Booming numbers of freelancing professionals are changing the face of work. In the United States alone last year, the number of workers freelancing grew from 700,000 to 54 million, according to a Freelancers’ Union study. Each is enjoying greater freedom, flexibility and control, thanks to marketplace sites like Upwork, PeoplePerHour and Experts Exchange.
Of course, it is not just workers who are benefitting from sites powering the “gig economy.” Companies are also reaping the rewards by hiring amazing contractors who are transforming their businesses.
At ours, we have fished in freelance marketplaces a number of times for developers, copywriters and website builders. When you are facing a time crunch, hiring for a one-off project is a great way to run a self-contained job and quickly get the result out into the world.
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While I have seen countless successful projects completed by professionals hired online, sometimes the relationship sours, breaks down and ends in disappointment. So, what are the typical pitfalls, and how can you avoid them?
1. Start small.
You may have grand visions for a game-changing site, service or app. But don’t throw it all on to an untested freelancer’s desk at the same time. If you write a $50,000 job spec for a new app to run an entire business off, you are risking massive disappointment. The nightmare scenario is your freelancer disappears mid-way through the project, and your dreams will never be realized.
Start small instead. Communicate your end goal, but break down it down into individual parts that can stand by themselves, ahead of overall completion. Then hire for the build of the first, the second and so forth. This way, you can minimize the any issues.
“Having everything spelled out in minute details before beginning, with a clause for what happens when the client wants to deviate from the specs, would be the only way I'd consider bidding on it,” a freelance network administrator with the username SStory told me online.
2. Set clear expectations.
Scope creep is kryptonite to freelancers. Avoid feeding them with continual requests by setting a clear upfront goal.
“If there is a project that is not well defined, I usually won't even waste my time with it as you spend more time flushing out the details, for free, at the risk of not getting the project,” said Kyle Abrahams, a software developer in Suffolk, NY.
The best time to set expectations is early. Before your gig starts, talk with your candidate to ensure they fully understand the job and that you understand how it will be delivered.
3. Understand true value.
I have seen many hiring companies, especially first-time hirers, significantly low-ball the amount they want to pay for a project. This is the path to disappointment. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for -- so be prepared to pay for what you want.
You will only know the answer by researching the necessary skills, and comparable projects, to get a sense of the appropriate fee you should pay. Do your due diligence. Shop around, and wait for a few bids to come in. Unless you are in a real time crunch, there is no need to seize on and hire the first applicant.
"If you don't spell out the expectations out of the gate, the freelancer could do a whole project completely wrong before you get a chance to correct them,” Amy Waller, a marketer for CompuCom who has previously used freelance marketplaces, told me. “That just wastes everyone's time and money."
4. Communicate clearly, a lot.
Freelancers must be clear with you how much work they think your project will entail. But it is your responsibility to understand that. It is easy to cast an eye over web page text profiles, but speak with your freelance candidate on the phone before beginning, to ensure you are both on the same page. Don’t leave room for assumptions.
"It's like ordering a burger at a restaurant,” said Lucas Bishop, a developer from San Luis Obispo, Calif., who has used freelance marketplace sites. “If you don't tell your server that you are allergic to gluten, and the burger is made on a regular bun, whose fault is it that you can't eat the burger?"
Once the upfront communication is done, carry on. Request regular progress updates to ensure development is going as you intended. Don’t leave it until the end to find out.
And remember, common courtesy goes a long way. Just because your worker may be on the other side of the country, and is only freelance, you should still treat them with respect.