Learning how to find and hire the right help to scale my business has been one of the most difficult aspects of my career.
Hiring help was never part of the original plan when I launched my small graphic design business in 2017 as a solo freelancer.
But just a few months in, I found myself swamped with more work than I could handle on my own.
Even after raising my rates – which I assumed would temper the velocity – the work just kept pouring in.
Just like that, I found myself at a crossroads. I had to decide between turning down work to retain my solo status or hire help.
I chose the latter.
But the journey has been a real learning process for someone who had no prior experience with hiring or managing teams.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, but after a bit of trial and error, I believe I’ve finally found a formula that works.
Below, I share the biggest lessons I’ve learned on how to discover the right talent, vet that talent and establish a healthy trust-based professional relationship.
Utilize personal connections, freelance marketplaces, Facebook Groups and referrals to discover the best talent
I’ve tried every method under the sun to find and hire quality freelance talent.
I’ve used traditional job sites like Indeed, staffing agencies and even social media.
But my best hires have come from a few primary sources: Personal connections, freelance marketplaces and Facebook Groups.
I am fortunate to have friends and family who are also freelancers, many of whom specialize in similar niches to my own.
I also occasionally ask my own clients for professional recommendations since many of my clients are like me – small businesses who are actively working with a pool of freelancers who they can personally vouch for.
By far, tapping into my personal network has produced some of the best results. But it also comes with the greatest risk and its own set of unique challenges.
When hiring people from your personal network, it’s important that you’re sure they’re capable of producing results, behaving professionally and treating you as they would any other client.
Perhaps even more importantly, you need to be sure that the engagement won’t adversely affect your personal relationship on the off chance the arrangement doesn’t work out.
The second best method I’ve found for hiring is utilizing freelance marketplaces like Upwork or Fiverr.
Freelance marketplaces offer some of the largest talent pools out there. This makes it possible to shop for freelancers on a worldwide scale, for any need, in any niche, with any skill level on any budget.
If it can be done, there’s likely a freelancer on Upwork or Fiverr who can do it.
Facebook Groups are also a great place to discover freelance talent.
I’ve used the Freelancing Females Group on multiple occasions to post about upcoming freelance job opportunities.
Naturally, freelancers who spend their time in social media communities tend to take pride in their work and are engaged in their professional growth – which can be a big benefit to you as a client.
Don’t treat the hiring process like a traditional job interview
If you’ve never hired a freelancer before, it’s important to remember that this isn’t like hiring a regular employee, and it shouldn’t be treated as such.
As someone who has played the role of both freelancer and client, I’ve been on both sides of the formal interview process. And in my personal experience, they’ve mostly been a waste of time.
My clients don’t need to know “where I see myself in five years”. Nor do they need to know what kind of fruit, animal or superhero I would be.
And I don’t need to know that information about the freelancers I hire, either.
They also shouldn’t require multiple rounds of lengthy interviews or a list of personal references to determine whether or not I’m a good fit for their company.
They need to know if I can do the job at hand.
The “interview” should resemble a process more similar to that of hiring any other professional service for a part-time or limited engagement.
Imagine the questions you might ask a plumber, a hairstylist or an accountant: Is this a service you offer? How much will it cost? How long will it take to complete?
As a professional freelancer, I see multiple rounds of lengthy interviews as a nuisance. I generally have plenty of paid work lined up and don’t like to waste my time on unpaid Zoom calls where the client asks questions that are unrelated to the job at hand.
Remember that you are hiring a professional service provider, not an employee.
Ask technical questions about the project and the freelancer’s level of expertise
To determine whether or not your freelance hire is capable of doing the job, ask technical, project-related questions like the following:
- Have you worked on a project like this before?
- Can you show me an example or talk to me about your experience working on that project? (Or provide work samples)
- What do you normally charge for a project like this?
- How long do you think it will take to complete?
- Will you be able to meet this deadline?
As a practicing graphic designer, when hiring other designers I tend to ask extremely detailed questions. I would suggest asking only the following questions if you are subcontracting with professionals who happen to share your field:
- What is your comfort level with Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and/or InDesign?
- What does your typical process look like?
- What software/tools do you normally use to complete the job?
