By Andrew Neitlich

Best way to find talented web designers/developers

By Andrew Neitlich

In a previous blog, Nerveman asks about the best way to find strong developers and designers, presumably as part of your firm or as contract talent.

There are three ways I’ve tried, and the third works best for me:

1. Word of mouth. I ask people I know for referrals. This actually works less well than I had hoped, because colleagues have different needs, standards, and project types than I do.


2. Trial and error in sequential order. In this approach, I look at lots of potential designers and portfolios, go through lengthy interview process, and hire one for a job. If the person works, I keep working with them. I don’t like this approach for coders because if I pick the wrong person for a big job, I am in a tight spot. However, it has worked well for designers, since I can see from their portfolio if they have done similar work, their style, etc.

3. Trial and error in parallel order. In this approach, I create a small job and hire 3 to 5 people to do it. Whoever does best in terms of professionalism and quality gets the big job. This has been a foolproof way to find good people. It works especially well for coders working under a project manager.

What else?

  • Like #3, I’ve seen people use contests to find quality work. For instance, the design for the logo is the contest, and the winner gets hired to design the rest of the site.

  • Best why to find talented designers/developers is go to a site you love and contact the webmaster to ask of he not can give you the contact info of the designers/developers. In this way you know what you get and its lots of more save. But there are also designers/developers like me that not realy had a change still to show off there skills

  • Jason

    I cannot agree with you Darcy. Logo design and Web site design are two completely different concepts. This does not mean that a good logo designer will design a good web site and vise versa.

  • Huntdawg

    I’ve actually used number two almost exclusively for designers and have pretty good success. I’ve only had to get rid of one designer thus far as he just wasn’t producing. I also got extremely lucky as one of my designers turned out to be more of a programmer. She was a student at the time, so we were able to get her extremely cheap at a time when we needed cheap.

    She ended up leaving for a higher paying job, but as soon as we could afford her again, we brought her back. But this time as a programmer and she’s dedicated to one product that we are selling.

    I have one question for you Andrew that I’ve been dealing with for a couple of years now. What is a good compensation package for programmers and designers? Not just the normal pay, sick time, vacation, etc… but I’m really struggling with their bonus structure.

    I’ve tried several approaches that include 5-10% of the project, 5-10% of billable time, and just a flat bonus each month. None of these seem to work very well for us because our main client base is a huge plutocracy that pays 60 – 90 days late all the time. So if the designer has billed out 150 hours and we can’t get the money in, we end up paying our designers for something we haven’t gotten paid for yet, which really hurts our bottom line.

    What is a good approach for this? I know, I know. I need to tighten up our payables, but no matter how hard we try, they just won’t pay on time.

    SO I guess this has lead to two questions:
    1. How do you structure your bonuses for designers and programmers?
    2. How do we get our clients to pay on time?

  • GreenBrick

    We have had the best results giving small projects out on a contract basis letting them know that a full time position is available. This works for both designers and coders.

    The hard balance to walk is, if they are really good you want to court them a bit. But at the same time you want to see how they will hold up working on tight timelines, with tought clients, and all of the other realities of the work environment.

    We always err on the side of showing them the most real scenario (sometimes we artificially shrink the timeline to the point where it is almost impossible just to see how they respond). A seasoned coder or designer will handle the situation appropriately.

    We also always try and put new hires on existing client work. Managing the relationship with a new client is sometime hard enought. Working with a new client and a new employee can be a recipe for disaster.

  • I do agree with you Jason. I’ve seen it done though, and it’s just an idea to grease the wheels.

  • Elbie

    If you have a couple of designers for the same job in order to find the best design, do you pay all of them?

  • aneitlich


    Yes. It’s worth it to find one really good one.

  • Steve

    Darcy, as a response to your contest post, I’d like to invite you to read the article at http://www.creativelatitude.com/articles/articles_fisher_dcontest.html to gain some insight as to what the PROFESSIONAL graphic design community thinks of ‘contests’.

  • Ramona

    FWIW, I just completed a 24-hour creative project test, requiring a static image and two page
    prototype to spec for a one year contract with MasterCard.

  • Thank you Steve, that was very insightful. I hope it helps some other people as well.

  • egockel


    Since Andrew hasn’t answered your questions. You should probably tackle bonus separately after you’ve sorted out your billing problems.

    “if the designer has billed out 150 hours and we can’t get the money in, we end up paying our designers for something we haven’t gotten paid for yet, which really hurts our bottom line”

    Yet if you hold back paying your people and never get paid yourself, their bottom lines won’t be too happy either. You need to get clients to sign off on an estimate, of course you need to create the estimate first. No sweat, its just that, an estimate, but at least you have a signed agreement with the customer that this is what you “estimate” it will take, and if it starts to look like it going to take longer (thru fault of the client or yours), you’ll let them know before you get in too deep.

    Now if a (prospective) client isn’t willing to sign off on an estimate (basically that they’ll pay the amount if you deliver the project as promised), I’d wonder if they’d be difficult to get money out of when billing time comes around.

    Another tactic with first time clients is to request 30-50% upfront, since this is a little like dating, you both have skin in the game. Once again, if the client balks, you have to question if they’ll hold up their end of the deal come invoice time.

    Late fees. Put these in place and have them mentioned on the estimate that you have them sign. Day 31 that they’re late, fire off a revised invoice with the late fee added. You can also send friendly reminders a few days before 30, to make sure they’ve gotten your invoice. No sense causing tension if they’ve simply not gotten your invoice (has happened)

    Prioritize your good payers. These clients are like gold. Do whatever it takes to keep them happy and serve them first before the slow payers. When you’re hungry, you’ll rely on them first.

    After that, find out who your good (and happy) clients do business with as well, perhaps they could refer you.

    Hope it helped… good luck!

Get the latest in Entrepreneur, once a week, for free.