How to Find Reliable Freelancers

Finding the right independent contractors for your business can be a challenge. Try these tips for locating (and keeping) the best freelancers.

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How to Find Reliable Freelancers

Here's what you need to know:

  • When hiring freelancers, be clear on what, exactly, it is you need, and define your budget
  • Ask people in your network for referrals of good freelancers
  • Ask freelancers for work samples and references and do a trial project with them first
  • Be prepared to pay a fair price for excellent freelancers and treat the good freelancers you have well

With websites like Upwork and Fiverr, it can seem like freelancers are everywhere. And, in some ways, they are. The gig economy has positively exploded since COVID swept the planet in 2020.

According to Small Biz Trends, that year the gig economy grew by 33%. This represented growth that was more than 8 times faster than the U.S. economy as a whole.

But finding good freelancers isn’t the same thing as simply finding any freelancer. Just like regular workers, there are freelancers who are green and new to the game. There are also seasoned freelancers who have been at it for a while and operate on an expert level.

When it comes to finding reliable freelancers, it’s a mix of method and treatment. There are certain ways you can go about finding good freelancers, which we detail below.

But if you don’t treat your freelancers well, word gets around. If your business gets a bad reputation in the circles freelancers run in, it’s going to be hard to get good freelancers to do work for you.

Looking to figure out how to be on the right side of this equation? Read on to learn more about finding reliable freelancers.

Get super clear on what, exactly, it is you need

One of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs, startups, and businesses of all sizes make when hiring freelancers is not having a clear idea of what they need. Often people will think they need a writer when really what they need is a marketer who specializes in branding.

If you don’t have a clearly defined voice and plan for what you want to write and why, it’s too early to hire a writer.

Hiring freelancers for poorly defined projects is going to go south one way or the other. The work isn’t going to be great if there isn’t clear direction.

Plus, if the experience is messy and complicated, any freelancer worth their salt isn’t going to want to stick around. The best freelancers have plenty of people who want to work with them. As they’ve learned, the best thing they can do in a bad project is get out of it quickly.

Define your budget for the project(s) you need

Details like a project’s cost need to be defined from the outset. That way you can find a reliable freelancer in your budget. If costs change and you have to revisit contract negotiations over and over, any good freelancer is going to walk out the door.

The very worst thing you can do is run out of money and not pay your freelancer. Not only can this easily lead to you getting sued, it’s the fastest way to earn a bad reputation among freelancers.

The best, most experienced freelancers tend to know each other. At least those in the same geographic region or specialization certainly do. And they talk. If you stiff someone, no one else is going to want to work for you.

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Ask people in your network for referrals of good freelancers

Just like nearly every other element of business, word of mouth referrals are the best way to find good freelancers. Ask around among those in your network.

Have they worked with a great graphic designer before? Would they mind putting you in touch with them?

Not only can referrals get you to the best people fast, but it can save you time. If you ask around, you can find out a bit about what it’s like to work with that freelancer.

What are their rates like? What’s their general availability and turnaround time? Getting these answers upfront can save you a bunch of time later on.

Asking for referrals is also something you can do among the freelancers you currently have. If you’ve offered them more work but their schedule is full, ask if they know of anyone else to recommend. The best freelancers have a solid referral network of their own.

Many freelancers pass gigs between each other when their schedules require them to pass. Use the reliable freelancers you already have to find more of them.

Ask freelancers for work samples and references

Working with a freelancer doesn’t mean that you have to fly blind. Established freelancers will have a portfolio, often a website, that you can peruse to get a sense of the type and quality of their work.

But it doesn’t have to stop there. Just like regular job candidates, it’s not out of the ordinary to ask a freelancer for references. This can be especially helpful if you have a big project on your plate and have to be ultra-careful with who you hire.

This isn’t to say that every freelancer will be able to provide references. Often freelancers have to sign non-disclosure agreements.

Sometimes it can be hard for them to talk about all the work they’ve done and for whom. If you ask for references and a freelancer can’t provide them, just ask why. Chances are there’s a good reason.

Do a trial project with freelancers first

Trial projects are a great way to get a sense of what it’s like to work with a freelancer before signing on the dotted line. However, it’s important to note that there’s been a rise in companies asking freelancers to do unpaid trial projects.

If you want to do a trial project as a part of your hiring decision, you have to pay for it.

Don’t be one of those companies. If you want to do a trial project as a part of your hiring decision, you have to pay for it. Asking a freelancer to work for free is perhaps the shortest route to only having brand new, super inexperienced freelancers willing to work for you.

Be prepared to pay a fair price for excellent freelancers

The old adage holds true here. You get what you pay for. Of course, there’s some leeway. Even the most talented freelancers have to start out somewhere. Even the best, most experienced freelancers have tough times when their work suffers.

But in general, you get what you pay for. If you’re aiming to pay as little as possible, you’ll get work that reflects that. Do what you can to find the money you need to pay fair market value for the services you’re asking for.

Not sure what fair market values are? There are plenty of online resources that can help you get a sense for what those numbers are.

Treat the good freelancers you have well

The best way to find good freelancers is to not have to find them at all. If you already have amazing freelancers working for you, pay them well. Don’t wait for them to raise their rates. Offer them more money when you can as a token of your appreciation.

Give them a small bonus at the end of the year if you can. Have realistic expectations and treat them respectfully.

Honor their personal time and ways of working. The better you treat your current freelancers, the more likely they are to recommend your company to other freelancers.

Finding the right freelancers for your business can be a challenge. It can be an effortful endeavor, but one that will pay off time and time again when you have a roster of reliable freelancers to turn to.

It can take some time to get it right, so start where you can. Have a clearly defined project. Offer as much money as you can. Treat them with kindness and respect. Doing the small things right will go a long way.

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