Thought Leadership Resources

#44 How (and whether) to hire a freelancer

You can’t do it all, and you shouldn’t. Just about any organization needs to bring in help from freelancers at some point, and that’s particularly the case if you’re with a small organization, or a Corporation of One.

So how do you get good results from freelancers? How do you decide what work to outsource, and which to learn how to do yourself? How do you find a good freelancer, and how much do you pay them?

Here are my thoughts on the question of freelancers, from both sides of the line (sometimes I’ve been the freelancer; sometimes I’ve been the client) for anyone who wants to be seen as a thought-leader.

Do it yourself or hire someone?

The first question to ask yourself, about a task you’re considering outsourcing, is whether learning to do it, and then do it, is a good use of your time.

Core function or peripheral?

The business school answer to the “Make it or buy it?” question is that if it’s a core function of the organization, you learn to make something yourself. If it’s not a core function, you’re better off buying it.

For example, consider website design and maintenance.

In my case, building a website wasn’t something I wanted to learn how to do, partly because I knew it could become a real time suck. So, I’ve worked with a variety of web designers over the years. I’ve appreciated their ideas on what works and what doesn’t, the fact that the sites they’ve done have presented me as a competent professional, and that when things need fixing or updating I can just ask them to do it. I’ve found this to be the case in working with Andrea Dubravsky of AD Webcom, who has done our most recent two websites, including that of Thought Leadership Resources.

I’m well aware that it’s becoming easier for someone to develop a presentable website using publicly available templates from providers such as Wordpress, and then get it hosted. So, it is possible to do the work yourself – and I’ve seen some pretty good results from business professionals who aren’t trained in web design; they just worked with a template.

But is this a good use of your time? It’ll take time that you won’t get back, to learn website design, and then building it – and ongoing maintenance and trouble-shooting. Wouldn’t it be better to spend that time meeting with prospective clients, researching markets, and creating thought leadership content?

Is it an area of aptitude for you?

Are you naturally good at the task? For me, graphic design would be a “no.” I can come up with a concept, and do a sketch, but rendering that idea – for that I’ll stay with my existing designer, Carolyne Wagland of Gravity Art & Design.

Just a word on design – I’m part of a private Facebook group on webinars, and one of the members was asking the group for a recommendation for a “cheap” design for a logo. I really should have written back – there are a few places where you don’t go cheap. Pacemakers is one of them, parachutes is another, and a third is logo design. Carolyne did my first business logo a couple of decades ago, and she charged me way more than I expected, but that logo expressed my business idea in a way I couldn’t have done myself. The Thought Leadership Resources logo is her work too.

If it’s like pushing string up a hill to perform a task, you’re better off finding someone else to do it.

Is it an identifiable, discrete function?

My own work as a freelancer has been successful in part because it’s clear where the task begins and where it ends. I help business professionals publish their ideas in influential niche media. Full stop. It’s easy to say what the task is and what it’s not, to the extent that if the article doesn’t get published, I don’t charge for my work. For more on how you can publish articles in niche media, see Post #18.

However, if I were to say to a freelance book coach, “Make sure my next book is a best-seller on Amazon,” that’s a bit less clear-cut. Success depends on so many factors.

So pick a task that you don’t want to do – maybe, writing a speech or doing the slides for that speech – and find someone to do it with you.

How do you find the right freelancer for the job?

If you’ve decided that a given task should be farmed out, you then need to decide who’s to do the work.

References: trust but verify

One of the best ways to find a freelancer is through asking people you know whom they’d recommend. The reason this works is that your contact has a stake in the relationship she or he has with you, and they’ll make a referral only if they genuinely think it makes sense.

But don’t just take their word for it – verify that the freelancer has what it takes. This should start with an online search, including the freelancer’s website and LinkedIn profile (if they don’t have them, it might mean that they’re not in it for the long haul – I suggest you find someone else).

Ask to see samples of work they’ve done that is similar to what you have in mind.

The online agency option

With the growing ease of working remotely via e-mail, Dropbox, Skype and other tools, there’s been a huge rise in the availability of freelancers who are willing to help you. I’ve been working with freelancers recruited through upwork.com and they’ve done great work. I like the idea of creating income for people in parts of the world where steady jobs are hard to find – including Nairobi, Cairo, Kigali and a small village outside Bucharest.

If you’re considering an agency, don’t do what I did the first time. I created a job description – for a transcriber – and posted it on Upwork. I received applications from all over the world, from the Philippines, the USA, Canada and various parts of Europe. The bids for the work were all over the map too – from $2.50/hour to $35/hour. I found that many of the low bids were from people who apparently couldn’t spell or didn’t care – and so I dropped those right away. I went for a bid in the middle, and that’s how I wound up working with a transcriber in Cairo who provides great service, needs the work, and I feel I’m getting to know just a little.

A better way to choose a freelancer is by looking through their profiles on whichever agency you’re using. Look for the kinds of work they do, and consider their experience ratings. Most important of all, look for how many times they were re-engaged by the same client. Most clients will give a positive review, but what really talks is whether or not they went back for more of the same.

The reason you take the time to peruse profiles is that the best workers are already working. They’re not haunting the agency’s website, repeatedly hitting “refresh” to see what new opportunities have come in during the previous ten minutes. You want to convince in-demand workers to work for you, and you do that by approaching them first.

Add realism to your expectations

Several years ago, I was asked to ghost a book on a rather arcane topic – the management of office telecoms systems. I know about as much about the subject as I know about anything – a centimeter deep and a kilometer wide. So I talked with the author about the book, and since I’d written a few articles for him before, he assumed I knew all that he did about the subject. It turned out unsatisfactory for both of us, in that he expected (from my perspective) to want a miracle to happen, and I expected (from his perspective) that he’d outsourced the job and it kept landing back on his to-do list.

So, you need to have reasonable expectations around the assignment. Don’t expect complete accuracy of a transcription if the recording’s sound quality is bad; don’t expect the freelancer to read your mind; and expect a reasonable turnaround time.

At the same time, please listen to what your freelancer says about the job. I recently read (in an advice column for working with freelancers) that your freelancer should be able to help you come up with a design that you love. That’s wrong. You’re not the person who needs to “love” the work. The person you’re trying to attract is not you, but rather your ideal client. So even if you don’t like the work, if it appeals to your prospect, it’s the right choice.

One thing I really like about working with freelancers is that we think alike. We’re both trying to build a business and juggle the other aspects of our lives. I feel that there’s a partnership involved, and it’s good to have other people along for the ride.

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Carl Friesen

Carl is the Founder of the Thought Leadership Resources and helps business professionals gain the skills they need to build their profile as subject-matter experts and thought leaders.

You can connect with Carl on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter

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