Disasters With Designers – 5 Lessons Learned From Hiring Freelance Designers – Part 2

Last time I mentioned the first 2 designers I hired and how I ended up shutting down my app development because of the mistakes I made hiring them.

This is the 2nd part of the post where I talk about 3 other lessons I learned working with freelance designers.

Designer 3: The noob

After working with the offshore pro, I decided I wanted someone more local, and surprisingly, found a US based designer that had great hourly pricing. We ended up agreeing on a fixed price and he started work. The designer had a great portfolio, but said he was new to odesk.
He started working, but then after a week or so came back to me and said that the work is more than he thought and that he needs more time and money…
Again, I was stuck, I had to pay a bit more, but it seemed like we were both not enjoying the relationship anymore, so we ended it.

Lesson: new designers will most likely underestimate the amount of time it takes them to finish up a project. Either budget that into your project or make sure they show you why they think their estimate is accurate. It pays to start a bit higher rather than start low and then have both sides disappointed when it doesn’t work as planned.

Designer 4: The messy one

The next designer I worked with was very talented, but quite a mess.
The quality of his work was good and he did have experience, but he ended up delivering the final product in a zip file and I didn’t make sure that I could use it as is in my game.
What I mean is that he did deliver all the character files I asked for, but they were all in different sizes, and they weren’t set up so I can just drop them into my game. I had to spend a lot of time, resizing, matching them up with the rest of their set, and positioning so that the moving animation would line up with the shooting animation and would be usable with the other characters in the game. Again, lots of work that I shouldn’t have been doing.

Lesson: make sure you set expectations as to what deliverables you want and how you want them delivered, even down to file name. For example: enemy_walk_iPad_1.png, enemy_walk_iPad_2.png etc.

Designer 5: The Long term designer
I had a small project idea in a very specific niche and hired a designer for it. He quoted an estimate of 3 weeks to finish the project.
I paid upfront, and 6 months later, I’m still waiting. It’s not like he’s vanished or anything, but he just keeps saying that he’s working on it…
If the project were important, I’d push harder, but I don’t have time to work on it anyway, so I’m not in a rush.

So there you have it, 5 lessons I learned working with freelance designers. I’d love to hear from you, do you have any interesting stories to share about working with freelancers? Good or bad?

Disasters With Designers – 5 Lessons Learned From Hiring Freelance Designers

designer problems

Photo credit: saaleha

Part of creating a great app, is making it look good, and as I mentioned earlier, I do have some good design skills, but when it comes to drawing characters for games, I have to resort to hiring professionals.

I’ve used odesk and elance to find designers and have gone through a lot of trouble until I managed to find some good talented people to work with. I was inspired by Trey’s Post, so I thought I’d share some lessons learned so you can avoid the same problems I had.

Designer 1: The flake

I thought I really lucked out with the first designer. She was very talented based on her online portfolio, very responsive to email, and was priced very affordably.
During our initial conversations, she seemed to really “get it” and came back with the first sketches in record time.

I should have seen this as a warning sign, but she did use a lot of emoticons in the skype conversation…

One day, she just stopped responding!

I was already in the midst of building my game, and integrating the first set of characters I got from her, and then she just vanished!

I emailed and skyped her, and contacted her through odesk, but no response.
After a week or so, I had to hire someone new…

A month or so later, she got back to me, saying she had some computer problems (so no Internet café’s in your city? No friends with a computer so you can check your email and let your clients know what’s going on?)

Lesson: For the first project you do with a new designer, don’t give them too much work and don’t put them on the critical path of the project (that is – if they don’t deliver, the project dies). This problem could have easily been avoided if she would have only done a smaller part of the project and could have been dropped without too much loss.

Designer 2: The Pro

After this bad experience, I decided to find someone more professional.
I posted my ad on odesk, and got contacted by a design agency.
The work they did seemed impressive, and their hourly rate was good, so I did a Skype interview with them and they seemed very professional. They even used a SharePoint like product to manage the project, set milestones and manage other project management activities.

The work started coming in and it was really high quality, so I was happy, but then I started to see the hourly reports come in…

While the hourly rate was low, they had a designer working full time on my project. The work quality was high, but it was taking way too long to finish and costing me an arm and a leg!

By the time the backgrounds were done, I was in for around $2000 and the characters weren’t even started yet!

I asked the project manager to stop work and provide an estimate on how much work it would be to create the characters, and they said that it would be at least $5000 more, which I didn’t have…

So I had to stop the project again.

Lesson: Unless you are very clear from the start what the scope of the project is and what the amount of hours you approve are, do not work on an hourly basis!

Costs can really creep up on you and you could end up paying much more than you expected.

After this incident, I decided to only work on a fixed price basis. This also motivates the designer to work faster to get the project done so they don’t spend too much time on it and lose other hourly jobs they have.

I’ll be posting the next 3 lessons in my next post Disasters with designers – 5 lessons learned from hiring freelance designers – part 2, but in the mean time, I’d love to hear from you. Have you had any good or bad experiences with designers that you’d like to share?

Passive Income? Not Really So Passive…

passive income

When I first started researching app development and marketing I came across a lot of websites and products talking about things like “make money while you sleep by making apps”.

