Build A Profitable Software Company Without Knowing How To Code: The Complete Beginner’s Guide To Hiring A Kickass Developer Without Getting Burned

Dear God, I promised I’d stop talking about this.

But here I am again. Talking about it.

Elance and oDesk, that is.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of using freelance marketplaces to get a “leg up” in the early days of your entrepreneurial journey.

(Hell, I just wrote about this very topic for Business Insider last week and it was read by over 97,000 people in just 2 days…clearly people still want to hear about it.)

So why stop talking about it?

Well, to be honest, I think that just like any powerful platform, these marketplaces can become a crutch for beginners who are still developing their skills.

After you experience a few wins and make some money with one of these sites, it’s easy to think that they are the ONLY way to freelance.

And as I discuss in-depth in my premium material, sites like these are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to finding clients.

But today, I want to take a look at these sites from the OTHER side of the curtain. The hiring side.

My friend Dave Schneider is the cofounder of NinjaOutreach…but he didn’t build the application himself.

He learned how to find the right people to build it for him without:

  • Spending a ton of money or…
  • Getting burned by shitty developers

Now he has an asset that’s getting more and more users every single day, making him money…even though he probably wouldn’t be able to write a single line of code if you had a gun to his head.

(I hope that’s not true, Dave. Just sayin’ ;p)

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I want you to stop and think about that for a minute. If you have an idea for an application or piece of software that solves a problem, you can use today’s guide to find someone who can make your idea come to life and start making money…all on a shoestring budget.


So cool!


Dave’s step-by-step breakdown on the hiring process he uses to build his applications will be extremely useful to you if:

  • You are an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to develop an application or build a technology company…but aren’t a “techie”
  • You are a freelancer and would like to know what goes on inside the head of a prospective client, including what indicators make them much more likely to hire you

I think you’re really going to enjoy today’s post!

Take it away, Dave!


You’ve got an idea for a hot new application you want to build.

Unfortunately, you have no coding experience.

I get it. I’ve been there.

What are your options?

  1. Get over yourself and learn to code.
  2. Find someone in your network (friend, relative, friend of friend) who you can partner with.
  3. Hire/outsource someone.

Numbers 1 and 2 seem like go-to choices – why would I want to hire some rando when I could simply work with someone I know (or better yet, just do it all myself)?

But there are a lot of pitfalls too, such as:

  1. You don’t know anyone techie.
  2. You want to get started today, not in several weeks (or potentially months if you are teaching yourself).
  3. You want someone experienced, who is full time on the project to expedite it.

Wait a minute, you’re saying you don’t have a bunch of ready, willing developer friends who are jumping to work on your idea for a shoestring budget (or just equity)?


Kidding…It’s pretty understandable, really.

In fact I was in the exact same position 9 months ago when I had an idea for a new blogger prospecting and outreach tool, NinjaOutreach.

Although I was lucky enough to find a tech partner to guide me through the process, over the last 9 months we have hired over 5 freelancers off of oDesk including designers, developers, and virtual assistants and spent thousands of dollars to get this project to launch.

How did we do it?

Daniel put together an awesome guide for capturing freelance jobs off of Elance, but now we’re going to take a look at the other side of things – hiring on oDesk (without getting burned).

The Hiring Process

I’ve been burned hiring developers before, and it sucks.

The end result was:

  • $500+ down the tubes
  • Months of stress and aggravation
  • An unfinished prototype

And that was just building a simple wordpress site!

With a software application that I knew was easily going to run thousands of dollars, I wanted to be a lot smarter.

Being smarter means hiring the right person up front – no room for errors with this one.

So I went over to oDesk, which is a well known marketplace for hiring freelancers and which I’ve used dozens of times before.

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Quick Side Note About oDesk

Does this work only on oDesk? Absolutely not!

Having a good hiring process completely transcends the platform. oDesk is just an example and it is one that I am comfortable with, having used it for several years now.

But there are plenty of others, and potentially better ones depending on what you are looking for.

Just as an example, has received a lot of attention for vetting their freelancers and pairing you up with a freelancer to match your project needs. I can’t say I’ve used them, but I have heard good things.

Now back to our regularly scheduled case study….


Here’s what it looks like to post a job on oDesk (and it’s a similar format for most other marketplaces):

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 2.02.58 PM

Here’s what you’re likely to see…

Let’s cover the necessities.

How To Nail The Description

The description is going to be your bread and butter of any hiring job, so let’s make sure we get it right.

IMO, an ideal pitch includes the following:

  1. A standard description of the job. How would you describe it to a friend?
  2. A list of a few websites that are similar in design to what you are looking for. For example, who are your competitors?
  3. Ask the freelancer something personal so you can tell who has really read the description. Examples might be a list of websites in their portfolio that they feel are similar, or even just to lead with a code work like “COOKIES”.
  4. Naturally, you should be upfront about the expected workload, when you want them to start, and when you want the project to be finished.

Should You Do Fixed Or Hourly Pricing?

One of the first questions that you might have is whether or not your project should be fixed price or hourly.

