As your small business grows and develops, chances are at some point you will consider hiring a freelancer. After all, turning to a freelance worker or a virtual assistant to get the job done, seems like a great deal. It’s certainly cheaper than hiring a permanent worker, and you don’t need to make any big commitments to a particular person. But in order to get a good return on the investment of your time and money and protect the value of your business assets, you really need to go in with the right approach and expectations.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a fair share of freelancers and virtual staff- both those based in America as well as overseas. Though I had some good experiences with many of these arrangements, at the same time there were several people along the way who just didn’t work out. They may have looked good on paper, but when it come to practice, it just didn’t go- no matter how hard I tried to make it work.
The following is a guide to hiring your first freelancer that will help you avoid many of the mistakes that can cost you a lot of time, money, and sometimes worse. A warning: it’s a bit long. But, it will give you everything you need to get your freelance hiring done right.
Things to Do Before You Start Your Search for a Freelance Worker
If you really want to find the best person for your job, you’ve got to put in a little effort at the beginning. I know you may be hiring that freelancer to save yourself some time and you may be tempted to just jump right in and tweak and learn as you go along. Don’t do it! You’ll really save yourself A LOT of aggravation if you take the time to go through the four steps mentioned below before you even start your search:
Step1: Create a clear and detailed job description. Clearly write out all of the job’s responsibilities and expectations. Don’t assume that your hired freelance worker will try to figure things out by him or herself or that this person will naturally ask for clarification and/or feedback. Some will, but many won’t- especially if you are working with someone based overseas (see below). Think about how your business is currently set up and how the freelancer will fit in. Do you need someone for a task-based project; are you looking for a full-time virtual assistant; or do you want someone who will work for you on a part-time basis?
Step 2: Determine the job’s requirements. What does this person need to have in order to get the job done? This means not only requirements in terms of experience but also the kind of hardware and Internet connection necessary to complete the job, as well as any necessary skills and personality traits. Also, determine what time frame will be given to complete the job.
Step 3: Calculate how much can you afford to pay. There are two parts to this process. First, you should do a little research on the going rate for the kind of work you need done. You can do this by asking your peers what they charge, looking at the listings on freelance hiring sites, and even heading over to a forum for freelancers or virtual assistants and asking them directly. The next step in this process is determining how much you can afford to pay. But, leave yourself some leeway over here. Depending on the nature of the job, sometimes these situations can go over-budget.
Step 4: Decide on a system to evaluate performance. Set some benchmarks and productivity goals so you can quickly cut your loses should the arrangement not work out. So, for example, if you need a set of documents edited. Make it clear to your freelancer that you want to look over the first two or three documents as they are completed. Though it may be disheartening to have to let a newly hired freelancer go and start the hiring process again, keep in mind that there are plenty of candidates out there who are willing and able to do the work you need. Don’t waste your precious time and money going around in circles.
Working with Overseas Freelancers
If you are running a micro-business then keeping your costs down may be a priority. One option you may want to consider is hiring a freelancer based overseas. This practice is definitely NOT for all jobs and set-ups, but in some cases it will allow you to take advantage of some significant differences in the average rate of pay across country lines. Here are a few things to consider:
1. Be prepared for a language barrier. While English is commonly spoken in some of the major countries supplying freelancers and virtual assistants, such as India and the Philippines, don’t assume that your potential hire is fully fluent in English, or any other language that you may require. In fact, it’s best to go into the search process assuming the opposite. Make sure that you specifically request fluency in a given language and that you incorporate some of the screening tips mentioned below to verify this fluency.
From my personal experience, I’ve found that for basic communication or content production where quality and perfection is not important, such a setup with an overseas freelancer could work out just fine. But if you require high caliber content or sales copy and the like, then you’d be better off using a native English speaker
2. Consider the cultural differences. Before you start looking for workers from another country, make sure you are familiar with the cultural differences that exist there. In India, for example, workers are more likely to agree to take on a project even if it is above them as they tend to have a harder time saying no.
