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Freelancers are an integral part for many businesses to get work done—especially for tasks that fall outside the normal scope of operations. If you’re interested in bringing a freelancer into the fold for a short-term project, or even a longer-term consulting gig, you’ll want to know how to hire a freelancer effectively so you get the right talent for the job.
Companies both big and small rely on freelance help for tasks of all sizes. For instance, you might be in the manufacturing business, but need to create collateral to advertise your services to other businesses. If you don’t have staff with design and copywriting experience, you’ll need to bring in some extra power.
We’ll review best practices for how to hire freelancers so that you can match yourself with the person with the right set of skills for you—and who can complete the project on your budget. You’ll find that once you know how to hire a freelancer, the process shouldn’t be so labor intensive at all, which means you can get started faster than you might think.
There’s no set process for how to hire a freelancer, but, generally, you’ll follow a few key steps to find the right person and get your project rolling.
The first, and most important, step for how to hire freelancers is understanding your project before a freelancer even gets near it. The better defined the project is, the more able you’ll be able to hire a freelancer with the right skills to get the job done.
Begin by asking yourself some questions:
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but should help you frame, in detail, exactly what you will need from outside help when you go to hire a freelancer.
Importantly, you’ll also need to define the skills that you need from a freelancer. For example, if you are doing a rebranding of your company, you’ll need a freelancer who has not only graphic design skills, but who’s worked in logo design before. Or, if you have a lot of content you need produced, you’ll want someone with a strong writing background, potentially in the field in which you’ll be publishing.
Review the deliverables you’ll need, and then make a list of the concrete requirements that any freelancer you hire needs to have. Here are examples of what might be on that list:
Again, this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but you can begin to see what kinds of skills you’ll want to know you need before you set out hiring a freelancer.
Many freelancers you contact will expect that they can do the job remotely—after all, they’re generally juggling clients, and may need to structure their time in very personalized ways in order to fulfill all of their contracts. However, if it’s important for your freelance hire to be onsite a few days a week, or every day for a finite period of time, it’s important that you note this.
You’ll also need to be sure of the structure in which the freelancer will work: That is, are they going to be hourly, for instance, or are you working with them for a set number of hours on a flat-fee (generally called a “retainer”)? You might find that what you think is the best structure for the project ends up not being so (and it can always change), but it’s a discussion you can have with your candidates down the line. For now, create an expectation on your end of how you will be structuring their work with you.
We’re not saying anything you don’t know: Good work costs money. And, generally, freelancers with more experience and more niche skills will charge more than ones who are just starting out and have more limited expertise. This is why knowing your budget ahead of time is incredibly important: It’ll enable you to match with the right freelancer and also make sure you don’t overspend.
Many freelancers will post their rates, which will help you make a decision. Others will ask to find out what the task is and scope out a budget for you accordingly. You also have the option to let the freelancer whom you’re talking to know what your budget is up front—this can save a great deal of hemming and hawing, enable you to get started faster, and create strong, transparent expectations from the get-go.
Once you know what your project is, the skills you need to complete it, the timeline on which it needs to be finished, and how much budget you have for it, you’ll want to create a work listing.
You don’t have to go into every component of the project, but you want to be sure that you include the following things:
Here’s an example of a short work listing. Again, you can get more detailed, and adjust according to your needs:
Happy Beverage Co. is looking for a freelancer to help with a company-wide rebranding project. Start date is ASAP, and we are hoping to have the project wrapped up in the next six weeks. We’d prefer a candidate who can be onsite for 10 hours a week, but will also consider remote candidates. You should have worked on a rebranding project before, and have at least two years of experience in client-facing design and logo development. If you’re interested, please email email@example.com with work samples.
There are a few places you can post your listing. None is more powerful than your own network, whether that’s on a professional networking site such as LinkedIn, or sending an email to someone you know might be connected to good candidates. Encourage people to share the listing, or tag people they think might be good fits for the job.
