Finding and working with freelancers can seem like a rollercoaster ride. It's often a game of email tag, trying to find the perfect person with the right experience and rates for your business.
And now, the market has finally realized what great freelancers (and editors) knew all along: Freelancers may be a dime a dozen, but a good one — who can not only do their job, but is also reliable — is one in a million. And absolutely worth the money.
So where do you find these freelancers? And once you find them, how do you lead them to create amazing, scalable content?
Below, let's review where and how to find the best freelancers for your business. Then, we'll dive into how to manage a freelancer once you've hired them.
Where to Find Freelancers
As a marketing team, you might be looking to ease your team's workload by hiring a freelancer. Whether you're looking for a freelance writer, graphic designer, or app developer, it can be a daunting task to start.
Your first question is probably, "Where do I start? Where can I find the right freelancer for my company?"
And in actuality, it's not a very complicated process. You can begin your search in several places:
1. Freelance job sites.
For example, if you're looking for software developers, designers, engineers, product managers, or project managers, Toptal and Hired are the way to go. These are the top sites to find freelancers because they're fully vetted. In fact, freelancers have to apply and Toptal only accept 3% of applicants.
Other common job sites include:
2. Freelance communities.
Besides looking at freelance job sites, there are also freelancing communities you could join. These groups provide a great opportunity to network organically so you can create a list of freelancers you like to work with.
For instance, you could join freelancer Facebook groups and engage with potential freelancers directly on social media. Personally, several of my freelance opportunities have come about through career and networking Facebook groups.
Also, if you’re on Slack, you can look into Freelancer Slack communities.
Keep in mind that freelance communities may differentiate depending on the type of freelance work you're looking for. So you might consider looking into a freelance writing slack community or a software developer slack community depending on your needs.
One great place to reach top talent is colleges. Consider reaching out to local college professors to see if they know any students looking for freelance work.
This is another area where you'll want to reach out to different department professors depending on the type of freelancer you want.
For instance, if you're looking for a developer, you can reach out to the computer science department, but if you're looking for a writer, you can reach out to the journalism or creative writing departments.
4. Your network.
It might be easy to forget, but reaching out to your own network is a great way to find talent. Ask your colleagues and see if anyone on your team knows someone who might be interested.
To recap, we've gone over tips on where to find a freelancer. Now the only question is how do you start this process once you've began looking?
How to Find Freelancers
- Ask other marketers for recommendations.
- Look to writers and publications you love.
- Consider experience.
- Build rapport
- Use set criteria to judge different types of freelancers.
Once you've started looking for freelancers on job sites and communities, you might be wondering, "Where do I go from here?" The first step is to begin researching your potential freelancers and the job you want to hire them for.
For instance, if you're looking for a writer or an app developer, you should have a clear understanding of the job you want a freelancer to do. What's the scope of the project? How often do you want them to work for you?
When you have a clear understanding of the job the freelancer will do, then you should begin refining your search on freelance websites and communities.
2. Ask other marketers for recommendations.
Although we mentioned this above, it bears repeating.
Many freelancers come through personal recommendations. One time, for instance, I received an email from someone who I'd worked with on our college newspaper. We'd worked together before and she knew I was reliable, responsible, and a great writer, so she reached out.
You wouldn’t hire just anyone to walk your dog or babysit your kids, and the same should be said for your freelancers. Ask around to people in your industry. Chances are, they know a freelancer or two whom they’ve had great experiences with who could take on more projects.
Referrals and testimonials are a great way to ensure you're going to get quality, consistent work from a freelancer.
3. Look to writers and publications you love.
Since most freelancers can handle more than one opportunity at a time, there's nothing wrong with reaching out to ones who you find writing for other publications. Hey, that's free market capitalism.
If you're creating content, part of your day-to-day should be reading great content. Keep seeing one name pop up regularly or find one publication that consistently puts out great content? Contact them through Twitter or LinkedIn. Almost every freelancer I know can almost always use more work — why shouldn’t it be for you?
4. Consider experience.
When you're looking at freelancers, experience is the number one qualification you should look for.