3. Consider the time difference. One of the biggest barriers to working with an overseas VA is the difference in time zones. If your virtual hire is on the other side of the globe, then you may find it particularly challenging to manage his or her workflow. Someone who is working in a time zone that is 10-12 hours off from your own may not be readily available for the spontaneous questions, clarifications, or last minute requests that tend to come up. If, for example, a task is done early, your freelancer can wind up clocking out long before you wanted him or her to, and if there’s a problem, it can take a full day to receive an answer to your questions.
4. Consider the quality of equipment and access to the Internet. Find out about the average quality and reliability of any equipment and internet connectivity your freelance worker will need as well as how the particular country’s infrastructure is set up. Freelancers are responsible for their own internet connection and hardware. But Internet service and access to higher-end equipment may be limited within some countries and they may only be concentrated around dense metro regions. For an individual living in India, for example, Internet access is certainly available, but it may be too skittish for you to handle. You also have to consider outside circumstances like known extreme weather conditions or political maneuvering that can knock out your freelancer’s access to the Internet for a significant time.
5. Overseas freelancers aren’t so cheap anymore. As I mentioned above, many micro-business owners are specifically drawn to overseas freelancers because the wages are significantly lower than those for freelancers based in the U.S. or Canada. But, be aware that prices have been steadily creeping up over the past few years. When you take into account the extra time and effort needed to get around some of the obstacles mentioned above, your actual savings may be pretty small.
How to Effectively Screen Applicants
Even if a potential hire comes highly recommended by a good friend or a respected connection, you should still make an effort to check up on this person’s background, skills, and experience. This is even more important if your freelancer will be handling or have access to sensitive information, such as customer payment and contact info, or areas of your business, such as files for your company website.
The internet is brimming with freelance worker horror stories- lack of stated experience or expertise, instances of shoddy work, resentful workers who shut down websites, or stole information, or sought to ruin their employer’s online reputation. If you want to avoid adding your own experience to the fray, then here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Look for a clear and concise response to your job posting or request. The candidate should clearly detail the skill and experience he or she has and how it suits your requirements. Where appropriate, I usually include some document or link in the posting for the person to check out. If the candidate didn’t obviously bother looking at it, then I know this person is not for me.
Ask for a job sample. If the job you require involves a finished product of any kind, then ask to see examples of a candidate’s prior work or jobs that the person has completed for others.
The candidate should provide at least three references, and you should make the effort to contact them. You should also pay attention to how current these references are. A collection of old references, like a client that the person worked for three years ago, or an unexplained gap in employment may be a warning sign that you should move on to someone else.
Check out their web presence. Does this person have a website, a Facebook page, and LinkedIn profile? Take a look at them. You will get a sense of who this person is by looking at how they present themselves online.
Contact them directly. Conduct a phone interview, online chat session, and/or correspond via email. Make it a point to communicate a few times with potential freelancers before agreeing to hire anyone. Doing so will help you to see how good their English is and if they really know what they say they do.
Get the necessary documentation in order. Unless the work you are requesting is short-term and generic, most freelancing arrangements should include a clear and thorough independent contractor agreement, and where necessary, a confidentiality agreement. It will help to protect both you and your freelancers from misunderstandings and liabilities. Also, don’t forget to keep accurate hiring records for tax purposes.
Consider using a virtual staffing firm. If all the checking and research doesn’t seem doable then you should consider using the services of a virtual staffing firm. The cost may be a little higher than what you would expect to pay if you were working with a freelancer directly, but the time, money, and effort you’d save in the hiring process whether by using their services to narrow down the applicant field or to screen out potential candidates may make it worth it.
Getting the Most Out of Your Freelancer
Once you’ve settled on a particular candidate, your work doesn’t end there. Here are a few additional things to keep in mind to help ensure that your arrangement will be a success:
- First, as a precaution make sure that all your documents and other vital business information are backed up. The chances of a fatal error occurring with your precious files are greater with a virtual freelance worker since this person is not in front of you, you are more likely to leave out some important information or step, and you may have the added difficulty of working across cultural lines and time zones.
