Choosing a freelancer

Small businesses (and even some large ones) are going mad for freelancers it seems, if my workload is anything to go by.

It makes sense, of course. Many business owners, particularly at the moment, although needing to use the services of an experienced professional, aren’t able to hire someone as a full-time or even part-time employee. Resources should be streamlined and investments made wisely, which doesn’t mean hiring someone to sit around for several hours each week until you have another flyer to be written or website page to be created.

Using a freelancer rather than an agency usually means you’re able to take your pick of a large pool of individuals who have experience in your particular industry, a fantastic reputation in their own industry and outstanding credentials.

The downside however, is choosing a freelancer for the wrong reasons and your project ending in a very expensive disaster; and the input and constant communication needed to ensure there is no ambiguity.

Since February, I have undertaken around 70 freelance projects, with an outstanding majority resulting in very happy clients. However, there have been a small few which I have had to turn down or cancel, as a result of miscommunication or unrealistic objectives.

To ensure you choose the right freelancer from the outset and receive a quality piece of work, I’ve noted a few tips below, based on my experience and discussions with business owners. I hope you find these helpful and if you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line:

1. Make sure they have a relevant portfolio – remember, it’s very easy to fib! If they say they have achieved editorial in a certain journal, ask to see a clipping. If they say they have produced copy for websites such as yours, ask for the URL. Don’t just take their word for it.

2. Client references. Make sure they have them. Lots of them. And make sure they’re relevant and recent. A dozen quotes from clients delighted with their website design is useless if you want to hire the freelancer to produce some copy.

3. Know what it is you want. Vague references to “help us to get our name out there” is not likely to bring in the results that you want and a freelancer is unable to analyse the firm, its product or service portfolio and its profitability, the culture and target market to any great extent (well, they could but it would attract considerable cost) in order to produce a detailed communications plan before actually carrying out any of the tactics.

4. Be wary of choosing a freelancer who is not running a business but is hoping to earn pocket money in addition to their daytime job. You won’t be able to contact them during sensible hours and do you really want them to focus on your business when they’re tired after a hard day at the office?

5. Have a sensible budget at the ready. You’ll make considerable savings in not using an agency, but remember the old adage, “you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”. I have come across many businesses who want real results but have discovered that a student in a far off country will accept 25p for a 500 word article and will therefore not agree to pay the normal professional rate. You can’t have it both ways.

6. Know what your objectives are. If you’re hoping to secure editorial in heat magazine, say so. Similarly, if you don’t want to appear somewhere, tell the freelancer that too.

7. Give them all the information that they can. Don’t assume freelancers have outstanding psychic abilities. They can only work on the information they’re given and don’t have time to try and guess what’s in your head. If you want them to come in with you on a project, feeding them titbits of information is not appropriate and you’re likely to be misunderstood and dissatisfied. Instead, why not set up a meeting with everyone involved, over Skype?

8. Don’t try and take advantage. Late or non-payers, manipulation of goal posts and a bad attitude will be noted and your freelancer is likely to decline any future invitation of work. Believe it or not, the freelancers’ network is an extensive one and any shenanigans may result in difficulty in hiring anyone appropriate in the future.

9. Don’t charge a freelance PR to achieve coverage for your business without giving any clue for a story. Yes, through talking to you we can often pick up on something which may be newsworthy, but we don’t know your company very well and we’re not miracle workers! Similarly, the angles of:

– we’re the best decorators in Essex
– we’re the cheapest and/or offer value for money
– there are other similar companies but we’re better

………………………..are not actually news!! Look at the industry you’re in – are you helping solve a particular problem? Do you offer a unique product or service? Do you have any household names as clients? Do you have a particularly interesting background? Are you expanding and thriving in the recession?

An effective freelancer will give the impression that you are their only client. They will, as best they can, tap into your business and buy into your objectives and passion. They care about your enterprise and will put their all into delivering the results you’re after. Your job is to choose the right freelancer from the outset, tell them exactly what it is you require and give them the tools they need to do their job.

If you would like to discuss these points or any other aspect of freelance work, simply drop me a line.

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One thought on “Choosing a freelancer

  1. Great post Claire, you make some very valid points.

    Miscommunication or unrealistic objectives, whilst not the norm, are always a danger when freelancing. As you rightly point out, freelancers are not psychic. I think the problem stems from a lack of proper project planning on the ’employer’s’ side.

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