There are also platforms dedicated to finding freelancers, which help take the guesswork out of how to hire a freelancer. These include:
Hopefully, you’ll get several inbound inquiries about your job listing. That’s great news if so, since you’ll have a range of skills, experience levels, and costs from which to choose. There are lots of ways to evaluate candidates, but whatever you choose to do, standardize it across all of the freelance candidates you review so you’re able to compare them objectively.
Here are a few different elements to take a look at:
From your applications, you should be able to put together a shortlist of candidates—or even identify your first choice. The next thing to do is to contact the candidates on the shortlist. You’ll want to see if you can schedule an interview via phone or video conference. This is especially important if you’ll be working directly with them, since, like any other employee, chemistry and communication is important.
This will also give you the chance to ask any questions that you weren’t able to answer yourself: for instance, are they familiar with your CMS or tech stack? Are they comfortable working on your timeline? Also feel free to ask for additional work samples if you weren’t able to see the spread that you wanted.
Once you’ve identified your first-choice candidate, reach out to the freelancer like you would any employee and let them know you’d like to work with them.
Although budget has likely come up in other parts of the conversation, and will be explicitly spelled out in the statement of work (explained below), this is where it’s important to make sure that you have shared expectations of budget and timeline.
If you’ve worked through a freelancer platform such as Upwork, you may also need to go through a few additional steps to let the platform know that you’re working with the freelancer. Generally, they’ll take a small percentage of the fee from both parties, but may also provide some safeguards to ensure that your work will get done.
Once you’ve chosen your freelancer and they’ve accepted the assignment, there’s still a bit of work to do—specifically, paperwork. The level of paperwork that you’ll end up doing will depend on how formal you’d like your agreement to be. Below are some common steps.
Once you have a freelancer for your project, ask them to draw up a statement of work (SOW). This is an informal document that ensures that you’re on the same page about deliverables. It will include what the freelancer needs to provide, the timeline on which they’ll do it, and the fee for the project. If you’re structuring your agreement as a retainer (a set number of hours for a flat fee), the SOW should include this, too.
Don’t hesitate to go back and forth with the freelancer until you’re both happy with the SOW. You’ll need to agree on the details of the project, as outlined in this document, before you can get rolling.
Most freelancers are 1099 contractors (which means that they’re independent from your employees). You provide the 1099 at the end of the year when you distribute tax documents; in order for this to happen, your freelancer will need to supply you with a completed W9 form.
Some freelancers are registered as business entities and not individuals. This won’t affect you, but make sure that you enable them to fill out the W9 as they’d like.
Some organizations will choose to also execute a contract on top of the statement of work. This isn’t a requirement, but helps some organizations and freelancers alike feel secure of the terms on which you’re both working. It will also detail what happens if the freelancer doesn’t deliver. Some freelancers may have templates that you can ask for; you also may have a contract template that you can use. Make sure both parties review it.
It’s also important that you and the freelancer with whom you’re working agree on a system and frequency of payment, which may be included in the contract. For instance, if you’re doing a flat-fee project, you can propose paying half of the fee up front, and half of the fee upon receipt of the work. Or, if you’re doing an hourly rate, you will want to talk with the freelancer to agree on a pattern for them to submit their hours. Whatever you choose, make certain that you’ve made clear how frequently you’ll be paying for the freelancer’s work, and whether they should expect a check, direct deposit, or some other method.
Even if you don’t sign a contract, you might want to consider asking the freelancer to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). An NDA makes sure that any of your work and trade secrets that the freelancer is exposed to throughout their project are secure and can’t be shared.
You should feel confident by now about going out and finding a freelancer with great skills to get your project done on time and on budget. There’s a range of talent looking to work with companies such as yours—now it’s time to go out and find them.
One final note: Remember that freelancers are running their own businesses, and have different priorities than you do inside your business. This means that they’re often juggling multiple clients at once. A very important thing you can do is respect their time—in turn, they’ll respect yours, and deliver the best work that they possibly can.