Elance Blog

Top 5 Considerations Before Hiring a Freelancer

Occasionally we invite Elancers to discuss issues of importance to businesses who use our online work marketplace.  Here are some thoughts from Emma Siemasko, who uses Elancers regularly and has just published a new online publication, JUMP: The Ultimate Guide To Starting And Growing Your Business. It's about taking that great idea of yours from concept to fruition – as she did with her most-recent publication, thanks to the help of Elancers.

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You’ve got a big project coming up and you’re going to need some extra help … but your payroll doesn’t have the wiggle room for a new employee. So, what’s a business owner to do?

For many projects, a freelancer is a great solution. At my company, we have a network of freelancers we turn to for writing projects, illustrations, radio ads, and more.

There are no long commitments, no need to pay health and retirement benefits, and since a freelancer won’t be on your payroll indefinitely, this type of hire might allow you to budget more for the project than you’d otherwise be able to bankroll.

But you still have to do your homework. Keep these points in mind when vetting the freelance pool.

Portfolios Matter

Any freelancer worth his or her salt should have a portfolio. A great portfolio will open a window into your freelancer’s world. It displays his work, sure – but it should also display his personality.

Some questions to ask yourself when evaluating a portfolio:

  • Does the work show creative, outside-of-the-box thinking?
  • Is the portfolio correctly formatted and easy to navigate?
  • Does the candidate stand out from the crowd in any positive way?
  • Does the candidate’s personality seem to jive with your company’s brand?

If you like a candidate’s portfolio, add to it by giving her a small assignment to use as a sample. This will help you gauge how well that person understands your brand’s style, audience and goals.

Getting through the portfolios of several dozen freelancers might take some time, but it’s crucial to finding just the right fit for the job.

Check References

The portfolios are a start. Now that you’ve got a short list of potential candidates, it’s time to begin making calls or checking ratings and reviews.

The portfolio should contain references. Always check references and read online ratings.

Seriously.

The work could be pristine. The budget could line up exactly. The words could flow forth from her mouth like water from a spring.

But maybe this “fantastic” frontrunner missed three deadlines before the project was completed. Maybe this “amazing” applicant finished the project on time … but required six reworks because the concept of “following directions” was foreign to her. Maybe this “capable” candidate needed his hand held every step of the way.

All these “maybes” can cost you.

So again, check references. Ask questions like:

  • Were you satisfied with the work?
  • Can the candidate work under pressure or independently as needed?
  • Would you hire this person to do more work for your business?
  • What’s the candidate’s biggest strength?
  • What’s the candidate’s biggest weakness?

One note on talking to references: Beware the bad employer. You would never do this, but some inexperienced business owners don’t know how to work with freelancers. They have unreasonable expectations or don’t communicate clearly, and then they leave bad feedback when the poor freelancer can’t do his job because he doesn’t understand it (or it’s impossible).

If you do hear bad things, but you really like a particular candidate, don’t be afraid to ask the freelancer for her side of the story.

Open the Lines of Communication

Now that your short list is even shorter, start reaching out to your candidates. An email is a great jumping-off point for this, since it will allow you to get a feel for their written communication skills.

Evaluate them on:

  • Speed of response. Anyone looking to score a freelance job should be on the ball during normal business hours.
  • Professional language. The ability to convey a message, free from grammatical errors, typos, annoying abbreviations and chat speak is a must.
  • Personality. Does the candidate’s “voice” match up with your brand?

Have you scratched some more off of your list? Great. Now it’s time for the all-important phone call. Set up a time to chat and keep these things in mind:

  • Is he marginally “distraction free?” Almost all freelancers work from home, so allow for a barking dog in the background; however, if the candidate has a screaming child on one hip and is having a side conversation with his spouse about dinner, he’s probably not set up for the job.
  • Does the candidate ask as many questions as she answers? People who are interested in a position (and plan to do well at it) should have at least some questions for you.
  • Would you feel comfortable with the freelancer speaking to a client on your behalf and being a contact point for your business if necessary?

In short, written and verbal communication skills are crucial.

Money Talks

You’ve got a budget in mind for the project; so does your candidate. It’s time to make sure the numbers match up.

Be clear about expectations as well as any bonuses or potential overtime. Remember: you get what you pay for. The cheapest bidder might not always be the best way to go. In some instances, freelancers work cheap because “cheap” is the only thing they have to offer.

It’s OK to negotiate a price that’s fair to both of you. Often, freelancers may come down a bit on their end if it seems you might have more work for them in the future.

Go With Your Gut

Gut instinct is a powerful thing. Don’t ignore it. If the candidate looks great on paper but you’re just not feeling his work, it’s okay to pass. Likewise, if the portfolio and references were thin but you’re gut says this is your guy, go for it!

Personally, I like to hire freelancers who are just starting out, or who need a little help. There are a lot of good writers, artists, and designers who just don’t know how to market themselves. As a writer who hires writers, I like to take a chance on someone who seems talented, and provide feedback to help develop him as well as the work. One freelancer I took a chance on was Dan Kenitz, and now he’s one of my go-to writers!

Hiring a great freelancer isn’t overly difficult, but it can (and should!) be time-consuming. Narrow your candidates down through portfolios and references, don’t dismiss the importance of personal communication, make sure the numbers line up and, finally, trust your instincts.

Emma Siemasko is a Boston-based writer and ecommerce expert, who has been hired over and over through Elance. She loves providing resources for entrepreneurs and small business owners. She is the author of JUMP: The Ultimate Guide to Starting and Growing a Business.

Comments

I would also add one more tip - want to hire a freelancer? Never ever think about Elance! Because the freelancer you've just hired will disappear leaving you without work provided, passed deadline and (Oh! Surprise! ) no money on your Elance account.
And Elance's support will be to busy to review your request or to chat with you or even to pick the phone.