Taking on freelancers is a great way to find the most appropriate talent for different projects, without having to commit to hiring new staff. But picking the right person for an assignment isn’t always easy.
Below are nine things to think about before taking the plunge.
Be clear about what you need
Having a clear idea about what you want from a freelancer is essential. If you don’t know exactly what you need them for, how exactly are they supposed to know? Write down your goals for the project, the tasks you’ll need the freelancer to complete and create a timeline for the assignment. Consider how much input you’ll want to have once you’ve delegated the project too. Is this something you want taken off your hands, or something you’re keen to stay involved with throughout the process? Think about how willing you are for the freelancer to experiment and be creative. Decide on a budget.
Weigh up time over quality
Once you’ve cemented your goals, it’s good to start visualising the best-fit freelancer for the project. In an ideal world, it’s probably someone highly skilled who can get things done quickly. More likely, you’ll need to weigh up how much you’re willing to spend with the deadline for your project. Popular freelancers with niche skills can often get booked up months in advance and have the freedom to charge more for their time. At the other end of the scale, opting for lower rates to save money might end up being a weak investment — the phrase ‘you get what you pay for’ exists for a reason. Consider if you need an all-rounder or someone with a particular background. Beware of falling for freelancers with impressive reputations, but who might not have the knowledge-level or mastery of a specific skill needed for your project.
Make sure you have a strong and digestible creative brief
The good news is that money isn’t always the main motivator for freelancers, especially those in the creative industries. A well-written brief, clearly outlining the benefits of the assignment can go along way to attracting the right kind of talent. Think about what the freelancer can hope to gain from each project. How daring and innovative can they be? What skills will they gain? What kind of working environment, hours or flexibility can you offer them?
Take a detailed look at candidate portfolios
Whether you are proactively seeking out freelancers with the right skill set or sifting through applications that come to you, take the time to really read up on your preferred candidates. You probably wouldn’t make a rash decision when hiring an employee, but time pressures can play more of a role when it comes to taking on freelancers. Be sure to check examples of their previous work and any online ratings or feedback. If they seem to have just the right skill set but haven’t worked on any similar projects, consider setting them a test task.
Use Skype or FaceTime to get to know them
Whether your freelancer will be working from home or spending time in your office, creating a good rapport will help you both enormously. While you might not feel it’s necessary (or think you have the time) to hold an old-fashioned job interview for a short assignment, having a quick chat via FaceTime or Skype before any contracts are signed can help you identify any red flags and start off on the right foot. Video calls allow you to analyse not just what someone is saying but also their tone, body language and personality. Do they align with your brand? Consider also the logistics of setting up the call, especially if you plan to interact this way in future. Were they punctual? Did they seem at ease with the technology? If someone is awkward or shy on an initial video call, consider how relevant (or not) this might be moving forward.
Check their references
As well as looking at previous work and having a face-to-face virtual chat, it’s worth contacting former clients that freelancers have worked with. This might seem like a step too far if you can already see their portfolio or ratings from previous clients, but it can be a valuable investment of time, even for a short project. Be specific about your concerns and seek out concrete feedback.
Get things in writing
A verbal or email agreement on your assignment and budget is never enough. Make sure you outline the project in writing and get a written or digital signature from both sides. The contract should also make clear that your company has exclusive rights and ownership over all content created by the freelancer. It may also need to specify whether or not the freelancer can use this work as an example to showcase in their portfolio. Be clear on how much you will pay the freelancer and when.
Keep in touch throughout the assignment
Having pinned down the best possible freelancer for your project, don’t forget to check in regularly to see how they are getting on, or provide them with another point-of-contact who can do so, to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Make sure that you or someone else with authority can review, provide feedback and approve the various stages of the assignment. If there are numerous departments or other stakeholders involved, involve the freelancer in a team meeting to ensure they get all perspectives and understand all relevant issues.
Even the very best freelancers may not settle into an assignment immediately. It takes time to get to know different organisations’ goals, processes and voice and you should be mindful that in-demand freelancers will likely be juggling multiple clients and projects. While top freelancers should be agile and flexible, the more time and effort you can put into making sure someone you take on feels comfortable and is equipped with all the necessary tools and information they need for the assignment, the better. If they deliver on the project, you’ll be in a great position to extend the collaboration or work together again in future.