“I had to take a mini-vacation and will finish the work when I come back.”
“I got super busy, don’t worry, I’ll get the job done soon.”
Are these common excuses you get from the person who you just hired online to complete a project on a tight deadline? If yes, you’re not alone! Many of us have been burned by incompetent, apathetic freelancers who take advantage of us.
As a business owner with years of project management experience, it’s my responsibility in finding the right resources to get the stuff done and progress forward. With so many options online, hiring online is not only efficient, but can also be cost effective. There’s talent out there that deserve to paid for their efforts; on the other end, there are a lot more bad apples. From my years of experiences in hiring freelancers, I’ve compiled my top 10 list I personally use to help avoid one of the bad guys and find one that will get the job done:
1) Set A Budget. You need to do this for yourself and for the freelancer’s sake. If you only have a small budget, just realize you probably can’t afford the best in the industry, but you can probably find someone decent. Setting a budget and specifying how strict it is also lets the freelancer know that he can’t “accidentally” go 50 hours over and charge you for the unexpected labor costs.
2) Ask For Examples Of Work. This is a great way to gauge the style of the freelancer’s work and how good he really is. I highly recommend hiring a consultant or a 3rd party contractor in the same field to evaluate the work.
3) Ask For Testimonials And References. Testimonials will give you a good idea on what the freelancer’s strengths are. Phone references may help you determine what his weaknesses are.
4) Have A Phone Conversation. Even if the freelancer is not fluent in your preferred language, you need to have at least one conversation over the phone. If he is trying to avoid you, this could be a red flag. This will also help you test out the freelancer’s customer support skills if you decide to hire him.
5) Find Out Who Their Backup Is. If your prospect freelancer gets hit by a bus, who picks up the slack? Hopefully someone on their team can. If not, you may need to specify that you have the right to pay him what is left on the balance and hire another backup freelancer.
6) Get A Solid Hourly Estimate. After you send over project specifications to the prospect freelancer, you need to make sure you get the hourly estimate set in stone (assuming specifications don’t change). Not “about 200-300 hours”, not “just a few hours” – a constant, numerical value. This is to help protect you from additional unexpected labor costs at the end.
7) Have Deadline Terms. If you are running a tight ship, this is an absolute necessity. Even if you can let a couple days or weeks slide, you don’t want an unfinished product in the end. Make sure you have a clause somewhere that specifies a delay penalty (e.g. if you are late, 50% of your next payment is deducted; if you are 3 days late, 75%, etc).
8) Create Milestones. The truth is, many freelancers would prefer to wait til the last minute to get to work, which could be detrimental for a large scale project (programmers are notorious for this). Work with the freelancer to create milestones with deadlines on your terms. This ensures progress moves forward.
9) Split The Payment Up. This ensures your freelancer doesn’t take all your money and run away with it. An initial payment to get things started is okay and I would even recommend an online escrow to facilitate the payments. Splitting payments would work well with bigger projects with milestones.
10) Have a Solid Written Agreement. Having a written agreement doesn’t mean you don’t trust the other party; rather, you want the relationship to work. Think of all the possible worst case scenarios and make sure the agreement covers them. Be as specific as you can and list all the conditions and terms. If possible, have an attorney help you draft your document or revise it.
This list may seem too rigid and even paranoid for some, but experience tells me otherwise. You need to make sure all your bases are covered to avoid digging a financial grave and living with regret. If a prospect freelancer is unwilling to work with you on any of the points on the list, then it may be a sign to look elsewhere. I’d also recommend having at least a couple of backup freelancers in case anything goes wrong. Good luck!