Originally published on AllBusiness.com
If you’re a micropreneur like me, you might have stumbled upon a little secret that helps you do more in your business: freelancers. When you run a business, you may not need (or be able to afford) a full-time staff, and that’s where hiring outside help is such a boon. You only pay the freelancer for the services they offer or the time they work, and it’s usually an affordable way to service more customers and offer more to them.
I’ve been working with freelance writers, editors, and designers for about 10 years, and, as a result, I’ve been able to grow my content marketing firm much faster than I could have if I had handled all projects on my own. I’ve worked with highly skilled freelancers—and some not-so-professional ones—so I want to share some tips to help you ensure that you hire the best ones for your needs.
1. Know what you need
For me, this starts with identifying projects I’m less excited to work on. Maybe I don’t have knowledge in the client’s field or I’d rather spend time writing other types of content. Doing this helps me to identify the skills I will need from a freelancer. I’ll make a list of attributes I want this person to have and then put my feelers out.
2. Know what you can pay
One of my pet peeves is people who try to hire freelancers for pennies. Yes, you can hire writers overseas who will write $5 articles, but we all know you get what you pay for. Sure, I like to save as much money as I can when hiring freelancers, but I have found there’s a balance between getting a reasonable price for a project and also getting professional results. You will need to find your own balance.
Even if you have a number in mind, if you find a writer who charges a little more, give them a test project to see how they do. It might be worth it to increase your budget if they do a great job. And don’t be shy about negotiating. If you have lots of work, a freelancer may be willing to reduce their rate for the assurance of steady work.
3. Sniff around your network
Before you post a job online, see what your network turns up. Start with people you know in your industry and see if they have recommendations for freelancers they’ve done business with. You can also ask around at business networking groups you participate in or even ask your clients. If you already work with freelancers, you can ask them if they know people they can refer.
If doing this doesn’t net results, go to social media. Tweet or post a brief description of what you’re looking for and ask people to direct message you if they have a referral or are interested in the work themselves. You’d be surprised how well this can help you find talent.
4. Post on job boards
Specify in the description how many hours a week or month you expect the project to take. You can either list what you’re willing to pay or ask people to include their rate in their cover letters. (The former may help you weed out people who charge more than you’re willing to pay.) Include any specific industry or creative experience you’re looking for and what the work will entail. The more detailed you are in the job description, the quicker you’ll find the right person.
5. Weed through the applicants
Fair warning: you’re going to get inundated with applications. You should be able to easily weed out those that are unqualified (yes, people who have none of the experience you require will still apply) to get to the applicants you want to consider.
There are a few ways you can proceed from here. Some people will conduct phone or video interviews to get to know freelancers—I’m not a big fan of that. I prefer hiring someone based on their work, so I will ask people to do a paid test assignment. I provide detailed instructions of what I’m looking for and give them a firm deadline. If a person misses the deadline (without a really good excuse) or doesn’t follow instructions, I probably won’t want to work with them.
And having a test assignment is great. You get something you need done completed without the commitment of having to work with this person long-term. If they are not a good fit, you simply pay them and move on to the next candidate.
6. Be picky
Sometimes you may feel like settling on a less-than-100% freelancer. If a project needs to get done by yesterday, it may seem easier to just deal with a freelancer’s quirks rather than to continue searching for a better person.
I’ll tell you from personal experience: those quirks tend to be magnified over time, and often at the worst possible moments. A freelancer who consistently turns work in late will do so when you are on a deadline with a client. A person who needs hand-holding will require extra attention when you have none to give.
Hold out for the perfect freelancer, even though it may take time. And you may need to hire more than one person to ensure you have different skill sets covered, but know that there are amazing freelancers out there if you’re willing to put in the time to look for them.