Freelancers go by many names, including contingent workers, independent contractors, and consultants. They generally follow a task or project-based work model and comprise a wide range of industries, skill levels, and pricing tiers.
This type of work is becoming more common. As of 2019, 57 million Americans, or 36% of the U.S. workforce, were working as freelancers. They’re an important part of many companies, too: LinkedIn found that 70% of small businesses have recently hired a freelancer, with 81% saying they plan to hire more freelancers in the near-term. But lower competition for expertise, in contrast to hiring an employee, is just one good reason to hire a freelancer. Others include saving time and money, quick turnaround, and flexibility on both sides.
Is hiring a freelancer right for my small business?
First of all, no business is too small to hire a freelancer!
Freelancers are a great option for you to balance your staff with needed expertise without the overhead of hiring, training, and paying a salary. For example, you post blogs regularly but want unique feature images to help you improve brand awareness and engagement. You might hire a graphic designer to create 1-2 coordinated images a week.
Since “freelancer” is a broad term, these flexible workers come in as many varieties as job titles. Here are some questions to start:
- Do you need to outsource tasks you don’t have the capacity for in-house?
- How long is the commitment? Do you want to hire a freelancer for a single short-term project, on a short-term monthly retainer, or are you looking for a long-term relationship?
- What level of experience can your budget afford? Some freelancers charge hourly, some per word, and some per project. It’s all a matter of communication.
The difference between employees and freelancers is that the latter works on a contracted basis. You don’t have to pay them benefits, but they maintain independent control their work schedule and you agree on expectations like scope, timeline, and deliverables ahead of time.
Adding a reliable contract worker to your team can help free up time for you to build client relationships, expand your services, and grow your business.
What should I consider before hiring a freelancer?
It’s important for you to be sure of your cash flow and time. Independent contractors who take you on as a client are counting on you as much as you count on them.
When hiring a freelancer, keep in mind certain best practices:
- Have an onboarding strategy. The freelancer is new to your business. It will take time for them to learn the ins and outs, but you can help them by providing detailed resources. Consider how involved they’ll become. Will they work exclusively with you or with other team members as well? Be sure to make the relevant introductions.
- Communicate clearly and efficiently. Setting expectations is one of the most crucial yet commonly overlooked parts of working with a freelancer. Discuss and sign a working agreement so there are no surprises on either side. Will you communicate by phone or email, weekly or monthly, and during what hours? Be sure to advise the freelancer at your earliest opportunity of delays or changes.
- Find your collaboration style. What form of collaboration works for your business and goals? If your ongoing requirements won’t deviate, you might agree on a standing list of services and leave the freelancer to what they do best. You might agree on services that require regular check-ins to discuss details, like the example of the graphic designer creating feature images. Or, you might create project briefs, delegate select tasks to a freelancer, and put your stamp of approval on their deliverable before passing it on to your own client.
- Have the bandwidth to give direct but kind feedback. Your copywriter didn’t strike the tone you were hoping for. Your accountant made a miscalculation. Something’s off in your web design. As in life, creative and technical conflicts may arise. Your freelancer may not be aware there’s a problem until you tell them. When you communicate early, clearly, and with reasonable expectations, they are often eager to please and happy to make revisions.
- And most importantly, pay them (on time)! The Golden Rule works for good business relationships, too.
Remember that freelance isn’t free. (The free stands for their freedom and flexibility.) You can imagine that client non-payment is a drag, so make sure you’re treating your freelancers with the respect they deserve. Because they are not your employees and may work for other clients, boundaries and communication should be made crystal clear from the outset.
What freelancers work well for small businesses?
These are the most common industries for freelancers according to Business 2 Community:
- Tech Job titles include website or application designer and web developer.
- Accounting In 2018, 37% of small businesses hired a freelance CPA!
- Art and design Specializations include graphic design, interior design, and commercial art.
- Writing and marketing Common job titles include content and copy writers, social media specialists, project managers, marketing coordinators.
- Education Many freelancers teach a language or skill or create ever more popular online courses.
- Healthcare This less known sector includes virtual pharmacists, clinical medical writers and researchers, and drug safety associates.
Where can I find a skilled freelancer?
Once you’ve assessed your budget and skill needs, meet your future freelancer where they’re at. Unlike other job seekers, you won’t find them on Monster or Indeed.
- Ask your network for pre-vetted picks and the chance to support another small business directly.
- Join a Facebook group like Freelancing Females or Freelance Marketplace to post your needs and collect a variety of engaged and qualified leads spanning many industries, fast.
- Explore specialized platforms that vet freelancers before accepting them, including WriterAccess (for all types of writers), ClearVoice (for content marketers), 99 Designs (for graphic designers), and TopTal (for web developers, tech and graphics talent).
- Post on a freelance job board like Freelance Writing Jobs, ProBlogger, and Craigslist Gigs instead of a job board.
- Search freelance marketplaces like Freelancer.com, Upwork, and Fiverr where freelancers advertise a wide range of services for every budget. Because you work through the platform, these sites limit your access to the freelancer but as such, may not require a contract. They also may take a commission from you and the freelancer.
Parting thoughts about hiring a freelancer
While freelancers aren’t your employees, you are still starting a professional relationship with another business owner. Interviews are unnecessary, but you should still view their work portfolios, vet your options, and be picky in order to avoid conflicts later.
Be upfront about your needs and create a firm contract that protects the interests of both parties. This working agreement will likely come from the freelancer’s side as they have cultivated a set of practices and terms that work for them and their industry. Contracts settle details like rate, scope, timeline, assignment of copyright and intellectual property, and more. Do not ask a contractor to work without a contract, as this can invite miscommunication and stress for both parties.
Finally, pay well for quality. Freelancers do raise their rates over time as they gain experience and clientele. If you’ve developed a great working relationship with your freelancer, reward them so they’ll stay on and help you improve your business for the long-term.
Chloé Skye is a freelance copywriter and content strategist from the U.S. who has also lived in Israel, Czech Republic, and Denmark. She has a travel blog Chlohemian. You can also find her making email and web copy magic that converts for eCommerce, SaaS, nonprofits, and more. You can find her on LinkedIn.