How to select a subcontractor

Pitch and Mix is a wonderful meetup group. The group meets every Thursday mornings, and generally discusses something related to working as an independent, freelancer or small business owner.

This mornings discussion at Pitch and Mix was around how to select a subcontractor. Often you don’t understand the difficulty, the skill, or  the time required.  So how do you know you are paying a fair price?  Some horror stories:

  • For e-commerce sites, adding a line of JavaScript to a web-site, to enable sophisticated analytics. The chap who developed this tool found that web developers were charging between  £500 and £10K, for exactly the same piece of work.
  • Developing a Facebook page: Cost of £1,500.
  • Itseeze which charges around £200 for web-design, but hosting costs £50+ a month.

Even worse, you don’t know how to specify the task, so it is difficult to compare quotes from different sub-contractors. Even if you can create a clear specification, most sub-contractors low-ball their initial quote. Later, for improvements or changes, the prices are less reasonable.

So what’s the solution

Some partial solutions emerged:

  • In France, it is apparently quite common to employ consultants that help you specify the task, and manage the subcontractors.  I’d guess their role is similar to employing an architect for a house extension. When changes or problems  emerge, the building contractor’s prices  have to be fair, if the contractor wishes to remain on the architect’s tender list.
  • Every sub-contractor has a portfolio of clients.  So ask how much they are charging each client, for what activities.
  • Find a sub-contractor who is willing to teach you: i.e. will explain what’s difficult, what costs and why.
  • Work with local people, face to face. Rely on gut feeling.

At least my clients don’t have this problem, as I quote a clear specification, a fixed price, and then a very moderate rate for additional work.

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