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Outsourcing Development

You might be working developing the best idea ever. You code days and nights until you get your app working like it’s supposed to. But suddenly you hit a roadblock. You want it to have the best look and feel possible, but you’re not really a designer.

Or perhaps you might be designing the best WordPress theme, but you have no idea how to market it. Will it gain traction just for its inherent qualities? Maybe. Maybe not. If you were an expert at social media marketing, too, then maybe you stand a chance at competing with the already-established premium themes out there.

If you’re working alone, then chances are you might not always be able to take care of all aspects of development. I know some crack developers who, time and again, have sourced out part of their projects to other developers and designers. Some would assign projects on a per-module basis, and then assemble these into a bigger project once complete. And since I opened my own outsourcing business with a few partners, I’ve handled a few inquiries for various jobs, like back-end development, theme design, marketing or content. It’s a matter of filling in for expertise that other people might need.

In some cases, it would cost you a lot of money to have experts do the work for you. I know designers who charge thousands of dollars just for a WordPress theme. But then again, I know some who would be happy to do a theme for $500 or less. The lower end of the pricing scheme is usually a result of being situated in places with lower costs of living. I know this for a fact, because I enjoy this situation myself. Compare Tokyo, New York and Manila. $500 goes a long way in Manila, but would only get you a few lattes and sandwiches in New York, and probably an order of sushi and sake in Tokyo. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating here, but my point is that cost of living is relatively cheaper in some places.

Sometimes it’s a question of quality. Would you entrust programming and design work to people overseas? More importantly, would you entrust these to people who are complete strangers? And sometimes there are quirks and nuances that you have to consider. Is someone living in Mumbai familiar with the colloquialisms used by someone living in the west coast USA? This might not be an issue when you’re paying someone to convert your PSD graphic into CSS. But if you’re ordering articles, blog posts or other content, this would play a big part, especially if you’re building content meant to be read by humans (rather than, say, search engines).

Have you considered outsourcing development? It might be a good business move, but only if you can do it right. Outsourcing does not mean you can just pass on a task to someone else in its entirety, without much monitoring and interaction. Similarly, micromanaging outsourced work would be too much work for you, that you would probably be better off doing it yourself. Strike a balance. Build trust and keep communication lines open.

Have you outsourced development work before? Share your experiences.


  1. By Alexander Langer posted on July 22, 2009 at 11:55 am
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    I recently started outsourcing with some small and mid sized projects. Never thought of it before but somehow somewhen at the right time different shops from India contacted me and on the side I was pretty busy and needed some extra ressources and skills I couldn’t easily find around here.

    So I met guys from two different shops here in Germany, I sent them the same specifications for a project I worked out and let them make an offer sheet. Besides some Flash stuff that I could not do by myself the whole project lay inside my skill scope and so I could not only be very precise in my specs work but as well had a good idea of the amount of time it would take to get the job done.

    One shop came to me with an estimation of 400 man hours, the other with some 170 man hours. Also the first candidate called a 80% higher rate per hour than the second one. My own estimation was also around 150-200 hours and I could not understand what 400 hours would be used for. They couldn’t explain (or didn’t want to) and instead negotiated a lower price for the same amount of work, wanted to know my client’s budget, etc.

    Usually I do not know my client’s budget myself. We work out what is needed and I make an offer based how long I think it will take. Never came a client and said “I have a budget of x. What can I get for it?”.

    The first shop turned out to be rather annoying. Calling me on the phone, sending mails, calling me on Skype and so on. They desperatey wanted the deal but because I felt treated unfairly by their unrealistic time estimations and because communication with the other shop went pretty well (and my client was willing to pay the price they and I were calling) I turned to them. Also they offered no-cure-no-pay for our first project.

    I’m feeling pretty comfortable with the way communication goes, their skill level and how situations, project management, etc. are handled and so I’ll go on working with them on gigs I couldn’t play if I had to do it all on my own.

    Meanwhile other India based shops try to get me. Some are pretty annoying, telling me about 60% and 70% discount on the first project and although they have the lowest rates of any I talked to by now I refused to work with them, cause I’m feeling like haunted by a stalker. Some don’t seem to understand that the price alone isn’t anything. It’s about valua not price and if I don’t sense that we are talking the same language we’ll never work together.

  2. By Jon Spooner posted on July 23, 2009 at 1:37 am
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    I have outsourced many times and it has been a rather unfulfilling experience. I have tried India, China, Vietnam, Eastern Europe, Argentina and they were all “ok” but not great.
    I would equate my experiences to asking for dinner and being served a plate of Doritos. Yes this is food and yes I am no longer hungry and yes (I guess) you could consider corn a vegetable… but come on!
    I guess the key to outsourcing is being very VERY specific in your specs docs. Very VERY VERY specific! I have gotten contact forms back with just images for the field entries textareas .

    The price jockeying that Mr. Langer mentioned is one of the downsides to outsourcing. The contractors get so caught up in undercutting everyone else that they totally forget about the quality and expertise needed to properly do the job.

    One positive outsourcing bit is if you are US-based consider working with Argentina since they are in the same timezone. The sucky part of dealing with India/China is that you have to stay up late to catch them as they come into work – give them instructions and then hope that they understand. And when you wake up and check in with them in the morning it is the end of their day so they are way less responsive.

    Another positive to outsourcing is when you are handling the meat of the project and just outsourcing one simple thing. Like “please create 301s for all of the old pages on my client’s site and point them to the correct new pages”. These type of gigs are perfect for outsourcing. But anything where a judgement call has to be made or any kind of UX decision has to be made fuhgetaboutit!

  3. By Victoria Blount posted on July 23, 2009 at 8:10 am
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    After reading this post, if i were to outsource the work i would do it with caution and over estimate the time it takes to complete the work, as communicating the development of the work can be time consuming.

  4. By Colin posted on July 23, 2009 at 7:47 pm
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    I have outsourced before. To a software company in India for less than 10$ CAD\hour. They added new functionality to a billing system that I couldn’t do myself. PHP/MySQL primarily.

  5. By Jeff posted on July 26, 2009 at 2:03 pm
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    From time to time we send our psds to CSS Ninjas. Company is based in Europe but I never had any problems with communication (maybe because there isn’t much to talk about when it comes to slice-up work). We couldn’t be more happy with the results.

    Previously we used W3 Markup and XHTMLized – good code but pricey. Avoid CSS Rockstars!

  6. By Sam posted on July 28, 2009 at 1:02 pm
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    I think outsourcing has its benefits, but I feel it can be hard to maintain communication, especially with the time and language barriers.

  7. By Dhane Diesil posted on August 7, 2009 at 6:14 am
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    I’ve never outsourced, but have been considering it – heavily – as of late. What are some good places to find reliable “people”, who are accessible, to outsource design and coding work to.

    I always get people who need certain services I don’t offer, and would like to be able to retain them as clients, but just sub-contract specific aspects of their project to others…

    Any recommendations would be helpful

  8. By Michail posted on August 13, 2009 at 12:59 pm
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    HI everyone. I’m looking for the company who is interested to outsource work in mobile device areas to Russia.I’ve worked before in a big company and now ,then I’m trying to develop own business I really understand your concerns. Thanks for yours articles.

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