I have been using Odesk for more than 3 years now and value it most highly in my professional life, as a way to earn a living, explore new ideas, develop new products and keep learning and evolving with new technologies, techniques and protocols.

My biggest tip is to TAKE ACTION. Even with Odesk’s reputation tools, ratings, feedback, tests etc. it’s really impossible to know if you and your contractor are compatible until you start working, start actually creating something.

Here’s what I do, when hiring a new contractor (in summary).

- The initial requirements –

Be explicit enough about the project, without trying to pre-empt any solutions in the specification. Pose a question that only someone who has read your requirements properly would know to weed out the auto-responses.

Be prepared to hire 3 or 4 shortlisted candidates for a trial task, not to test technical ability, but more attitude, responsiveness and communication.

- The Project -

Even if it’s a brand new project, with a limited MVP (minimum Viable Product) type specification, break it down further into very manageable milestones and deliverables for the new contractor.

As a buyer, you need to mitigate the risk of employing someone new by being prepared at each stage that you may need to part company.

Ensure that anything done that is useable is in your control, so if it’s coding, ensure you are using an SVN or GIT repository held in your name.

Obviously, as you get further into those milestones, the trust and relationship builds and you can soften this approach, as trust and relationship is 90% of what makes a successful Odesk experience.

And a successful Odesk experience means you can happily take the Lean approach to any project with flexibility, cost effectiveness and assurance.

I have just moved into mobile development, a personal project and passion of mine, of Music Apps for Children and Parents, away from more traditional web software development I have been used to. Our MVP iOS app is due to launch very soon, followed by our Android app, designed by me, built by Odesk providers in Nepal and Pakistan (I’m in the UK). I used these tactics, and am having a great experience!!!

If you’re interested, check out http://www.ruplay.me

EDITOR NOTE: I posted this as a comment on the Odesk blog, in response to this article

The author responded to my comment with a further post with some useful advice, so I took it upon myself to share it here.

Brilliant feedback, Steve – we really encourage people just to try us out, and it’s the same approach we use when hiring contractors on oDesk; even if someone has the most amazing set of technical skills, if something about the way they work just doesn’t mesh well with the way you work, or if there’s some sort of grating personality conflict, things may not work out. And the only way to find out those sort of things is to just give it a shot. We approach every engagement we have as an ‘on-demand’, ‘on-request’ service – we only do as much work and as many hours as the client wants us to. So if they want to give us, say, a 2 hour task to start with, see how it goes and then go from there, there’s no hard feelings. It’s also a great way for us to make sure that the way the client works matches up with what we’ve found are best practices – sometimes even if it’s a great paying contract, if it’s not a good fit all around it’s not worth pursuing.
I love your comments about risk mitigation – this is something that we see all the time – we’ve developed a bit of a niche for ourselves in fixing problems that other developers can’t fix (or sometimes that other developers cause!) with the Magento platform. So, we find ourselves stepping in just after a sometimes contentious break with the client’s previous developer. And so many times, we discover that clients:
1) Pay developers for extensions or plugins (instead of buying them directly themselves)
2) Pay developers for hosting
3) Let their developers register their hosting accounts, domain names, etc., in the developer’s name instead of the client’s
Never, ever, ever do any of these things! We flat out tell our clients that we don’t purchase extensions for them – we ask that they purchase the extension and provide it to us. Because while there is a markup to be made in reselling extensions, what happens when the client and developer part ways? And now the client needs to have that extension updated, but the extension author has no record that they ever purchased it, so they have to purchase it again.
Make sure that everything concerning your online presence is in the name of your business, and not your developer. Even if you think everything is perfect with your developer and you’ll never have to part ways, what happens if your developer passes away, loses Internet access for an extended period of time or a number of other issues – if they own the rights and accounts involved with your domain, hosting, software, etc., then you may be faced with starting over, which is never a fun experience.
If any of the readers are looking for a Magento developer, drop by my oDesk listing or our website at http://creatuity.com and learn more about how we work – we’ve even put together a YouTube video of how we work with our clients that you can view athttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkNDEw5FSbk