproof recipe yet, but it has improved our ability to identify the right freelance designer or developer before we start a project and can help you in your search of how to hire a freelance designer or developer.

So, let’s get started.

The most important things we look at first to assess a designer or developer before starting a project are:

  • Quality of work: How well does his/her past work fit within the project we’re looking to do?
  • Quality of communication: Whether it’s offsite or in-person, how well does he/she communicate information?
  • Ability to execute: What can we expect in terms of timelines and process when working with him/her? Has he/she executed well before

Assessing quality of work

How do you know if a freelance designer or developer is right for your project? See what they’ve done in the past.

An experienced designer/developer should have a personal website and easily be able to point to at least 3 examples of past work that relates to your project.

Personal site of freelance designer Joshua Gross
Personal site of freelance designer Joshua Gross

Now, let’s say you’re looking to hire a product interface designer to help make it easier for people to interact with your website or app.

Looking at their past work, don’t just look at the visual appeal of their past projects. Click through the screens of their examples and note how you feel as you go through them.

As you click around, do you understand what to do next?

Apart from clicking the links and looking at the projects, you should also find out what role the creative professional you’re looking at hiring played on each example project.

What did they personally contribute?

Designing the logo on a website would be a much different role than designing the core product interface.

Granted, a past project example might have changed since the designer you’re looking at working with contributed to it. But if that’s the case, you should ask to see the design work they did do in mockup form or ask to see another example project.

It may seem obvious, but when you’re reviewing the work, look for projects similar in scope to yours. A great designer who built a single-page website may have been the right fit for that job but might not be the right fit for designing your iPhone app.

If you’re looking to hire a developer, this process can be a bit trickier.

While it’s hard not to evaluate past work based on how it looks, that’s not always the fairest representation of what was done, especially when it comes to something like backend development.

Instead, ask the developer you’re looking at working with if you can message a past client.

As a rule, ask any creative professional you’re looking to hire for at least 3 examples of past projects similar to yours and understand what level of contribution they had on each of these projects. (We’ll cover this more later)

Relate this back to the type of work you need to determine if there’s a level of experience from similar projects that would make him/her a good potential fit for your project.

Assessing quality of communication

At first, it may seem like the quality of work is the most important thing when you’re looking to hire a freelance designer or developer, but from our experience, working with someone who is a strong communicator is just as valuable, if not more

Before choosing to work with a designer or developer, it’s a good idea to have a call to get a feel for his/her ability to communicate. After seeing the portfolio of a designer, you might feel excited and ready to start the project right away, but it’s important to not just look at the quality of past work as the only qualification to hire someone.

Emailing back-and-forth is good, but having at least one conversation by phone or in person can reveal more about what it might be like working together than almost anything else.

You’ll get a much stronger idea if your your communication styles are in sync or not. During the project you’ll be communicating regularly, so it’s important to at least get a taste for how this feels before you kick off.

When we have a call or meeting with a designer or developer we’re looking to work with, we often like to discuss the level of communication we expect to have on the project and ask how he/she typically keeps clients updated.

There are many ways to communicate during a project:

  • Weekly emails
  • Calls
  • A project management tool (like Basecamp or Trello)
  • Or a combination of these things.

Make sure it’s clear how communication will flow during the project and that the designer/developer you’re looking to work with will be comfortable working that way.

Independent developer Joshua Gross, has over 10 years of experience working as a freelancer. Reflecting on his experience, Joshua wrote:

“No matter how good your designs, how fast your code, or how amazing the result, poor communication will sink projects and end client relationships even faster than a poor work product.”

— Joshua Gross

Make sure you know what communication expectations you have and discuss those before you hire anyone. Even if they change during the project, setting these expectations for communication before a project starts will help remove the most common way creative projects go wrong: poor communication.

Assessing their ability to execute

An idea doesn’t exist without execution.

To find out about a professional’s ability to execute, ask for at least 3 references from past clients and/or project collaborators.

Contact each reference and ask these questions:

  • Was work delivered on time?
  • Did the project stay on budget?
  • How happy were you with the end result?

At the same time, input from references might hold more or less weight depending on what you’re building.

For instance, if you need to work with a developer to help build the backend of a robust social networking app that has similar functionality to Facebook, a reference from a past client that needed a custom blog would probably not be the most valid.

Ideally, ask for references where the designer or developer you’re looking to hire had to deliver on a project that was similar in scope to yours.

Speaking with references can give you feel for how a designer/developer works and executes on a project. But at the same time, references shouldn’t be the only thing you use to make the decision of who to hire.

There’s a good chance most client references you get will be good. After all, they will likely be provided by the designer or developer you’re looking to hire.

Yet these references can still give you insight into someone else’s experience working with the designer or developer you’re thinking about hiring, especially if you ask the right questions.

If you’re still not sure, start with a small project

If you’re not sure about how to hire a freelance designer or developer for your project you can make things less risky by working on a small part of the project together.

This will give you a chance to see what it’s like working together when the stakes aren’t as high.

By doing a small, initial project, this is a way to ‘date before getting married’ so to speak, and ensures both you and your creative professional feel comfortable before committing on a long-term project.

For larger projects, it’s common to set up a first milestone, which could be used as your initial project. By doing a smaller initial project, you’ll likely get the strongest idea of a designer or developer’s work quality, communication, and ability to execute compared to anything else you could evaluate.


Finding the right people to work with is one of the most challenging parts of any project. Businesses regularly cite ‘hiring the right people’ as the biggest challenge they face so don’t beat yourself up if you miss the mark off the bat.

By following the steps above, we’ve increased our chances of hiring the right people.

We don’t get it perfect every time, and chance is always a factor when it comes to hiring people. The point is to balance this chance with a few more data points and push the odds in your favor.

As a reference, here’s a summary of the steps mentioned here:

  • Assess quality of work by asking for a personal website and at least 3 past project samples
  • Assess quality of communication by having at least 1 phone call or in-person meeting before hiring
  • Assess ability to execute by getting at least 3 references from past clients

Lastly, if you want a hand finding a talented, vetted designer or developer get in touch and we’ll help you find the best person to bring your idea to life.

This post is part of our How to Build a Business series—20 lessons to take your project from idea to launch day. 

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