Hiring freelance web designers and developers in Dubai - is it your best option?

If you’re based in or near Dubai and you need digital product development services, where do you look? The city’s freelance market is growing rapidly. However, depending on the needs of your particular project, that market may not give you what you want. Looking further afield, dedicated outsourcing providers can offer a more suitable alternative, with better skills, proven experience and the latest development methodologies.

Dubai has long been a center of innovation and with predictions of an economic upswing in 2019 through 2020, plus initiatives like the Dubai Startup Hub, investment and new business is being positively encouraged. That all sounds good if you’re a Dubai business looking to ride a wave of expansion. However, when it comes to your digital platforms and products – your business’s website, apps, etc. – Dubai may not be completely ready to serve your needs. With a shortage of trained and experienced talent, most businesses and startups are looking externally for their website design and development.

A natural solution for many is to look for a suitable freelancer. Here at Boldare, we know a bit about software and creating digital products, and recently we’ve been involved in headhunting consulting services in the Middle East. We share our insights here…

The freelance software market in Dubai – a snapshot

The last few years have seen increasing numbers of freelancer platforms focused on the MENA region, including global concerns such as Fiverr and Upwork, but also local Dubai-specific marketplaces like Bawabba which includes a section for “Graphic, Social Media and Web Designer” freelancers. What’s more, local attitudes towards freelancers are improving, according to a YouGov survey cited in the Khaleej Times. Apparently, 55% of UAE residents are either self-employed, have their own business, or have ambitions to do so. So, freelancing is popular, and a growth industry. Sounds good for any business looking for a freelancer.

However, despite the expanding number of options, the Dubai freelance software development market still comes with a variety of issues and pitfalls that the potential hirer of freelancers must overcome or put up with.

  • A lack of talent – As mentioned, the number of freelancers in Dubai is increasing, BUT… quantity is not always quality. If you are looking for a freelancer in Dubai to set up a website or develop a straightforward app, WordPress website or basic e-commerce site, you’ll probably be fine. But if your needs are more sophisticated – a specialist app, bespoke e-commerce platform, embed software, etc. – then it may not be so easy. Relatively speaking, the Dubai freelancer market is still in its early stages.
  • Cost of living – Another reason for the lack of talent is that living in Dubai is expensive and so does not attract skilled and entrepreneurial freelancers from outside. For example, to use our situation as a comparison: rental prices in Dubai are 152% higher than those in Warsaw, meaning that a Dubai freelancer must earn much more just to maintain a standard of living.
  • Better offers available nearby – The reality is that neighbouring regions have more established, more experienced freelancer cultures. And for digital development and design, with the latest online, real-time communications tools, distance isn’t so much of a problem. Hence, potential clients in search of proven skills and track records can often find a better option ‘across the border’, so to speak.
  • Slow talent growth rate – True of any new market, Dubai’s freelancers are still in the process of emerging from a vicious cycle: the market lacks top-level professional skills, in turn this means a shortage of great designers who could mentor and help grow the skills of other, less experienced designers. Likewise, the general lack of freelance software developers means less specialist events, conference and training opportunities.
  • Multiple projects – By definition, a successful freelancer is working on multiple projects at any one time. That may sound good in general but it means your digital project is not receiving undivided attention. Solo freelancers rarely have the luxury of dedicating their time to a single priority.
  • Deadlines? – Not to reinforce any unhelpful freelancer stereotypes… but a natural consequence of managing multiple projects is that deadlines can be, if not flexible then subject to renegotiation. Unlike larger companies who may have sufficient resources to commit to a deadline and be able to guarantee its delivery.
  • Not part of the team – Never underestimate the power of teamworking. Freelancers are usually engaged on a gun-for-hire, project-by-project approach. This means they often do not get to know and understand you and your organization: your business priorities, your culture… Software outsourcing companies may be able to offer discrete teams of developers who will work ‘as if employed’ but it is much more difficult to find a freelancer who is not only a good fit skills-wise but also culturally and attitudinally.
  • Project methodology – Many freelance web designers and developers still use a waterfall approach to software and digital product development. This means minimal input from the client once the project is launched, and minimal opportunities to pivot or change when the project runs into obstacles. An agile approach – such as scrum – keeps client and developer(s) in much closer contact, making for a more flexible project, and regular, short sprints of activity mean a steady flow of product features for testing, feedback and further development.