When hiring junior graphic design talent, I’ve even asked to inspect source files from similar past jobs to ensure their technical skills are where they should be.
But be warned – this request may also come across as off-putting to senior level talent, especially if you are not clearly in a position of seniority in the respective field. I mostly reserve this technique for intern-level talent.
Be clear about the job requirements and expectations before you begin
It’s also important to communicate job requirements and expectations up-front before you begin.
Use descriptive words, provide a detailed list of deliverables and, where applicable, consider showing the freelancer examples of what you’re hoping to achieve.
If you don’t necessarily know what you need, admit what you don’t know and ask the freelancer what they will require from you in order to complete the job.
A skilled freelancer should be able to smoothly guide you through the process, let you know what to expect and make you feel taken care of throughout the entire transaction. That’s the true sign of a professional.
Start small and don’t begin an untested relationship on a rush job or critical project
I never like to add undue stress to an already stressful task when hiring new people.
At the end of the day, there’s always a small risk involved with an untested relationship, and hiring a new person whom you’ve never worked with before requires a leap of faith.
With that in mind, I always like to stack the deck in my favor by bracing for the worst case scenario.
I’ve been in multiple situations in which a freelancer failed to deliver or didn’t complete the project to the level I prefer.
I know all too well what it feels like to be up against a deadline with missing, incomplete or poor quality work.
Which is why I now mitigate that risk by starting small when working with a new person for the first time.
For instance, if I have 50 product cutouts I need by Friday, I’ll ask the new hire to do one on Monday and let me approve it before handing off the other 49.
Another trick I use is something I call “deadline-padding”.
If the “real” deadline is Friday, I might tell the new freelancer the deadline is Wednesday. Once again, if they are late or fail to deliver on time, I’ve built in a bit of extra time for myself to take it to the finish line and avoid a last minute rush.
Finally, I never assign a rush job or anything “mission critical” to someone I’ve never worked with before.
If the deadline doesn’t allow any wiggle room for mistakes, you’re probably better off giving it to someone you already know and trust or just doing it yourself.
Don’t haggle on the price, treat the freelancer like a professional
Don’t haggle on price. Freelance is not a flea market.
To use the same analogy from earlier, we would never challenge our plumber, hairdresser or accountant to lower their price to meet our budget. If we can’t afford a specific service provider, we just move on and find someone who we can afford.
Professional freelancers like myself don’t haggle for the same reason we don’t ensure multiple lengthy rounds of interviews – we are busy and already have plenty of work lined up.
It doesn’t make sense for most of us to lower our prices when we have plenty of others willing to pay our requested rate.
With that said, if the freelancer offers to lower their price to fit your budget, that’s an entirely different story.
Don’t actively diminish a freelancer’s value by calling their rates or pricing structure into question. This practice breeds resentment and is never a great way to start the engagement.
Be grateful, show thanks and always pay on time
Finally, treat your freelancers the way you want to be treated.
My favorite clients are the ones who always seem grateful for my partnership, remember to say thank you and always pay on time.
You would be shocked at how far a compliment, a word of thanks or a small token of appreciation will get you in a professional relationship.
One of my favorite clients consistently goes out of his way to treat me like part of the team. If his regular staff receives a gift card over the holidays, I get one too. He and his team also regularly show their gratitude with genuine compliments about my work.
In return, I’ve gone the extra mile for this client on more than one occasion. I am happy to do so because I know he will always be grateful.
Trust is a two-way street. Your freelancers need to earn your trust and gratitude, just as much as you need to earn theirs.
Appreciation and trust will result in a happy freelancer as well as a happy client.
What lessons have you learned when hiring freelancers? Let us know by tagging @collectivefin on social media.
Tennessee native Morgan Overholt is a freelance graphic designer, owner of Morgan Media LLC and co-founder of TheSmokies.com. Morgan and her team have worked with nationally recognized clientele from all over the world, including the Centers for Disease Control Foundation (CDCF), Kimberly-Clark, and Stanley Black & Decker.
Morgan transitioned into the role of freelancer and small business owner after spending nearly a decade in the traditional corporate world left her feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled. Today, Morgan is passionate about sharing her story with other hopeful entrepreneurs who hope to follow in her footsteps. She has been featured on Upwork.com, Refinery29, and Business Insider.