Thinking of hiring a freelancer for some of your marketing projects? Here is what you need to know before outsourcing your marketing projects.

I have been a successful freelance web designer and developer for the past 3 and a half years. Although I dabble in all sorts of other marketing avenues such as SEO, PPC, print design, tech consulting, etc., My primary focus is web developing. When I started, there were very few of us. Now I see the shift in the marketplace after “Affordable Healthcare Act” was released. Many companies cannot carry benefits for an employee they may only need part-time, and finding experienced part-time workers is hard. Instead, they are opening the doors to freelancers.

Freelancers are a particular breed that can carry your workload without you having to manage, and cheaper. I will not paint it as the “golden-ticket” though. There are many cons to hiring freelance also. You have to find the right one. Not everyone is cut out for freelancing. Sometimes, you have to go through several to find the right fit for your organization. That is why many companies do not prefer hiring freelance.

Here is what you need to know about hiring a freelancer:

  1.    Find freelancers by referral

Don’t waste your time on any of the popular freelance websites. The majority of people are overseas, and you will end up spending more money in training and communication than hiring someone local and experienced. A big portion of freelancers’ work is correcting incomplete projects.

The best freelancers come by referral. When I started freelancing, I answered craigslist ads, but I haven’t looked for work in over three years. All of my clients are referred by friends or past clients. The exception to this is continued education groups. I am on the board of my local marketing group #TheJOMM and attend other groups such as WP Jax. It’s a great way to make connections and grow my knowledge base. If the freelancer is involved in a group like these, it is proof that they are looking to develop their skills. In the marketing world, change is constant. Find someone who is continuously staying up-to-date on market trends.

  1. Evaluate a freelancer before hiring

As mentioned before, be careful where you find a freelancer. Other than that, here are a few key factors that make a great freelancer.

  • Self-driven: a freelancer cannot survive without being self-motivated. An easy way to spot one is whether they initiate calls and tasks. They need to be proactive.
  • Organized: I am not overly organized, but being unorganized leads to sloppy work. Look for someone that does their research on your company before your meeting.
  • Portfolio: usually an online portfolio is necessary. Just remember to not judge too quickly. Most freelancers cannot share all their work publicly. I have non-disclosure agreements with most of my clients.
  • References: Always check a freelancer references before hiring.
  • Relationship: I always suggest meeting in person at least once. Get a feel for the process and get to know one another. If you aren’t local, then at least hold a meeting over Skype’s video conferencing.
  • Freedom: don’t hire a freelancer that is going to hold your logins, data, or images hostage. Make sure they give you all access and content. After all, you paid for it.
  1.  Buyer beware in the freelancer world

I know what you are thinking, “This sounds too good to be true.” Well let’s skip down to the fine print, shall we? By law, you cannot mandate when and where a freelancer works. If you need someone to work in your office 10am – 3pm, they are considered a part-time employee. I don’t encourage this option. Not just because I don’t like it, but because it traps the freelancer, and it traps you.

Sometimes a relationship with a freelancer is automatic. Other times you have to try out a few before you find the one you are going to continue to work with. That is the beauty of hiring freelance. You can switch freelancers for different projects. You can stick with one or several.  The best projects are when the freelancer has the creative freedom to bring you unique work. Creative people don’t work well in a controlled, corporate settings.

Let’s switch gears and talk about freelancers in non-creative roles for a minute. There are freelancers in almost every field now. I want to warn you against hiring a freelancer to do something that could devastate your business.  It’s okay to hire a freelancer to manage your servers, for example. However, allowing a freelancer to store your servers in their basement is not okay. Freelancers do not have the support staff needed to handle a full-blown server crash. If this happened, you could find yourself screaming “lawsuit” before you realize that the freelancer may not even carry insurance. So be smart about what you are outsourcing freelance.

The biggest negative of hiring freelance is the risk that you assume as the buyer. Hiring a company or employee comes with a certain amount of control.

  1. You get what you pay for

Payment is at the discretion of the freelancer, but most freelancers are flexible. Flexibility makes freelancing a perfect relationship for small businesses. Most small businesses don’t have a large marketing budget. You can present your budget to a freelancer and ask what you can get for that amount. The following is an excellent breakdown of a typical freelance project:

  • Communication / Project Management: I sometimes charge for it and sometimes don’t. It depends on the client. If they are consuming large amounts of time, then I have to charge for it.
  • Hourly vs Project: Most clients want to know up-front how much something will cost, but I have found that giving an estimate and charging hourly is the most cost-effective way for the client. Many times I can get a project done in half the time than I estimated, but I have to account for any unforeseen issues if I am being paid per the project.
  • Cost: This can vary widely depending on the field. The best way to figure out how much to pay a freelancer is to get an estimate from a company first. The majority of freelancers charge 60-70% of what you would pay to a company.
  • When to pay: Payment schedule will depend on your agreement with the freelancer. I always have a signed agreement when I start with a client. However, many times I will continue to work with a client on an ongoing basis even after I have completed the initial agreement. My initial projets are always paid 50% upfront, 50% upon completion. Going forward my hourly on-going fees are billed twice a month. Payment flexibility can be negotiated.
  1. Lay your expectations out upfront

You are paying for their services, so outline what you want. I can summarize in seconds what my clients expect of me and I of them. Remember, this is a two-way relationship. Here are a few expectations that I base my business on:

  • Communication: Weekly status updates on projects are required. Staying on the same page is so important when developing ideas.
  • Meetings (in-person or online): Try to keep a face-to-face meeting at least monthly. After all, freelance careers rely on business relationships.
  • Trust: A fair amount of trust between both parties is required to work well together. That means that you are hiring this person not only because they are cheaper, but because you value their opinion and expertise. You trust them to make the right decisions for your business.
  • Reliability: Agree up-front on when something is due, and both of you stick to it. That means you agree to give logins, content, etc., and the freelancer agrees to check-ins and completion dates.
  • No nickel and diming: I have a strict no “nickel and diming” policy. I don’t charge for a 5-minute phone call, and they don’t try to negotiate my invoices.
  • Honesty: Above all else, communicate your expectations of honesty.  Like any other employee, freelancers will make mistakes. The expectation should always be to be honest and move forward. Being bold means sometimes making mistakes, but own up to it and try to make it right. My mission is to always do what is right for the client, even if that is at a loss to me. That is my expectation of all companies that I hire, as well. Unfortunately, I rarely get it in return.

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that there is a huge shift in the industry coming. Freelancing is on the rise, and I wholeheartedly support it. There is an enormous need in America for more flexibility and creative freedom. Having a career no longer hangs on wearing a suit and sitting under florescent lights till you are allowed to go home after dark. Freelancing gives so many of us the freedom to spend more time with family and enjoy life while making money. Just know what you are getting yourself into before committing to hiring a freelancer.

Written By: Erin Gordon
Image Credit By: Shutter Stock