In my opinion, hourly is better for the freelancer, because they are guaranteed to get paid for hours they put in and don’t have to worry so much about project creep (when the hirer adds things to the project that are out of scope).

But sometimes what is better for the freelancer isn’t always better for the hirer.

If you can say for sure that there is a maximum price you are willing to pay for a particular task, you should go with fixed cost. This will cover your downside.

Does this mean I never hire hourly?

Not at all.

Mostly I hire hourly when I know there is going to be ongoing work, but I can’t necessarily fit it all under the umbrella of a single project (for example, ongoing design touch ups).

What Should You Expect To Pay For A Developer (Or Designer/Virtual Assistant)?

Honestly it depends, and the sky’s the limit.

Here’s what I can say…

I have found good developers for $10/hour, good designers for $8/hour, and good virtual assistants for $3/hour.

In fact I am currently using people in each role at this rate, and am happy with their performance.

But you should also know that when it comes to hiring freelancers in general you get what you pay for.

Or you have to be prepared to do a decent amount of work/vetting to find the gems at the low price.

The fact of the matter is, the more you pay, the more attention you will get from first world labor, and in general these freelancers are better quality and speak better English (and if you’re a native English speaker, this is a MUST.)

A good rule to follow is that if the job is critical to the success of the project, you shouldn’t go with anything less than Intermediate $$.

How Do You Know Who To Pick?

Alright, so the job’s posted.

Within a day you’re likely to have dozens of applications to your project, but that comes with the added burden of having to select the single one who you think is going to do the best job.

Nothing makes you feel like more of a baller than reviewing a bunch of applications, right?

Here’s what it looks like on the backend:

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 2.05.33 PM

120 applicants! Holy crap!

How the heck am I going to work my way through those?

Here’s what you do…

Take the square root of the number of applications and add one – that’s your man!

OK, not really.

I don’t know if there is any foolproof plan of action to get the single best freelancer, but there are a lot of tips.

Here’s how I filter:

  1. Ignore all hiddens (this is specific to oDesk but as far as I can tell it means they have had issues in the past).
  2. Ignore anyone with less than a 4.9. This may sound harsh but most people who are qualified receive straight 5s.
  3. Ignore anyone with less than 100 hours. We’re looking for experienced professionals only.

This should cut things down considerably. If you feel it is too restrictive, lighten it up a bit, but it’s good to aim high in the beginning.

Now you should be checking out the profiles, and making sure that all of your upfront questions were addressed. Most people won’t even take the time to personalize the message.

I wouldn’t necessarily discount anyone who didn’t because it’s so common, but I certainly give extra points to anyone who does.

My goal right now is to shortlist a handful of “maybe’s”.

Here’s an example of a decent start:

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 2.07.51 PM

There are some good indicatiors here…

What do I like about this so far?

  1. The freelancer has the exact skills I requested
  2. They have a high rating and many hours worked
  3. Their English is verified and fluent
  4. They asked a thoughtful question

My last check is the reviews specifically for any projects related to what I’m hiring for.

One thing I’ve learned with oDesk is while it’s not overly difficult to get a rating of 4.5 or above, it’s very hard to get someone to write a blow away review – so that’s what I always look for.

I’m looking for buzz phrases like:

  • Best I’ve ever worked with.
  • Will hire again for another project.
  • Excellent communication (because I consider communication to be the most important quality in any freelancer)

Here’s what I’m talking about:Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 2.09.14 PM


5 Stars. Tons of hours. That’s what I’m talking about!

When I see that, I shortlist.

The Final Countdown

Now that I have my top 5 or 10, I’m going to schedule skype meetings with each of them.

How you want to handle this is entirely up to you, but I strongly advise you not to hire someone just off of the proposal alone.

There is a lot you can learn about someone from talking with them (either by chat, or  an actual video interview).

Naturally you’re going to want to go more in depth about the specifics of your project, such as to include designs and descriptions that maybe you weren’t comfortable putting out there in the open.

You’re also going to want to test the freelancer’s availability, level of communication, and really understand their expected timelines. A lot of people fib on their proposal just to get their foot in the door.


The length of this tutorial probably gives the impression that hiring a talented freelancer is like playing minesweeper.

But it’s not.

It’s actually not THAT difficult, but it can be tricky for first timers (and even experienced hirers too).

Above all – if you sense any red flags, trust your gut and keep looking. An extra few days spent during the hiring process is not going to make or break your application, but months wasted on a poor decision can.

[notification type=”alert-info” close=”false” ]David Schneider is the cofounder of NinjaOutreach an all in one Prospecting and Outreach tool which was created to streamline the process of connecting with influencers. He can also be found @ninjaoutreach and his business blog SelfMadeBusinessman[/notification]


Daniel DiPiazza

Daniel is the founder and CEO of Rich20Something. A millennial business mastermind, he has successfully started three consecutive freelance businesses and scaled them to over $100K in revenue with zero startup capital. His work is regularly featured in Time Magazine, Fortune, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Fox News, and Yahoo! Business. His debut book, Rich20Something, publishes on May 2, 2017.

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