Try to find someone who is established in their niche and has previous work and testimonials to back it up.
I've been at too many companies that were burned because a freelancer was very charming and aced the interview, but didn't have previous work or reviews to substantiate their work ethic.
5. Build rapport.
Crystal clear communication is vital for a successful freelancing relationship. To build this type of communication, rapport is necessary. Plus, forming a connection with a freelancer makes it easier to hire them for future projects.
Aja Frost, an SEO strategist at HubSpot and a successful freelance writer, says, "Communicate early and often. Proactiveness and transparency will be incredibly appreciated."
6. Use set criteria to judge different types of freelancers.
Depending on the role you're hiring for, your criteria for judging a freelancer will change.
For instance, if you're looking for a writer, you're going to look for writing skills whereas if you're looking for a developer, you're going to look for more technical skills like what programming language they know.
For any freelancer, you'll want to consider criteria such as:
- Reviews and references
- Project management
You'll want to discuss all these items in your first meetings. Ask questions such as:
- Do you have reviews and references of past and current customers I could read and/or reach out to?
- How much experience do you have? Can I see samples of your work?
- Would you be willing to sign an NDA and contract?
- How do you handle project management?
- How will we communicate during the process?
- What are your fees?
Now that you've begun looking for a freelancer, you might be wondering, "How do I manage them once we begin working together?" Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Make a point to communicate clearly.
I can’t stress this enough. Always err on the side of over communicating, or risk receiving work that is not exactly what was pitched.
For instance, if you've hired a freelance writer and want them to use a specific source or inspiration for a blog post, include it in your directions from the get-go. It will save everyone a lot of time and grief down the line. Always share as much brand or industry knowledge and information as soon as possible. Want your freelancers to steer clear of certain topics or competitors? Make that clear from day one as well.
I recommend making a Google Doc to keep all this knowledge organized and easily sharable. The sooner you and your freelancers are in sync, the faster you’ll have a seamless process.
2. Create a style guide and brand filter checklists.
Aligning with my previous thoughts on communication, a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page is to outline clear brand objectives. I recommend creating a style guide and brand filter checklists.
Your style guide should cover everything from brand voice and tone to content strategy and editorial idiosyncrasies. For example, does your brand use + or & to signify "and"? I’ve found it’s also helpful to include text samples from actual existing content of “good” brand voice, and not great brand voice. (Want to see an example? This is what HubSpot's style guide looks like.)
Once you’ve created your style guide, you can distill it into three to five points that make up your “brand filter checklist" that freelancers can check before sending in their content. What are on these checklists? They should cover content objectives and what makes a piece sound and feel on-brand.
3. Stay organized.
Create documents to organize assignments, beats, invoice templates, pricing models, and upcoming projects that need content. With a solid infrastructure in place, you'll save yourself a ton of time by simply filling in as you go.
If it’s in your budget, a robust content management software (like HubSpot's) can help you manage your content calendar, workflows, and freelancers. Sharing this information will make them feel like part of the team and help everyone stay on the same wavelength. (Don't have the budget for a content management software? Here's a free template for a blog editorial calendar to get you started.)
4. Make your freelancers feel valued.
I’ve heard of companies that instituted an annual freelancer on-site where they go through brand vision, style guide, what content succeeded, and what content could have used a few more re-drafts. In exchange for their time and attention, the company took them out to lunch and then to dinner and drinks. Gestures like these create real-life bonds with the people who do so much for you virtually — and on whom a big portion of your success depends.
Additionally, you can gamify traffic by creating a system where the freelancer with the highest performing piece of content for each month gets a bonus. This incentivizes writers to care as much about the performance and promotion of their work as you do.
You should also write recommendations for your freelancers on LinkedIn, recommend them for other jobs, and praise their work consistently. For example, you can tag them in social media posts and freely give bylines where they can link to their social media pages or portfolios.
Great freelancers are hot commodities. Make them want to work for you more than anyone else.
For anyone in marketing, you'll soon find that a good freelancer is worth their weight in gold. Treat them like a part of your team, pay them well and on time, and you may just seem some referrals for your business come in from their work.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in March 2015 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.