Finding Incredible Talent on Upwork and Other Sites

NOTE: This is Part 2 of “Hiring iOS Developers Success” (Read Part 1 Here)

In the last seven years, I’ve hired over a dozen developers; some were overseas shops I found online, while others were freelancers I met through the iOS community. I discovered my first developer through an online marketplace called, and the relationship worked like a charm. That was back in 2008, and Elance was the only place I knew to look for coders, and to be honest, not many other sites existed.

Today sites like Elance, Upwork, Freelancer, and Guru are just a handful of the many online communities and marketplaces where you can find and hire “undiscovered” freelancers all around the world. By “undiscovered,” I mean “cheap.” And “all over the world” includes the United States as well as elsewhere. Regardless of where you discover developers, the key to hiring one who won’t cripple your project and leave you out of pocket is to take the time to do your due diligence.


Qualified developers might charge between $125 and $200 per hour. I’m sure they’re worth every penny, and if you can afford those rates, by all means go for it. But if you can’t, don’t haggle with them because they probably have other top-dollar opportunities waiting.

Bargain shops charge as little as $10 to $40 per hour, which seems like a far better option on the face of it. Go this route only if you are 110 percent confident that developers in these shops are completely qualified to do the job.

If you did all your homework up front, you will know. If you have any doubt, either ask more questions or just walk away, because if you hire them and they can’t deliver, you will wind up back with the higher rate developers asking them to fix everything. In the end, it will cost you more to develop your app, not to mention all the revenues you missed out on because it took so long to get it on iTunes.

Even if you don’t find or hire your developer from Elance, this site is packed with advice about outsourcing; plus, it offers free downloads of some of the contracts you’ll need. Turning to Elance or similar sites for your developer provides additional benefits:

  • Ease of use for beginners—These sites give you access to developers all over the world, saving you from having to shop around to various sites.
  • Affordability—The cost of living where many of the developers are located is much less than in the Western world, so contractors can afford to offer lower hourly rates.
  • Easy payments—The site takes care of all the payments for you. You enter your credit card details into the system, specify when and how much the contractor should be paid, and the site takes care of the rest.
  • Opportunities to stay informed—oDesk has a visual timecard called the Work Diary. It’s an overview of the work the developers performed so you know the contractor is actually logging time on your project.
  • Reviews and feedback—Clients can review the freelancers they hired after each milestone and at the completion of the project. You want a developer with a recent track record of happy clients. If you notice a lot of projects with no reviews, this could be a red flag that projects are running over schedule because they haven’t hit their milestone review yet.
  • Proficiency testing—Most sites test developers as a way to see whether they are as good as they claimed. You can try to take one of the tests yourself to gauge what is involved. It’s worth noting, however, that if a shop tested well, it doesn’t necessarily mean the developer who took the exam will be the same one working on your project.

Your first instinct might be to quickly post your project to these sites just to see who bites. But before you do that, study other iPhone and iPad app job postings. This will give you an idea of the types of projects attracting the most developers and the average costs. So instead of posting your job, first approach the site as a freelancer would and select the link “Find Work,” and then do a search for “iPhone app” or “iPad app” or “iOS app”. You’ll see well over a thousand projects that you can sort by “Proposal Counts” to see which are the hottest.

In the following sections, I suggest a couple of ways to scope out quality talent on these freelance sites. In the first scenario, you approach the developers directly by narrowing down all the possible candidates and then contacting your top choices. In the second, you let developers come to you by posting the initial outline of your project for developers to bid on.

Search for the developer you want

At first glance, it might appear that projects with the highest number of bids have the pick of the litter and will have no problem finding a qualified developer. But the truth is that sifting through a plethora of bids is as fun as trying to find a diamond at the dump. Screening all those applicants is tedious, time-consuming, and it stinks. Instead, hunt for the talent you want rather than hoping developers will come to you.

Of course, posting your project may very well may lead to some great contractors, but try this method, and you’ll most likely enjoy far better success:

Step 1: Go to at least two sites. I usually start with and then check out

Step 2: Register with the site. This gives you more search options than those available to nonregistered users.

Step 3: Log in to the site and select the link to “search” or “hire” contractors.

Step 4: Try to narrow down the results to find the upper 10 percent of the contractors. The criteria to narrow down search results will be different for each site, but will include items similar to the following:

*      Mobile Developer

*      iOS Developer

*      Reviews and feedback 4.5–5 stars

*      Minimum 100 hours billed or two jobs

*      Tested in the top 10 percent in English speaking and writing and iOS development skills

*      English level is 5 stars

*      Belongs to the iPhone Developer Expert group

*      Last activity 0–15 days

If there still are too many profiles for you to thumb through, trim down the list by entering keywords about your app. When you get a digestible number of developers, you can begin reviewing the portfolios (the next section explains what to look for in the profiles). Once you boil down the candidates to the very best ones, contact them with your job description and an exclusive offer to bid on your project. This will initiate conversations and move the screening process forward.

Post your project and let the developer find you

The beauty of posting your job to these sites is it doesn’t cost you a cent. You can tap into a skilled talent pool of more than 100,000 tested and rated freelance contractors and get a rough idea of how much your project will cost before you even start designing it. The downside of posting your project so early is that the bids you receive won’t be a true reflection of what your app will actually cost to build.

You might notice that most of the job descriptions on these sites barely have a paragraph describing the work. This vagueness protects the idea but means developer estimates will be all over the place. Most developers will request more details before placing a bid, and that’s an administrative headache. Some will bid extremely low hoping to win the job. Others will pad in thousands of dollars of wiggle room. Or you might get the standard cut-and-paste response the sales rep puts on every single project that hits the site.

To avoid this, I use job descriptions that are a little longer. They still don’t have enough details to get accurate estimates of the costs involved, but this approach narrows the gap enough to start a dialogue with prospective candidates. Here is an example of one of my job postings. Feel free to copy and edit this for your own use.


Production: please style this using border and font like the Key Points sections at the end of each chapter, but with regular SBX font, not SB BL. Thanks.

Title: iPhone notes app development—Experienced developers only

What I Need Done:

I’m looking for an experienced developer or company who understands the iPhone SDK inside and out. I need an Objective C developer to create Notepad-like iPhone application (3 screens). The program is fully designed and does not require any complicated functionality.

What I Will Provide:

All screen designs are complete, as well as the loading page and icon. I will provide all designs, content, and images, final QA testing as well as full project management.

Other Context/Requirements That Providers Will Need to Know:

Although the application is basic, I definitely want to work with someone who has excellent iPhone application development experience. If I find a developer whom I work well with, I have other projects coming over the next 3–6 months.

Specific Expertise That I Am Seeking:

iPhone application development experience is key. Ability to speak fluent English and communication skills are also critical. Must have proven examples of work on iTunes.


Find other places to circulate your job description

Think of your job description as your project’s business card. It opens the door to conversations without your having to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) first. Share it with anyone you might be interested in bringing onto your project.

  • If you are using a freelance site like Elance, send the description to the candidates in your search results short list.
  • Send it to any developers you have met through networking events. If they aren’t available to do your project, ask them if they know of anyone who might be.
  • Email it to local universities, tech groups, and startup centers. Let them know you are hiring an iOS developer.
  • Share it on your website and social network sites. Nothing says you’re growing like a “We’re hiring” sign.
  • Send it to your favorite web shops. A lot of web agencies are branching into app development and will welcome the chance to have a good app in their portfolio.
  •  Give it to everyone you know. Pass it along to relatives, friends, and the pizza guy who just generously tested your designs.
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