10 Things to Look for When Hiring Freelancers

Look for these skills and qualities when hiring freelance contractors.

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10 Things to Look For When Hiring Freelancers

Here's what you need to know:

  • Hire freelancers with excellent communication skills
  • Look for freelancers who have repeat clients and high quality standards
  • Hire contractors with recent professional references
  • Search for freelancers who display openness to feedback and transparency
  • Hire freelancers who ask good questions and who have portfolios

Freelancers can be huge assets to your organization. When you hire freelancers, you want to bring in highly skilled people from a number of different backgrounds who are experts at what they do.

Most freelance gigs look something like this: You get a highly skilled professional who comes in, does the work at an agreed-upon rate for an agreed-upon amount of time, and then you part ways. Or you don’t.

They may end up doing such a great job that you want to hire them for another project or even keep them on retainer. What you will find is that keeping top-tier talent in your freelance pool is just 1 of many smart ways to cultivate professional relationships with high-performing people.

But knowing what to look for can be a challenge. It is not as easy as it may seem, and it is definitely worth getting right. Part of what makes hiring a freelancer so difficult is the sheer number of them out there. How do you know who is a good fit for your project and who isn’t?

Luckily, top-tier freelancers stand out in a number of ways. A good freelancer is a lot of things: dependable, deadline-driven, communicative, professional, honest…the list continues.

But what exactly does that look like? Where do you even start? What are some specific things to look for/consider when hiring freelancers? What kinds of habits/qualities/attributes should you avoid?

We’ve got a list for that!

1. Hire freelancers with excellent communication skills

Regardless of what you are hiring them for, the best freelancers will be excellent communicators. Top-tier freelancers will know which questions to ask, how to ask them, and what information to provide when talking business with you. This is non-negotiable; you absolutely must have someone who is good at articulating their thoughts and ideas. Anything less will likely cause unforeseen problems as you get deeper into the project.

We cannot overstate the importance of great communication skills.

Communication becomes even more important when you are dealing with remote workers. In-person interactions give you the most comprehensive look at how a person communicates. Body language, tone, eye contact…it’s all there. But when collaborating with remote freelancers, you are often communicating over email, Slack, or some other platform that is missing crucial elements of effective communication.

We cannot overstate the importance of great communication skills. Without them, everything else falls apart. It is for this reason (and many others) that great communication is behind nearly every success in business. It is a must-have.

2. Look for freelancers who have repeat clients

When hiring freelancers, you need to get a somewhat clear idea of how well they will perform before you even offer them a contract. Obviously, you will not know exactly what working with them is like until you actually start collaborating, but there are things to look for that may light the way for you a bit. There are a number of ways you can go about finding this, but 1 of the best indicators of a person who does awesome work is a repeat client.

Think about it like this: Freelancers with high numbers of repeat clients have people who value their services so much that they want to keep working with them. The employer is pouring a ton of time and resources into this person because they are a proven asset to their enterprise. They know that losing this person would be a tremendous blow to their organization. As such, they want to work with them for as long as possible.

As you are looking into a candidate’s professional background, make a point to determine whether or not the freelancer has a high number of repeat clients. Ask them specific questions during the interview. Get a sense of how they conduct business.

Repeat clients demonstrate that the freelancer consistently delivers excellent work. You want someone who has a number of repeat clients because you want someone who is dependable and who has a solid reputation as a freelancer.

3. Search for freelancers with high quality standards

You want a freelancer who demands excellence from themselves and everyone with whom they work. You want a person who knows quality when they see it.

The reason behind this is simple: Picking someone who has an eye for quality is more likely to yield better results because they don’t turn in incomplete or subpar work. Their stuff is up to snuff because they put a great deal of time, energy, and thought into making sure they deliver you the best possible version of their project.

To be clear: we aren’t necessarily referring to perfectionists when we say “high quality standards.” Perfectionism can actually be extremely counterproductive, which is why it is important to hire someone who does great work and is confident in the end result.

4. Hire contractors with recent professional references

A freelancer’s recent references tell you, the HR manager, 2 things. The 1st thing it tells you is that the person you are looking to hire is still actively working as a freelancer. This is important because it indicates that they know the landscape. You want someone without large (or recent) gaps in their freelancing history.

The 2nd thing professional references reveal is the quality of the freelancer’s relationship with current and past clients. Glowing reviews or references from 2 decades ago won’t mean nearly as much as recommendations from people they have worked with recently. The ideal candidate will have more than 1 of these ready for you.

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5. Look for freelancers who are self-starters

This is a big 1. You want freelancers who don’t need excessive amounts of hand-holding to complete a project. You need someone who is self-sufficient and excited to collaborate with you.

The reason is simple: You simply do not have the time to oversee every single action they take. You need a self-starter who is comfortable working independently. Otherwise, you will be stuck with a person who may not be confident or skilled enough to handle the project at all.

That’s not to say you should dismiss their questions. Always make yourself available to answer questions and air concerns. But there is a point where it becomes pretty clear that they need your help every step of the way, which is neither effective or efficient.

6. Search for contractors with CMS experience

Simply put, a CMS is a content management system like WordPress, Drupal, etc. If you have ever used 1 of these for your job, you are likely aware of just how much content is created and stored there.

With that said, many companies rely on a CMS to help them format and put out their content. The need for a CMS-savvy worker will vary depending on your industry, but many companies could benefit from 1. Having a freelancer onboard who has experience working with a CMS is never a bad thing.

7. Hire freelancers who display openness to feedback

You’d be surprised at how many professionals bristle when they are told they need improvement. Many simply can’t handle constructive criticism. They either take it personally or deny that there is any issue at all.

Hiring a freelancer who welcomes good feedback is vital.

We have all met a coworker (and maybe even a manager) who never learned how to digest and implement feedback. These people are generally pretty difficult to work with, so hiring a freelancer who welcomes good feedback is vital.

8. Look for contractors who demonstrate transparency

Transparency is extremely valuable in most areas of business, and freelancing is no exception. The hallmarks of a transparent freelancer include being open about their schedule, staying reasonable and measured with their estimated completion date, and being able to communicate any issues or complications as they come up.

Bad communication is not usually a problem when dealing with a transparent freelancer because they are keeping you updated on their process. Fortunately, the level of transparency we’re talking about is something you will pick up on quickly if it is there. They will be open about their expectations, as well as their strengths, weaknesses, and growth as a professional.

9. Search for freelancers who ask good questions

Excellent freelance candidates will know and rely on the importance of asking questions. Good questions indicate that the candidate is engaged and interested in the project. It shows that the candidate is listening and that they have done enough research to be able to ask specific questions about how your business functions.

Some employers won’t hire candidates who don’t ask questions, and it is easy to see why. You want to bring in a person who honors the project by staying curious and asking great questions as they go.

10. Hire freelance candidates with portfolios

A high-quality freelance candidate will have many examples of their work available for you to peruse. They will be proud of their work and will be eager to show off the depth and breadth of their expertise. Without a portfolio, it’s much more difficult to get a sense of what this potential hire can do.

As this list illustrates, there are many different things to look for when hiring a new freelancer. Taking the time to properly assess potential freelancers can mean the difference between bringing on an excellent contractor and onboarding a person who will only drag the project down.

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