What's Your Time Worth?

I approach my work with a frugal mindset: Why pay other people to do what I can do myself? With that thinking, I've struggled for years with minor programming and modifying scripts not because I really enjoy it, but because it just doesn't make sense to pay others for what I can do myself. Right? Wrong!

My thrifty nature rebelled at the idea of paying for things I could do myself… until I realized that paying others can be a bargain. By hiring others to do things that they have experience with, they can complete these projects more quickly and with fewer mistakes. This allows me to do more brainstorming and creative tasks.

The breakthrough happened after a frustrating week where I moved one of my oldest and largest sites… and in the process broke half a dozen critical scripts. I slogged through the process of checking them all out, staying up late and getting more panicked as the site continued to return errors. Something that should have been simple was screwed up… a mod rewrite wasn't functioning correctly, leading to "page not found" errors for my most important content.

In desperation, I started searching the ‘Net for answers, and as usual Google didn't let me down. I found a project on Scriptlance that was similar to my issue and had been solved for $10. $10?? I was losing more than that every day on my broken site.

Services Auction Sites

Scriptlance and Elance are auction sites for services. I'd always shied away from them because the thought of working with someone I had no clue about was frightening and seemed just… wrong somehow. How would I know if the work was done correctly? What if they took my money and never did the work?

It was a lot of needless worry. Just like the merchandise auction sites most people are familiar with, these freelance auctions have a feedback feature. The value of a programmer is directly tied to their feedback so they are careful to deliver great service in order to get that #10 rating. The higher their feedback score, the more they can charge for their services.

The money part is easy as well; Scriptlance uses an escrow account system where they hold the money on behalf of you and the programmer until you both agree the job has been completed. If there's a dispute, the money is returned to your account.

A Staff of My Own

I posted my project to fix the mod rewrite and within minutes, I had several bids to choose from. I reviewed the feedback and comments of each programmer, and then selected one who had bid $10 to fix the problem. (For the first project, the $5 project fee was waived!)

The programmer and I traded a few emails and within 30 minutes my site was running flawlessly. I was thrilled! Hours of frustration evaporated as I realized the possibilities in having experienced programmers at my beck and call.

I posted projects for 3 other issues that had sidetracked my progress and by the end of the week I had a new site design, new features for one of my directories, and a custom application from scratch. I spent significantly less than I thought I would have to and got great quality work.

Tips for a Smooth Project

I've since used Scriptlance for quite a few projects and while most have gone well, a few have stalled or gone completely bad. Some tips for using a services auction site:

  • The more complex your project, the more specific your project outline must be. The more details you add, the better potential programmers will understand what you want and do it correctly the first time.
  • Look at past projects by your candidate. If the programmer you are considering has offered you a great price and has great feedback, don't stop researching yet. See if they've actually done projects similar to yours. For example, if you want a Dreamweaver template, make sure they've done Dreamweaver templates before. If you are looking to create an entire application, check to see if they've created complicated scripts from the ground up before. If time is not an issue, you can take a chance on a developing programmer, but if you can't afford to be the "learning curve" project, pick someone with more experience.
  • New programmers offer bargain prices. For small projects, consider choosing a newbie. They are usually motivated to do a good job and eager to make a good impression to get that all-important feedback. On the other hand, they have nothing to lose and can flake out on you without finishing.
  • Never pay in advance. If a programmer won't accept an escrow payment and won't allow you to pay most of the fee AFTER the job is complete, pick someone else, no matter how great his or her feedback is.
  • If you find a great designer or programmer, keep using them! Once you've built a level of trust with a professional, it's easy to hand them new jobs with the expectation that they will be done correctly.
  • Don't drop the ball. When working on a project, stay in touch with your programmer and ask for progress reports.
  • Test, test, test! It's exciting to see a project working, but take the time to thoroughly check the work and make sure everything is working as promised before you release the escrow and post your glowing praise.
  • Be prepared to pay more for experienced programmers. Don't skimp when it comes to mission-critical projects.

Development Time Reduced

While there is a certain satisfaction in doing it yourself, there's even more satisfaction in completing a project and launching it. The next time you hit a dead end with programming, copywriting, designing, or other professional services, give the online-services auctions a try! If you aren't interested in any of the bidders, you can simply cancel the project.

Get those great ideas off the shelf, dust them off, and start putting them into production! You'll be amazed at how much you can accomplish with a staff of many at your fingertips.


(Disclaimer: This is my affiliate link — you can feed my Scriptlance habit by using this link if you decide to post a project. At $5 credit per referral, I don't recommend them for the money. It's just a great service!)

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

November 8, 2006

Scottie Claiborne is the facilitator of the Successful Sites Newsletter. She is a speaker at the Search Engine Strategies conferences and the High Rankings Seminars as well as the administrator of the High Rankings Forum.

Search Engine Guide > Scottie Claiborne > Instant Staff for Your Website