hiring a freelancer

Hiring A Freelancer For the First Time

Often the hardest decision for a small business owner is when to hire another employee.


Hiring a freelancer or an independent contractor can be a highly effective way to grow your small business.


Perhaps the best aspect is that it allows you to delegate certain responsibilities based on the amount of work you have available, even if you cannot justify a full time employee.  If you have a repetitive task in your daily routine that is not the best use of your valuable time, you can hire a freelancer to assist you, even if it’s an hour a day.


This frees you up to focus on growing the business.


Additionally, depending on where you source your labor, their hourly rate could be significantly lower than what you would pay for an in-house employee. Plus, you’re not paying for additional employment costs such as office space, equipment, or benefits.


Furthermore, you can choose from such a wide talent pool that you can find experts in the specific tasks that you require. Whether these experts are at a lower rate than an in-house employee (which is often the case,) or even a higher rate, hiring a high quality freelancer can save you significant time and money in the long run.

Get Educated Before Hiring a Freelancer

You don’t necessarily have to be an expert in the subject matter, but it’s a good idea to learn enough to know how to determine good quality from bad during the interview process and throughout the engagement.


While you can rely extensively on their portfolio, feedback, and other criteria as described above, it’s beneficial if you understand some key fundamentals or metrics that you can use to independently verify the performance of your freelancer. You could even seek out some complex questions and answers regarding the specific subject matter that is relevant to your task.


Ask your potential freelancer how they would answer the question and see how it matches up with a current best-practice answer from an industry expert.

Where to Go to Hire a Freelancer

There are various popular websites for hiring a freelancer such as odesk.com, elance.com (odesk and elance recently announced they are merging,) freelancer.com, or peopleperhour.com with a wide variety of freelancers available around the world for sales and marketing, web development, customer service, administrative tasks and more, to industry-specific sites like Scripted.com for content writers.


You can post a job and have freelancers apply, or you can use search filters and criteria to find suitable candidates and contact them directly.

Billing Options

Typically freelancers offer the option to charge hourly or at a fixed price (per project, or per period of time).


oDesk has an awesome feature for hourly contracts that automatically logs the hours the freelancer is working, taking measurements of their average typing speed to ensure they are actually working, and even capturing screenshots at random intervals. You can view all of this information in the freelancer work diary, making it easy to verify your freelancer is actually working and that you’re only getting billed for the hours worked.


For fixed price projects, you can control when you release funds to the freelancer and set up milestones to ensure they are meeting the project requirements.


When using one of the websites previously mentioned for hiring and managing freelancers, payments are made through credit card, Paypal or other standard payment options and you are not responsible for any benefits or even filing tax documentation.

How to Select a Freelancer

Portfolio – Each candidate should have a summary of their expertise as well as a portfolio of relevant work. Look for candidates that have a history of working on similar projects or with a similar style of work to what you are looking for. For example, content writers or graphic designers may have their own personal style that may not match what you’re looking for, even if they are highly competent. Many developers may know PHP, but not all have used it to build the type of functionality you’re looking for.

Feedback – I typically look for candidates with extensive work  history and ratings from previous employers. While not everyone has the same standards, candidates with poor feedback from other buyers immediately raise a significant red flag. Look for work history and feedback on projects similar to what you’re looking for, as some freelancers provide a variety of services.

Subject Matter Tests – Some sites like oDesk or Elance offer their own skills assessments that candidates can take to demonstrate proficiency in particular skills. While not foolproof, you may question a candidate who claims to be an expert in HTML, yet scored low in a HTML skills test.

Test Projects – Finally, once you’ve narrowed it down and potentially selected a candidate, don’t immediately commit to a large-scale, lengthy project. Start out with a relatively simple, measurable task to complete within a short time period to prove the capability of the freelancer and to ensure you work well together before moving on to larger, more open-ended projects.

Move On Quickly

The final bit of advice is, if your newly hired freelancer starts raising red flags, I.E. missing deadlines, not responding promptly, quality of work not consistent with how he/she represented him/herself, etc., don’t be afraid to end the project and move on to someone new.


Yes, it’s frustrating that you invested time and energy interviewing them and then getting them up to speed. But in the long run, you’ll realize failing to move on early just ended up costing you even more time.


I’ve found that freelancers demonstrating these types of characteristics are unlikely to change, no matter how much you try and shape or cajole them. There are typically many others with similar skills to choose from and it may take a few tries to find the perfect fit for your needs.


Hiring a freelancer the first time can be a bit of a daunting, challenging process, but once you find the right person, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. Good luck in your search!

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