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Small Business & Productivity

Want to hire a freelancer? Here’s where to start.

So you think you need to hire a freelancer.

Maybe you need some specialized help that no one on your staff can provide. Or maybe you need to scale up your team a bit, but not enough to justify a full-time employee. 

There are more freelancers on the market today than ever before, to the tune of 57 million writers, designers, bookkeepers, videographers, and a ton more. So if you’re staring into the sea of talent unsure where to start, here are some steps you can take to get your freelancer hunt off to a good start.

Make your wishlist

Before you can hire a freelancer, you have to determine what you need.

You know your business better than anyone else, so you should have at least an idea of what you’re looking for. If you want someone to design your restaurant website, for example, you know you’ll need a homepage, menu page, location page, and maybe events and about pages. 

If you want blog posts, are you looking for something short and quick? Or do you want long, in-depth blog posts where the writer can really dig into the topic? Remember that longer content comes with a higher price tag. 

It’s okay if you don’t have exact details. Your freelancer can help you work through them. But they’ll still need a basic framework from you so they can assess your needs and make suggestions. 

Other questions to ask yourself when choosing a freelancer: 

  • Do you want someone local? 
  • How much experience should they have? This is often directly correlated with price, so…
  • What’s your price range? If you have no idea, hop on UpWork or GoLance and scroll through freelancers to look at what some freelancers are charging.
  • When do you need the work completed? If it’s an emergency job, be prepared to pay a rush fee. 

Start the hunt

Once you’ve answered the above questions, it’s time to start looking for the right foot for your glass slipper.

Where to look for a freelancer

Back when I worked with freelancers as a client, I always liked to start by asking for referrals. Who better to work with than someone who has already proven themselves to someone you trust? 

It’s also a good idea to ask other freelancers for referrals. It’s very common for a freelance writer, for example, to have worked with web designers, photographers, or SEOs in the past. So if you have any current freelancer connections, ask them for a recommendation. 

If that doesn’t work, start a good ol’ Google search. But you’ll want to narrow down your search by niche. A generalist may be fine, but a specialist in your field will already be familiar with what works and what doesn’t. They may also know your competitors, which can be helpful when you’re trying to differentiate yourself. 

Another place to look is freelance sites like UpWork and GoLance, mentioned above. These are online marketplaces where freelancers can set up profiles to showcase their skills. Clients can also post their jobs, letting freelancers submit proposals for the work. And you can make your job posting private, letting you invite specific freelancers to apply.

UpWork screenshot to hire a freelancer

There are also more niche freelancing sites for writers, designers, marketers, virtual assistants, and more. Here is a great list to get you started.

Now, I’m aware that not everyone is a fan of these sites. There are good and bad freelancers to be found, just like there are good and bad jobs to be found here. But I’ve used UpWork in the past, and I’ve had mostly good experiences. 

The good thing about these sites is that they provide authentic client reviews, so you can get a sense for the freelancer’s communication and work quality. They also provide financial protection to both the freelancer and the client, which can be comforting when you’re just starting a new relationship. 

What you definitely want to avoid, however, are content mills. On a freelancer marketplace, the website is providing the point of connection and facilitating the relationship for a small fee. But the back and forth is all done between the client and the freelancer. 

In a content mill situation, you pay the website (not the freelancer) for some work. Then the content mill selects a freelancer and pays them to do the job. You have little control over who does the work.

Plus, these sites are a numbers game. They tend to be very affordable to the client…which means they pay even less to the freelancer. These low rates mean the best freelancers stay away, and you’re getting subpar work.

What to look for in a freelancer

So you know where to look, but what are you looking for?

The first thing you want to know is if they can do the work. Anyone can say they know how to code, but don’t trust anyone who can’t show you the proof. So you need to look through their portfolio.

Make sure you know what part of the projects on their portfolio they completed. A gorgeous, responsive website may look impressive. But if the freelancer didn’t design it from scratch, they may not be the best fit for your custom website project.

Next, do they have testimonials from happy clients? Of course, any feedback on their website is bound to be positive — no one is going to put a negative review on their own website. But a bevvy of enthusiastic clients is at least a good place to start. 

And finally, check their rates. 

