How to Get the Most Bang for Your Buck From Freelancers

Whether you’re farming out your website design or your social media marketing, hire and spend wisely.
A good idea is to pay a freelancer per project as opposed to paying an hourly rate. (Photo: Yulia Grigoryeva/Shutterstock)

Your expertise is in running and growing your business — not necessarily in writing blog posts, building a website, managing a social media marketing campaign or even keeping the books. If you don’t have an expert on staff who can do these things well, you’d be smart to outsource them to a freelancer.

But how do you find the right person for the job — someone who’ll get the job done on your timeline and within your budget, and do it well?

NCR Silver asked freelancers and the businesses who hire them for their advice on how to find the right freelancer and get the most bang for your buck.

Where to find a freelancer


You can find pools of freelancers that specialize in various professions on websites like 99Designs and Motionographer, according to William Gadea, founer of IdeaRocket. (Photo: William Gadea)

A recent study by Freelancers Union found that freelancers make up 35 percent of U.S. workers, so there’s no shortage of independent professionals available — if you know where to look.

Large freelance marketplaces like Fiverr, Upwork and Outsourcely are fast ways to find a contractor. But because they are open to anyone, there’s no guarantee the person will have the level of expertise you need.

Niche-specific online communities provide a narrowed pool of freelancers who specialize in a particular craft. Of course, you typically will pay more for higher quality work.

“For graphic design, we’ve used 99Designs,” said William Gadea, founder of IdeaRocket, maker of animated videos for businesses. “It’s a crowdsourcing site where you can get multiple bids on your design project. If cultural fluency is really important for your task, I’d suggest a dedicated forum. For example, for animation freelancers we’ll usually post on Motionographer.”

Other niche sites include BloggingPro and ProBlogger for writers, Dice and Stack Overflow for programmers and developers and Accountemps for bookkeepers and CPAs.

Perhaps the best way to find a good freelancer, though, is by asking around within your network and any trade organizations you belong to.

Research rates

The type of work, level of expertise required and turnaround time all contribute to how much you can expect to pay for a job.

Ask other business owners if they’ve had similar work done and how much it cost. You can also post projects on freelance marketplaces to get bids from interested freelancers, which will give you a range.

Keep in mind that the person who quotes you the cheapest rate may not be — and likely isn’t — the best person for the job. A low-baller might lack the experience you need or simply not understand the work involved well enough to estimate the hours it will take. Either way, you may not get the outcome you want.

If the person is cheaper because he’s offshore, make sure communication isn’t going to be an issue, either due to a language barrier or time zone differences.

Start small

Before you hand over a critical project to a freelancer, test the waters with a small project, or a piece of the large project, if possible. Try out several people to see who you like best.

“Finding a quality freelancer can take more time than finding a quality agency,” said freelance copywriter Krasimir Ninov. You might have to go through multiple freelancers before you find one that meets your standards and is a good personality fit, he said.

Be as specific as possible in your project brief


Be as clear as possible to make sure a freelancer understands the assignment. (Photo: GaudiLab/Shutterstock)

Before hiring a freelancer, know exactly what you want and spell it out clearly in your project brief, suggested Michael Lan, digital consultant for Glossika, a language education company. ‘Make sure you have all the groundwork done beforehand.”

For example, if you’re hiring a content writer, you may want to perform keyword research and include your selected keywords in the brief. Or, for a graphic design project, tell the freelancer what you’re looking for in terms of colors, style and branding. “If you come across a design that you like, it might be a good idea to take note of it for reference so that your freelancer has some direction going forward,” said Lan.

If you need someone to ghostwrite articles for your blog, spell out what kind of voice and subject matter expertise you’re looking for — and ask for writing samples. You can also ask any freelancer for references.

Related: 5 Business Functions to Consider Outsourcing

Pay per project, not per hour

Employees are easy to pay on an hourly basis because they usually show up on site, clock in and out and report to someone. But with freelancers, there’s no way to know how many hours they’re really working.

Paying on a per-project basis is safer, since you’ll get to sign off on a completed project before cutting the check. If you use an online freelance marketplace that requires up-front payment, make sure it provides dispute resolution and refunding, and/or an escrow system.

Give detailed feedback

“The key to working successfully with freelancers is relationship management. It’s vital to keep lines of communication open,” said Kathryn Beeson, editor of online CRM software resource Discover CRM.

“Providing our freelancers with feedback is most successful when it uses both the brief and delivered work for context. The quality of the revisions provided by our freelance team improves immensely when we provide examples of where we feel their work has not hit the brief. On the other hand, vague feedback that deviates from the brief is often met with shallow revisions or back-and-forth emails.”

Consider a long-term contract

Freelancers aren’t staffers and may not be available next time you need them. If you find one you can’t live without, consider offering them an extended contract or retainer.

You’ll save the effort of finding a new contractor and getting him or her up to speed. And a longer commitment can deepen the working relationship and help the freelancer provide you with even better work as time goes on.

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