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Indie Advice: Working with Freelancers

Apr 112014

Even if you do most of game development yourself – programming, art, design, etc, every once in a while your skills invariably aren’t quite enough to tackle some of the jobs. Music, for example, is a disaster if you try and do it yourself. Get a professional in!

Or maybe you feel swamped and want to farm some of the programming jobs out to someone else, or get an artist in to do some concept work. These people are FREELANCERS, which means they’re not tied to your company, they work for themselves.

Using Freelancers works well because you suddenly have all sorts of complicated tax and insurance paperwork to fill in if you employ them as a full-time company employee. Health and Safety and all that stuff. Make sure you fully check the legalities of hiring people, but if you’re a hobbyist/ tiny indie, you can probably just follow the simple rules below.

PLEASE NOTE: the FREE in Freelancers refers to the fact that they have no company ties. It does not mean you don’t have to pay them. They have rent to pay too!

Finding Someone in this Big Crazy World:
Freelancers are everywhere. You can find them on forums, DeviantArt, at conferences, or via Twitter. Sometimes they just email you out of the blue and say “HEY! GOT ANY WORK?”. I usually put a call out asking for people to email me portfolios and HUNDREDS come in. Look at each portfolio. Reply to each and every person who contacts you, even if it’s to say “sorry, someone else came in with the exact look I was after, but thanks for sending your work on, you are a brilliant artist”.

PRO-TIP: Freelancers who are clearly amazing but not quite right for this project, keep a note of them. They will come in handy sooner or later, or you’ve got a pool to pluck from when someone says “know any good artists?”. Put people in touch properly, by cc’ing them into an email together, and introducing them to each other, just like something out of a futuristic digital Jane Austen play.

Hiring someone Amazing:
Drop your chosen Freelancer a line and find out if they fancy the gig. Get them to sign an NDA if it’s that important to you, but if you’re going to be working closely with people you’ll find a bit of trust goes a long way. It’s more than their job and reputation is worth to go blabbing about your little game, so I never use NDAs.

If they agree, set out terms. How much you’ll pay, and when. Half now, half at the end? All at the end?

Get them to sign something pretty early on. A contract doesn’t need to be MASSIVE, it just needs to cover you. You don’t want them to come back to you after the game’s on sale suddenly demanding 50% of sales, so make sure everyone knows the deal with a little bit of paper. If you haven’t got a little bit of paper yet, talk to a lawyer.

At the end of the process, or earlier if you’ve promised payment halfway, is when people have the audacity to invoice you and make you give them the money you promised. BOO! HISS! Spending money is just the worst.

They’ll send you an invoice, ideally with their Bank details on it, and you have to log into your bank account and transfer it over to them.

PRO TIP:this is a good time to update your accounts spreadsheet, so there’s less of it to do at the end of the month.
PRO TIP: most invoices come with a “payment within 30 days please” caveat. This is presumably a hangover from BIG COMPANIES charging BIG AMOUNTS and wanting to keep the cash earning interest for 30 days if they can, or to give busy Ian from accounts time to get round to it in a company with thousands of employees. You’re not Ian from accounts. Pay your invoices immediately because the people who have done work for you might reeeeeally need that money. There’s absolutely no need to let it sit there festering – pay up and move on. Sitting on it unnecessarily is a dick move.

Being a Grown-up About it All:
If the job goes on a bit longer than anticipated, it’s a nice idea to keep checking with your Freelancer to make sure they’ve got enough cash to keep going. “I know we agreed 100% payment on completion, but I can give you half now if you need it?” for example, will go a long way.

Always be prepared to find more money for your Freelancers if you possibly can. You’ve presumably got a budget to stick to, and that’s important, but if things have changed and people are working solid 12 hour days for you, make sure you reply in kind with cold hard cash so their children have shoes. That said, don’t spend more money than you have in the bank, because obviously.

Finally, make sure your freelancers get a lovely big credit in your game. There’s something really exciting about seeing your name crop up on a screen, and if they’ve done work for you, they deserve that.

That should do you. If you have further questions, ask away in the comments or I’m @danthat on Twitter.

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