Over the past few years, I’ve hired about twenty freelancers. They’ve helped with website content creation, design and development. They’ve added expertise and extra resources when I’m juggling projects.
Hiring freelancers has worked out all right. Most freelancers have been good with a couple of all-stars (and one or two duds). I’ve had the most success with freelancers that extend my services. Thumbs up to my content writers and code developers.
But it hasn’t been all roses. Freelancer issues have surfaced when I hire for overflow support. Crunch-time problems have cropped up when I’ve had simultaneous projects and conflicting deadlines.
First I’ll focus on the upside of hiring freelancers. Then I’ll get into what can go wrong and what you can do to prevent missteps.
Benefits of Working with Freelancers
Hiring freelancers is an attractive short-term option for filling gaps in larger projects. They help get the job done and extend your capabilities. Freelancers improve project quality in their specialty areas. They enable add-on services that might be challenging otherwise. When things go well, they improve the speed of delivery. Hiring a freelancer also costs less than investing in an employee. In other words, a lot of upside.
- Attractive short-term option
- Extend service offerings and capabilities
- Improve project quality
- Added expertise in specialty areas
- Faster project completion
- Keep costs down (compared to hiring an employee)
Working with freelancers isn’t easy. It’s time consuming to communicate project requirements and onboard new freelancers. You’d think contract professionals would step in and start producing right away. But sometimes there’s a slow learning curve with a new professional relationship. Freelancers need an initial time investment. This can be frustrating when you’re in a crunch. Time issues are painful when hiring a subcontractor to improve speed.
And not all freelancers are equal. Some issues I’ve come across are dishonesty, inaccuracies and lack of professionalism. There are times when you come across a freelancer that misrepresents their skillset. Their portfolio might look great. But until you actually work with them, you don’t get a sense of their true capabilities. And it’s common to receive inaccurate estimates of cost and completion time. It’s also frustrating when freelancers don’t care about your project.
- Time consuming
- Learning curve (not all freelancers are plug-n-play)
- Misrepresentation of skills
- Inaccurate estimates of cost and time
- Easy come, easy go mentality
Solutions to Common Issues
Finding freelancers before you need them is the best solution to potential problems. You’ll make better decisions when you’re not desperate or in a pinch. Taking time upfront to find the right people is good preventative medicine.
Use a solid service agreement as well. I’m not a fan of formal contracts but I recommend a plain-English service agreement. Spell out project specifications. Add an opt-out clause, late delivery penalty and cancellation clause. These combat late delivery and inaccurate initial estimates.
An opt-out clause is especially important. It allows you to kill a project based on early quality issues. It protects you from freelancers that misrepresent their skillset. If the first deliverables are way below your expectations, end it. Don’t waste time, effort and money. A quick kill is so much better than a slow, painful project.
The wisdom I’ve gained from bad experiences: stay away from long, lousy relationships. Trust your gut. If it feels like things are off track, you’re likely right. Your energy is better spent finding a replacement than attempting to fix the wrong fit.
On the financial side, pay a flat fee when you can. It doesn’t matter how many hours someone puts into a project. It’s the results that count. Flat rates help you stay away from the murky employer-employee waters. It’s better to pay for results than time.
- Find freelancers before you need them
- Use a service agreement
- Have an opt-out clause (for poor quality)
- Enforce a late delivery penalty
- Agree upon a cancellation clause (for excessively late delivery)
- Cut ties quickly if things go wrong
- Pay a flat fee
How to Spot a Good Potential Freelancer
You know the benefits and potential problems of hiring a freelancer. You also know how to prevent missteps along the way. But what makes a good freelancer? What should you look for when shopping around for talent? In a word: professionalism. Here’s what I look for in potential freelancers:
- Specialty skills and expertise
- Proof of concept (a portfolio, samples, testimonials, referrals, etc.)
- Attention to detail
- Responsive communication
- Driven to complete project requirements
- Internal quality control before delivery
- Polished, professional results
Feel free to reach out if you know of any good, creative freelance talent. I’m always keeping my eyes open for new networking opportunities.