If freelancers in Dubai aren’t a good fit for your project, how about outsourcing instead?

So. If working with freelancers carries some significant potential pitfalls, how about the other external option: a specialist company providing software development and design outsourcing? After all, smaller, one-off commissions may be suitable for individual freelancers but for complex, longer-term, strategically-sensitive projects, maybe you’re looking for a more secure option?

At Boldare, as a company providing such services, we have often been engaged to take over and finish a project started by a freelancer. We have seen first-hand the advantages of outsourcing that clients appreciate most.

Skills & professionalism – The simple factor of size means that a company can offer a fuller package of customer care than a freelancer with individual specialists dedicated to specific roles. In fact, with a larger outsourcing company, there should be scope to cherry-pick the best people (those with specific experience and skills matched to the client’s business needs and goals) to form the product development team.

Communication – Likewise, as the client, whatever your project-related question, you can speak to the individual best-placed to answer. An outsourcing company that offers transparency of information and direct access to team members is offering a benefit of freelancing (the client always communicates with the person responsible, or like in Boldare, can communicate with every single team member) in the context of a more secure organization.

Knowledge management – A company with a roster of specialists usually has more knowledge on offer than a sole freelancer. When that same company is committed to sharing that knowledge to empower and upskill the client’s employees, the client is gaining a significant side benefit from outsourcing. At Boldare we are always eager to share knowledge with our partners. Sometimes it’s purely technical knowledge and sometimes we help others with agile or scrum implementation. For an example, thanks to our “CTO as a service” service each of our partners gains access to knowledge of entire organization, which means that we can provide support in technical, business or process matters. And this goes absolutely for free, without any extra charges.

References & experience – It should be easier to check out an outsourcing companies past projects. An established outsourcer should be able to point to a number of high quality digital products delivered, and a portfolio of case studies, awards and online reviews (Clutch.co is an excellent place to check out designers and developers of digital products, and Awwwards for design references). And ideally, the company will have experience of working with Dubai or Middle East companies and understand the cultural and practical requirements.

What to look for freelance or outsourced digital development in Dubai

Regardless of whether you opt for the freelancer option or a larger outsourcing enterprise, the criteria are the same:

Check reviews – What are previous clients saying? Also, ask yourself whether those clients look like you. Is the freelancer or outsourcer used to dealing with a client of your size, in your industry sector?

Check their portfolio – If they don’t have one, that’s probably a bad sign. Look for case studies and past projects with similar requirements to your own.

Check their website – Yes, if you’ve checked out points #1 and #2, you’re already on their site. Take a look at the site itself. How does it look? How does it navigate? For a website designer, their site is a combination of brochure and shop window. If they did a great job for themselves, you know they can do it for you.

Methodology – As mentioned above, the techniques used or project management can be critical to your client experience. In our humble recommendation, you’re looking for a process something like this:

  • Initial meeting or workshop to discuss the product and project, business goals, key criteria, ways of working, etc.
  • Various design techniques (such as moodboards and wireframing) to bring the user requirements to life.
  • A prototype to realistically test the business idea (tested with real users!)
  • User feedback is leveraged to improve the design, moving to either an MVP or full version.
  • Knowledge sharing and client aftercare means that the further development of your digital product is assured – either by continuing with your outsourced partner or by using the knowledge and skills your own people have acquired during the partnership.
  • Scrum elements in their daily work - daily meetings, retrospectives etc.

Hiring freelance web designers and developers in Dubai - a summary

Dubai, and by extension the whole MENA region, is aiming to be in the vanguard of the digital shift revolution and the market for freelance and outsourced digital development services is still in its early (but highly promising!) stages. The consequence is that Dubai freelancers able to successfully deliver complex digital products are in the minority; although the available skills and experience is growing all the time. Another option is to reach out to an outsourcing provider with current experience of operating in the Dubai area. Whichever option best suits your needs, the key factors to check for a match are methodologies, client reviews and testimonials, and their own website.