So you’re about to hire a freelancer to finally get that project moving… but stop! Before you commit time, energy and money, it’s time to get tough with yourself. Here are five questions you need answers to – before you hand over anything.
#1 Am I 100% certain what needs to be done?
Yep, it starts with you. Precisely what does the job consist of? What will the outcome of it be? What processes need to be followed, or what needs to be able to happen as a result? Write it down as clearly as you can before you start looking for candidates. Deciding what you want is the first step in understanding who you’re looking for, and how you’ll know when you’ve found them.
You might not know, and that’s fair enough, particularly if you’re getting help with something you’re not an expert in. But in that case you need to be clear whether you want to hire a freelancer for consultancy as well as action. If you need advice, that’s likely to cost more than if you simply need someone to implement something, but that advice will probably be the most valuable part of it. There’s nothing more likely to go disastrously wrong than someone with very limited knowledge dictating the details of what needs to happen.
#2 Have I forgotten anything?
It’s hard to know what you don’t know. A good freelancer will ask questions, but only where they realise there’s a problem. Many people will prefer to work out a solution than to keep bugging you, which can cause problems if you have a particular view on something but haven’t communicated it.
While you’re choosing someone, it’s worth showing them your brief and asking them if there’s anything you’ve missed, and if there’s anything else they will need to know, particularly if you’re getting help with something you’re not an expert in. It identifies gaps in your brief before you get started, it shows you whether someone can think ahead, and sets a good tone for your communication.
#3 Can they do exactly the job I need?
Last year I hired a freelancer to create a logo for a new programme via an online freelance site. I’d checked out her reviews for logo design, and I was pleased with what she did. After that, I needed another design project doing, so even though she didn’t have relevant design work on her profile, she claimed to do graphic design, and was happy to take on my brief.
Big mistake, though. After a few rounds of exchanges, I realised there was no way it was going to work. Whatever her skills were, they certainly didn’t seem to include the kind of graphic design I’d expected.
I always advise people to look for proof that someone can do what they claim. I broke my own rules here by ignoring the warning signs. Lesson learned: be very careful of trusting people’s skills without proof. Even related areas can need completely different skills. Only you know exactly what you need. Don’t be swayed by friends or colleagues either, who’ve had a great experience with someone but for a different type of job.
#4 What would make my project go off-track?
We’re highly skilled at believing that everyone, including us, will meet all the deadlines we set. That’s despite all of us having plenty of evidence to the contrary. Although you should always set a deadline, it’s always worth asking both yourself and your freelancer about likely problems. Be honest with yourself first: what kind of turnaround can you commit to for checking work or replying? What has gone wrong for you in the past? What do you need to do to make sure you don’t cause delays? Talk to your potential hire: what are the common causes they find for things slipping, and what do they need you to do to ensure it stays on track? Asking them for their input is a good way of judging how seriously they take deadlines, and whether your approach is likely to be compatible.
#5 How committed am I to this project?
Do you really, really, want this to happen, or is it a nice-to-have? Getting in help is often challenging, and always takes time, energy and money. I’m a huge believer in what it can do for your business, but doing it half-heartedly is about as likely to transform things as setting off to climb the Eiger in your flip-flops. It’s going to get very frustrating very quickly.
If you realise that you’re not sufficiently motivated by something to put the time in it needs, you have a couple of options. You could scale it down and start with a small, simple part to see if you become more excited by it, or if it suggests it would give you the result you wanted. Otherwise you could park it and revisit it in a few weeks or months. If it’s still not high enough up the priority list, it’s probably time to get it off your radar for good.