Not all freelancers post their rates online, so you may need to reach out before you get this information. But finding out quickly can help you to decide if they are in your price range or not. 

In general, you can expect to pay a higher hourly rate or per-project rate for a freelancer than you would pay for an employee. Remember that freelancers have a significantly higher tax burden than an employee, and they have to cover their overhead. 

Freelancers are still often more affordable than full-time employees. You’re only paying them for the jobs you need, instead of for a 40 hour work week. 

There are freelancers in literally all price brackets. The cheapest freelancer is probably not very experienced, and may not get you great results. 

Go on a date

Once you’ve selected a couple of freelancers that fit all your criteria, it’s time to go on a (virtual) date.

Set up a phone or video call to get to know each other. Or you could ask them to meet in person if they’re local.

Questions to ask: 

  • Vet their industry knowledge by asking some niche-specific questions.
  • How much work are they available to do? If you have extensive needs, make sure they understand your expectations and have the capacity to meet them.
  • What is their turnaround time for a project like yours? 
  • Ask if they have content ideas for your type of business. 
  • Discuss your (and their) work hours. If you’re off Mondays and Tuesdays, let them know. And you should know when they’ll be available to speak with you. Not all freelancers work from 9am to 5pm.
  • Are revisions included in the work? Most freelancers offer 1 to 3 rounds of revisions in their base pricing. But they do often set limits, to prevent endless back and forth that drags on for weeks.

Let them ask questions, too. They will probably want to get a little more information about the job. And they will want to know when you are expecting the work to be completed. 

Keep in mind that freelancers’ schedules do get filled up, so they may need a week or two (or longer) before they’re able to start your job.

Hire a freelancer

Once you’ve discussed your project with a couple of freelancers and found one that you think would be a good fit, give them a trial job to start. This will be a paid job, but often something small so you’re not risking your whole website redesign or ebook on an unknown entity. 

Next, time to set up some guidelines with your new hire. 

Decide how you’d like to communicate. Some freelancers may have their own preferences, but they’ll usually be flexible about this. My preferred methods are email and Slack, for example. I prefer not to communicate via text, because it interrupts my flow. 

Provide any brand or style guidelines that they need to follow. This is especially important for designers, web developers, and writers, so they can create assets that fit in with your existing brand. Also, send over any information you may have about your ideal customer. This information is always helpful. 

And introduce them to any members of your team they may need to work with. Getting yourself out of the line of communication can help free up your time for other projects. Just make sure you’re still available for any questions that only you can answer. 

Freelancers often take a little more time to onboard, as they’re not onsite and able to pick up the nuances of your workplace. They only know what you tell them. So at first, you’ll need to overcommunicate to get them up to speed.

After they submit the work

A freelancer/client relationship is really a collaboration. The writer or designer or app developer will do their best to take everything you’ve provided and turn it into exactly what you were looking for. But sometimes, especially at first, it takes a little back and forth to get it completely right. 

Don’t expect perfection right out of the gate.

Communicate with your freelancer about what you like and what needs work. A client that says everything is great but then doesn’t hire me again is no good! I want the client to be thrilled with my work so they’ll come back again and again.

So I’ll always work with you to get it right (and so will any other decent freelancer). 

Set up a long term workflow

Once you’ve worked out any kinks and found yourself in a position to hire your freelancer on a more long-term basis, what parts of your relationship can you systematize?

Starting from scratch with every project is a waste of time for you both. 

Instead, try to come up with categories of work that can be repeated. For example, I set flat rates for many of my blog services. So a regular client will know exactly how much each would cost, based on their length. 

It can also be helpful for both client and freelancer to plan out work for the month.

For example, one of my clients needs six blogs per month, every month. So at the beginning of each month, I will send him my six blog post ideas along with a general outline for each. 

Once I get the okay from him, I can easily fit those six posts into my schedule for the month. This pre-planning means I’m never scrambling for post ideas, and never risk running out of time to meet my deadlines. 

Your work needs may not be as consistent as that client’s needs. So a good way to plan ahead may be to put your freelancer on a retainer for a few hours each month. That way you’ll be guaranteed some of their time to use as you need. 

For more tips about working with freelancers, check out How to Work Better with Freelancers: A Primer. And to discuss working with this freelancer, send me a note!

Header Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

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