- Keep instructions, clear, concise, and where you are able to, include screenshots and pictures. It may take sometime for you to do all these steps, but the potential time (and headache) you’ll save may be much greater. In my experience all the back and forth explaining, re-hashing, clarifying, and correcting of errors due to misunderstandings can be a very big time and money black hole.
- Put some kind of time frame on your requests and make sure that it is clearly communicated to your freelance worker. If, for example, you need some Internet-based research or help answering emails, then indicate how long your virtual assistant should work on the project and then let the person know that he or she should get back to you with progress report. This way you can both keep tabs on how your virtual hire is performing and quickly recognize any bottlenecks in the work process.
The Best Sites for Hiring a Freelancer
While many people may suggest posting your job on services such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, they often leave out the fact that sifting through the flood of responses can take away precious time, and the quality of the response you get back also really depends on the quality of your social networks and your ability to target your blasts.
Personally, I’ve hired many freelancers from Elance and oDesk. I also use Fiverr for certain kinds of micro-jobs. Each site has it’s unique quirks, but overall I have good experiences on all of these platforms. You will really need to experiment a bit to see which sites and services will work best for your particular setup and needs.
To help you locate that super freelancer, here is a list of the best sites to hire freelancers and virtual assistants that I could find organized into categories:
Sites to Hire a Freelancer
Elance – Hire a freelance worker. This site has a great rating and review system.
Guru – Find a freelance virtual assistant to assist you with any project. The site also supports some very useful project management tools.
oDesk – Hire a freelance worker
iFreelance – Find a freelance worker
vWorker– Hire a freelance worker. The site has a money-back guarantee on every project. Also supports crowdsourcing and trialsourcing solutions.
Freelancer.com– Hire a freelance worker from over 400 categories
Craigslist – You can post a free job request under “gigs.”
Resource Nation – Describe your project and this site matches you with pre-screened qualified applicants for free.
Sites to Hire a Personal or Virtual Assistant
My Tasker– Provides both personal and virtual assistant services based out of India
Brickwork India -A virtual Office, providing Remote Executive Assistance (REA), Research & Consulting and IT services.
GetFriday – Global virtual assistance services for small and mid-sized businesses based in India
AskSunday -Providing dedicated personal assistance to businesses and individuals
Tasks EveryDay – Virtual staff solutions from virtual assistants to web designers and programmers based in India
Distant Support – Virtual assistants based in the Philippines
ScriptLance – Outsource your website programming, design, writing
and marketing projects
Agents of Value – IT outsourcing company that focuses on providing web development and marketing services based in the Philippines
Workaholics for Hire – providing outsourced talent, project management, and support services to entrepreneurial web-based business owners.
DaVinci Virtual Office Solutions -Providing virtual office services including receptionists and web chat
Do My Stuff – hire a personal assistant to perform everyday chores
Micro Jobs Sites
Fiverr– Perhaps the most well-known micro jobs site that costs $5 per task. They just had a make-over which makes buying and selling there a pleasure.
Amazon Mechanical Turk – Request HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks), which are tasks that cannot be done artificially by a computer
Micro Workers– Post micro tasks and target only specific workers
SEO Clerks– This site is targeted to SEO, coding, and other web-related tasks.
GigPayrr– Another Fiverr knock-off micro jobs site
Virtual Staffing Firms
OnlineJobs.ph – Find and hire Pilipino virtual assistants
Virtual Staff Finder – Virtual staffing firm for off-shore virtual assistants
Assistant Match – This service matches professionals with off-site assistants by taking care of all logistics from interviewing to reference checks.
Team Double Click -a virtual staffing agency providing professional virtual office assistants and professional real estate virtual assistants for small and home-based businesses.
Non-Profit Organizations and Online Communities for Virtual Assistants
Freelancers’ Union -Freelancers Union “promotes the interests of independent workers through advocacy, education, and services.”
VA Networking – An online network and resource for virtual workers and their employers. Employers can submit an RFP and receive bids from qualified members.
AssistU – Provides a certificate training program for virtual assistants. You can also submit a request for services from its members.
Find Virtual – Social networking site for VAs