I recently wrote a post about hiring marketing partners, Don’t Waste Money on a Marketing Partner Again! and I thought it was a good time to take a look at how those tips apply to the technology industry.

The technology industry as it relates to the small business world is populated by a lot of freelancers. And this is where I have found the same issue occurs with individuals passing themselves off as “technology, website, app development experts”. The list goes on and on. And this is even more frustrating to people because many small business owners and entrepreneurs feel less qualified to ask questions. So, they go along.

See in the corporate world this doesn’t happen often like it does in the small business world. In the corporate world, people and resource are vetted a lot. However, somehow in the small business world, it is okay to just say you are an expert and then charge accordingly. And it happens even more in technology. I think of it a bit like the man behind the curtain. If the freelancer keeps you slightly in the dark you will never really know what is going on and what they can and can’t do.

It is why so few people ask questions or the right questions. No one wants to feel dumb so they don’t speak up. They don’t ask questions that will help them understand the experience and know-how of the person they are hiring. And that is probably why I have come across a lot of people who have been burned. People who have spent thousands of dollars and gotten very little in return but hours of frustration.

There are a lot of excellent technology freelancers and companies out there that do great work. People that have all different levels of experience and education. And then there are the others give all the good ones a bad name. The ones who profess to have skills they do not have at all. Or who greatly exaggerate the skills that they have. But as an entrepreneur or small business owner how are you supposed to know the difference?

Before I give you some tips I want to make something clear. I am not saying that for a person to be legitimate at what they do they must fit into a certain mold. Many consultants are excellent at offering guidance or hands-on help in a certain industry not because they have a degree or degrees in that industry but because they have had success in that industry. I’m also not saying that having a degree or degrees is enough on its own. But hiring a consultant that has neither the education (the basics) or the experience that truly applies to what you need will most likely leave you frustrated.

Okay now that that is said here are the two key things to help tell them apart. So that you make the best decisions for your business.

Get a written agreement or terms of service!

Never is it more important to have some kind of written statement of work or terms and services than when dealing in technology. If the person or company you are considering hiring cannot or will not give you a written agreement (statement of work) that outlines exactly what they are going to do for you and what is required of you and when it is going to be done. RUN! This is where the scammers tend to hide behind smoke and mirrors. This is where you can get burned by the phrases “It depends.” And “That’s outside of the scope.” You need a clear idea of what the plan is and what you are getting for your money.

Here is a breakdown of the kinds of things the agreement should include.

  • Work agreement / terms of service – This is really important. You want to know up front how things are going to be handled should something go wrong. It is all the stuff that you will probably never need but want to make sure you have in writing up front if you ever do need it.
  • Written communication of objectives and timelines – It is okay if this is just in email but you MUST have things in writing. You want to see the following spelled out;

    •   A description of the project – what exactly will you get for your money.

    •   Deliverables that either or both of you are responsible for creating and developing

    •   Tasks, responsibilities, and agreements specific to project

    •   Deadlines, interim milestones, and other matters relating to timing and delivery or performance during the project. You don’t just want the end date you want the in between dates.

    •   Budget – a clear understanding of the project costs and some understanding of future costs. This is never when you want to hear “It Depends”.

    •   Payment amounts, terms, and conditions. When do you have to pay? Do you get ample time to review and approve the project?

Deposits are okay but don’t pay in full up front!

Just as with marketing firms and consultants technology businesses may want a deposit at the beginning of a project or relationship. This is especially the case if you don’t have a previous working relationship. But the cautions are the same. If they want you to pay in full up front for services, beware! And in some cases, if they want 50% up front with no writing plan of work, beware. Why do they need or want all the money up front if they haven’t done any of the work yet?

Remember there is no perfect mold for picking the right partner for you. These are just a few key things that can help you weed through your potential partners. And as always you should find a reliable partner that you feel comfortable with and that you can afford.

By: Amy Matthews, CEO, AMI LC