That concept always sounded appalling to me, imagining what it would be like to sit on a tropical beach somewhere, sipping a pretty drink, and every now and then logging into my PayPal account to check how much money I made so far, nice, right?

Well, now that I’m making a modest income in the form of what you may call “passive income” that is, not trading my time for money, I can say that the island dream is really far from the truth.

I’ve come to learn that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. If something is really easy, and anyone can do it, then no one will pay for it, or at least not much.

It took me a ton of work to get my apps set up and running in a way that makes money, and it’s still far from an amount I can make a full living on (I still have to code for a living).

I currently have 10 apps in the android and iPhone app stores, and managing that amount of updates, support and marketing is not an easy task. Launching an app isn’t the end of it; it’s just the beginning.

Of course, a lot of the tasks that I do myself can be outsourced, but there’s a cost to that as well, money, time, trust…

So if you’re thinking about getting into the iPhone app business because you don’t want to work hard, you should reconsider. Just like any other business, success takes a lot of hard work and passive income isn’t really that passive at all.

I’d love to hear your experiences with passive income and app sales, do you have anything you’d like to share?

Photo Credit: razvan.orendovici

How to price an iPhone app

iphone app pricing

Pricing an app seems like a mystery sometimes. Most apps are priced at either $0.99 or are free, or so you’d think… How do you know how much your app should sell for?

The fact of the matter is, you don’t.

Unless you have the time and money to do market research (and no, asking your mom or friends if they’d pay for your app doesn’t count), you’re really in the dark here, but fortunately, Apple has made pricing a very easy thing.

Here’s how you do it based on a real life example:

One of my favorite apps is Running Playlist and Pace Calculator < > (I’ll post a post mortem for the launch of this app in a later post since I learned quite a lot from it).

At some point in time, I had to move the app from one company to another due to location issues (I moved).

Apple doesn’t make this process easy, and what you have to do (or at least had to do at the time) is re-launch the app under the new company and discontinue the old one.

I didn’t want to lose my customers from the original launch, so I issued an update to the old app, greyed out the icon, and made a pop up come up every time the app launched telling customers about the new app. I also noted that there is a new app in the app description.

Lastly, I raised the price of the old app to $8.99 to deter new people from downloading it (obviously, those who already downloaded it in the past didn’t have to pay anything).

Everything worked well, and most of the customers from the old app transitioned to the new one, but the problem was that people were still downloading the old app at $8.99!

I thought I made it clear that the app was being discontinued, but they kept buying it and I was making more money on the old app than the new one!

Eventually, I just removed the old app from the market since I felt uncomfortable selling it at such a high price when the new app was free, but that taught me a lesson.

When pricing an app – experiment!

The “Rights and pricing” module in iTunes connect allows you to change your price on a daily basis. Why not experiment with pricing once the app is launched and find the optimal price?

Here’s my pricing experiment from running playlist (I removed financial data and use the average profit as the baseline):

Friday: App priced at $8.99 – Profit: 149% (compared to average)
Saturday: App priced at $5.99 – Profit: 174%
Sunday: App priced at $2.99 – Profit 135%
Monday: App priced at $0.99 – Profit 34%
Tuesday: App is free – Profit 7% (from in app downloads)

As you can see in this example, my optimal price is $5.99. That’s where I make the most profit.

When you do this experiment, make sure to repeat it several times, and make sure you do it in different days. Saturday may be a day when most people look for this type of app so maybe that’s why the downloads where so high.

I keep these experiments going for about 3 weeks and repeat them every few months to make sure I’m still on top of the market and my pricing is competitive.

I’d love to hear what you have to think about this, how do you price your apps? Do you have a pricing strategy?

How $50 got me 10 times more downloads

make money selling apps

When I started out developing apps, I didn’t want to spend too much money on things that I thought were non-essential. The app is all around the content, right? and graphics are like sex – only losers pay money for what they can get for free (or make themselves if you want to take that metaphor a bit further).

This worked well for me since I do have some design skills, and I got some decent downloads on most of my apps but one app in particular was long due for an update and I was stuck with the icon design (the app was doing $1-2 in revenue, so not much, but not 0 either).

The app icon was so outdated, that I finally broke down and searched the stock photo sites and found an image I liked.

A note about stock photo licensing: Many sites have different license agreements, so make sure you contact the site and tell them specifically what you want to do with the file. There’s a big difference between “I want to use it in an app” and “I want to use it as an app icon”.

The image I liked was $50 for the extended license.
At this point, spending $50 on an image would have wiped out 2 months of earnings from that app so I was really concerned about doing it, but I ended up taking a leap of faith and upgraded the icon.

Once the updated app with the new icon launched, I was shocked!
Downloads went up 10 times what they were before the icon was changed and profits went up accordingly.

Lesson: An icon is a critical part of your app’s marketing strategy, there are so many good apps with crappy icons in the app store, so if you want to stand out, make sure your icon matches the quality level you are providing with your app.

here are some good stock photo sites that you may want to get started with:

Dreamstime Photos


(disclosure: I sell photos on these stock sites and am a member of their affiliate program

I’d love to hear your experiences in this area as well, have you had a single change make a big difference in your app sales/downloads?

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