Finding strong freelance talent can be a game-changer for your company.
Ultimately, the biggest benefit is flexibility. Enlisting outside help only when required is a smart move if your business needs and cash flow are inconsistent. And a freelancer capable of ramping up or down with you can be invaluable when scaling. Furthermore, not being beholden to a direct hire allows you to pursue varying skill sets as needed, without having to commit to the additional cost of overhead and benefits.
Whether you are new to the market or a veteran of outsourcing talent, here are five things you need to know.
1. Leverage skill-based marketplaces.
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Maximize the combined power of your network and the technology at your disposal: Begin your search in a marketplace densely populated with the types of freelancers you seek. One of the internet's many benefits is that it allows like-minded people to congregate around shared personal or professional interests. While some services exist solely as a recruiting channel to hire freelancers, others are more of communities that also happen to feature job boards. Both routes have their strengths. In either case, focus on a corner of the world that has achieved a critical mass in your area of need.
Not sure how to tell the difference? Visit a few recruiting services such as 99 Designs (designers), Contently (storytellers) and Hourly Nerd (business consultants). Then, view GitHub and Inbound to see a pair of tight-knit communities that feature full-time job postings for developers and digital marketers, respectively.
As you review these marketplace-style environments, pay careful attention to the rates mentioned. Many low-cost alternative sites will deliver on a “get-what-you-pay-for” promise. While that's fine for some projects, these marketplaces often squeeze out premium talent capable of high-end work.
2. Review sample work.
Freelances are the same as any staff employee in one critical way: The proof is in the pudding. Prepared freelance candidates likely will supply samples from their portfolios. If they can't furnish specific materials when requested, it's probably wise to take a second look at their credentials.
Quality of work isn't the only measure of a strong prospective hire. Take into account the work sample's relevancy to your project. A software developer shouldn’t be expected to switch back and forth between different code bases, and a creative copywriter might not perform well as a tech blogger.
Related: How To Screen Freelance Writers
3. Insist on references.
Your flexible relationship with freelancers doesn't exempt you from performing the due diligence necessary to ensure a good fit. Reference calls are part of the process for a permanent hire, and savvy business owners will request that freelance candidates also supply a short list of work contacts. Established freelancers likely have worked with plenty of clients who could testify on their performance.
A test engagement may be brief, true. But if there's any longevity to the project you are hiring for, be sure to adequately screen freelance candidates for any red flags that might have surfaced with a past employer.
4. Agree to project scope.
It's imperative you are clear on every parameter of the project -- before anyone commences on the work itself. Everyone involved should understand who is responsible for which items, the timeline for completion, the format of the deliverables, and the payment schedule and costs to be incurred along the way.
You'll always find debates on flat-rate project work or charging by the hour. Choosing the most appropriate cost structure requires clarity on all of the above. Removing ambiguity holds both parties accountable and mitigates the likelihood your project will stall at a critical point.
5. Champion open communication.
Even if your freelancers will work remotely, you still should make an effort to connect with them directly. Find ways to "meet" with top candidates, whether it's in person, by phone or via video conference.
Personal contact enables you to establish a warm relationship, but it's more than simply being polite and humanizing your interaction. Transparency helps reduce potential risks. Open communication ensures your vision is aligned and sets an expectation that you'll require regular check-ins. It's not about injecting suspicion into the partnership with your newfound talent, though people are less likely to con someone they've befriended. A freelancer who is dodgy about meeting with you also is more likely to be evasive when deadlines come due or budgets become tighter.