8 Tips to Help You Hire the Best Freelance Talent

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Today's Question: In today's economy, it's common for organizations to work with freelancers on a project-by-project basis. What tips do you, as a recruiter or employer, have to help organizations find and hire the best freelance talent?

1. Present the Project in an Open-Ended Way

Rather than giving potential freelancers all of the full project details, find an item that you can frame as a problem. That way, you can ask them about the project as a whole and also get their advice on how they would solve that problem. This will show you if they understand your project and if they can work with you in finding solutions to problems.

— Edwin Ivanauskas, Citadel Insurance

2. Assess Their Skills Via Trial by Fire

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The key is to only hire people who have prior positive feedback and always – always – give a small test project (an hour's or a day's worth of work) before awarding a larger (multi-day/week/month) project. You want to test for language skills, response time, quality of work, and if they did what you asked them to do. Trial by fire is by far the best way to hire freelancers.

The other tip I frequently use is to give the same small test project to three people and let them compete through demonstrated work product for the larger project.

— Mike Scanlin, Born to Sell

3. Make Sure You Don't Misclassify

First, determine whether the freelancer thinks of themselves as an independent business owner, a temporary employee, or something else. From a legal perspective in many states (such as in New York), a true freelancer is probably an independent business owner and has taken steps to distinguish themselves as one. They have a website, business cards, a tax identification number that is not their social security number, and processes for estimating the costs of the work, how the work will be done, where it will be done, and when. If they don't have these things, there is a good chance that you are hiring an employee. You need to be certain you are complying with all laws, rules, and regulations from the Internal Revenue Service, as well as the Departments of Labor (DOL) and workers' compensation agencies in each state where you are hiring freelancers or where they are working. The penalties for getting this wrong can personally bankrupt you, not just your small business.

Second, do a thorough screening. A true freelancer will function like a professional, if not an entrepreneur. They will have other clients whom you can ask about the freelancer's work. They will take the lead on the project and treat you like a valued client. You shouldn't have to chase them down or train them. They will communicate with you about the progress of the project, and they should be the one determining how it will be completed. They will typically use their own tools and creative process, delivering you a customized work as your end result.

— Nance L. Schick, The Law Studio of Nance L. Schick

4. Emphasize Your Selling Points

When drafting the job specification, I make sure I include the key selling points of working with me and of the role. Typically, this comprises prompt payment, ongoing training, and a pipeline of substantial work for a candidate who delivers on the job being advertised. This way, I am enticing the best in the market to choose me over my competition.

— Luke Bastin, PDA Buzz

5. Let Unqualified Applicants Disqualify Themselves

The biggest issue with hiring freelance talent is noise. The vast majority of applications are boilerplate, underqualified, or a complete waste of time. The best way to deal with this is to let the majority of applicants disqualify themselves.

The person that you want to hire will be able to read carefully and follow instructions. Asking for a pet's name in an area separate from the main description or application section or asking candidates in small print to CC to an additional email will filter 90 percent of the candidates who are not diligent.

— Jason Lavis, Out of the Box Innovations

6. Build Relationships With Colleges and Universities

Their are many talented undergraduate and graduate candidates in various programs who attend school full-time but are looking for both experience and added income. Build relationships with career counselors and professors in nearby schools for referrals from subject matter experts. This is also a great way to build a pipeline for future full-time opportunities.

— Micah Pratt, Obrella

7. Talk to Your 'Stark Raving Fans'

Who would be better to represent you and your business than a enthusiastic customer, vendor, or fan? Contact any qualified cheerleaders personally with a special offer just for them.

— Jennifer Martin, Zest Business Consulting

8. Invest in Long-Term Relationships With Freelance Talent

Hiring is time-consuming, so having a successful long-term relationship with a freelancer is often important. Invest the time upfront with candidate freelancers to understand their capabilities and expectations, particularly around typical hours they would ideally work with you.

Setting a short task or going through a role play that accurately mimics the work you will need them to do helps both sides test what it would be like to work together before you commit any budget and they commit a significant amount of their time.

— Angela Bradbury, Chime Advisors