Frequently, one of the biggest objections from a business to trying something new or creative is “we don’t have the staff for that.” And really, of course you don’t! If you’re considering trying something that the business hasn’t done before, why would you expect to already have all the necessary skills amongst your existing staff? Expanding your content marketing strategy doesn’t have to mean adding the equivalent of an entire agency to your in-house team, but it very likely will mean hiring freelancers from time to time. Even if you’re confident in your existing hiring processes, hiring freelancers presents a unique set of challenges. We offer a few tips for finding the right freelancer the first time.

Know the project inside and out

Before you start the hiring process, it’s critical to have a succinct, concrete idea of what the project is, what the deadline is, what deliverables will be expected along the way and when, what the budget is, and whether this is potentially an on-going contract instead of a single project with a distinct end. Not only is this information going to help you sort through potential candidates, but freelancers are going to want that information to know whether the project is a good fit for them. Remember, good freelancers are heavily in demand!

Develop a must have/should have/nice to have list

It’s an old stand-by of an approach, but it really does work. Before looking at any portfolios, résumés, or proposals, have any executives, department heads, or project leads directly involved with the freelancer sit down and come up with a list of qualifications or attributes that are “must haves” (i.e. non-negotiable requirements), “should haves” (i.e. things that are strongly preferred, but are not absolutely required and can be overlooked with a preponderance of other qualifications), and “nice to haves” (i.e. things that are essentially a bonus and can be used to differentiate between candidates who have already checked off all the boxes in the previous two categories). Depending on the organization and the project, you can even develop a “can’t have” list for things that you simply know don’t work in your culture or that would be a non-starter for this particular project. The important thing to remember is that your “should have” and “nice to have” lists must be exactly that. If you’re really not comfortable hiring someone who is missing some of those qualities, then they need to be moved to the “must have” list.

Understand the costs

Freelancers, on an hour by hour basis, are going to charge more than you would be paying a permanent employee in salary. Potentially a lot more. A freelancer is paying their own office rent, buying their own computer system and software, paying their own utilities, and all those other things that a business hiring them would otherwise be paying as part of their own operating costs. They have all their own overhead to deal with, and you’re not offering them benefits or any other kind of compensation, so you must figure that in when comparing costs. Also remember that, frequently, you’re hiring a freelancer for a specialty project that requires their unique skills but only for this project. Yes, the cost per hour is going to likely be significantly higher, but still a lot cheaper than keeping someone on staff to do this type of work all year if you only really have 100 hours of work annually where they would be necessary. On that note, keep an eye on on-going costs to see if you get to a point where it would make more sense to just hire someone as a permanent employee.

Don’t undervalue communication as a skill

A freelancer isn’t someone you’re going to have in your office to go track down if you need to talk to them, so you have to trust that when you contact them, they’re going to get back to you promptly and have whatever information you need. When you’re first talking to someone and discussing things like proposals for your project or setting up a meeting, pay attention to things like how promptly they get back to you if you email them or leave a voice mail, whether they respond to everything you ask (and not just the first question you ask!), and whether they seem to proactively offer information on related topics or questions when you ask them something. No matter how skilled someone is as a writer or designer or consultant, if you have to hunt them down to get an answer to a question or an update on a project, it’s very likely more hassle than they’re worth. Also, once you hire a freelancer, don’t be afraid to specifically request updates or drafts at set intervals, especially if it’s a project that has only one or a few major deliverables that aren’t due until the end of the contract. A good freelancer not only won’t mind, but they’ll be glad to have a chance to make sure they’re headed in the right direction and to make any adjustments necessary before they get to the end of the project.

Consider a staffing service

If you’re having difficulty finding someone through your usual channels or through recommendations from colleagues, consider going through a staffing agency or a service like Elance or oDesk. It will cost you more because of the added fees for the third party involved, but it gives both you and the freelancer a level of protection and certainty until you’ve established a business relationship. It also gives you the opportunity to get the opinion of previous clients. Many staffing agencies will keep positive reviews of a freelancer or contract worker on file to share with potential clients, and Elance and oDesk both allow for clients to review freelancers after projects are completed and these reviews are visible on their profiles. If you find someone through one of these services that you enjoy working with and who fits the business’ needs, you can always hire them outside of the service after a time, but the online service or staffing agency can help you connect to start out.

Consider the strengths of your existing team

If you’re going to go to the effort and cost of hiring a freelancer, try and find someone who will complement your existing team with skills or interests not currently represented, even if those aren’t necessarily the attributes that you’re primarily hiring for. Especially if you’re just trying to get an existing project that is struggling with a deadline done, simply throwing more people at it is not always the solution. Adding different skills or personalities or perspectives is more often what’s necessary, and is one of the often unconsidered advantages of freelancers. Also, if you’re already using a digital marketing or content marketing agency, don’t forget to ask them what they can provide. They’re a part of your team, too!

Don’t be afraid to cut bait

I know I started out this article by saying that these tips would help you hire the right freelancer the first time, and I stand by that, but we also have to be realistic. Sometimes you do your due diligence and do everything the right way and things still just don’t quite work out. Consider this my official permission, encouragement even, to get out early if it feels like a freelancer isn’t working out. The world is vast, there are many people with many talents, so don’t stick with one that’s not right for the business or your team.

Freelancers can be a fantastic, cost effective way to add new skills and perspectives to your team, and we hope this makes the process of finding and hiring one feel as easy as it can and should be. If you have any lingering concerns about how to maneuver the freelance landscape, let us know in the comments and we’ll do our best to help!