A question I get every week, “I can’t draw/write/build a website/etc. – do you know anyone?”  Sometimes, I have someone I can recommend.  But often, the client needs something different.  I often recommend finding a freelancer, and the responses boil down to “I don’t know where to start and let me tell you about Aunt Jane’s bad experience with those sites…”

I’ve been burned a few times by freelance and remote projects that went pear-shaped.  And other times, have come away with something I could never have made alone.  So I asked a freelance copywriter for his thoughts.  And have mixed them with my own experiences (good and bad) to give you this quick intro.  Along the way we’ll look at why to take this route, some pitfalls and ways to lessen them.

The bottom line: It’s a good way to get expert skills for a project at a low price, but there are some risks and the ultimate responsibility lies with you (not them)

How and Why to Hire a Freelancer for Copy/Graphics/SEO

Firstly – some quick background:

  • Freelancing is one of the fastest growing markets in the world and that’s not likely to change soon.  From Upwork and Freelancer to Fiverr and 99Designs, there are many freelance platforms which emphasise this exponential growth and the standard of service on these websites is just as impressive.
  • Yes, the standard of these websites was somewhat questionable when they first emerged.
  • But the rise of freelancing has attracted many highly experienced professionals to these platforms. In some cases freelancers will use the income from these websites to bootstrap an alternative business but increasingly, full time freelancers are dedicating their entire time to the platforms mentioned above.
  • While the rates of such freelancers are far less than what you will find in the real world or through independent websites, the quality of work is often the very same
  • There’s still a trade-off for that cheaper rate

So, let’s take a look at how to hire a freelancer online!

Keep in mind that this looks like – and can be – a lot of work.  But if you find a good designer, writer or other expert, you’ll keep working with her.  This isn’t something you do every time.

Choose the right platform

When it comes to graphics, few platforms offer the same extent of talented designers as the aptly names 99Designs. Whether you need cover art for social media, posters, animation or web design; 99Designs is renowned as being the best place to find any graphic related work online.

On the other hand, Upwork and Freelancer are best known for copywriting and content writers while Fiverr is a combination of everything mentioned above. This is often a personal choice, for many clients appreciate the reliable review system on Fiverr while Upwork can be an excellent source of talented writers and journalists who use the platform to supplement their income.

Either way, you will need to sign up to these websites in order to contact the freelancers and decide which platform is most convenient for your own circumstances.  Signing up is generally free.

(New platforms come and go – when you read this there may be something else awesome around – let me know!)

Create a Brief and Know What You Want

Prior to selecting a freelancer, make sure that you have a very clear brief which outlines the precise requirements of the work.

After all, how can you expect someone to produce a piece of work to your preference, if you do not outline the precise details of what you need. As a rule, the more information you can provide a freelancer, the more likely they will be to produce a satisfactory result.

In my experience, clear requirements is the single biggest thing that determines whether you get what you want.  If you don’t know what you want, you’ll get something else.

Whether it’s a freelancer or a VA, giving a vague brief, and a hand-waved “just make it work” will almost always end up badly.

Creating a Job Posting

On many freelance platforms, clients can opt to advertise a job or project.

While you might not include all the details of the work, make sure to request a cover letter and samples in this job posting. After all, samples are the fastest way to assess the talent or quality of the work you can expect from each freelancer. Similarly, if the freelancer has relevant experience, this is something they can state within the cover letter.

Sometimes you’ll get a lot of replies from this approach.  Be prepared to filter out a lot of “long-shot” pitches.

The other approach is to browse the profiles of people offering the service, and contact them.  This also can take time, and they’ll often start to blur into each other.  Be patient.

At this stage, you’re looking for a shortlist of people.

Interview (and possibly Skype) the freelancer

When you find a selection of candidates who might be suitable for the task, it is often an idea to request a Skype conversation with the freelancer.

Talk about your expectations.  Make sure you’re both on the same page. Unfortunately, given the evasive nature of email or text communication, this is also one of the only ways to ensure that a candidate is up to the task.

Make sure you understand what they’re going to do.  And ensure they know what they’ll do, and that it’ll be what you want.  “I don’t know what they’ll do, but they’re the expert so I’m sure they’ll do the right thing” – this is a good way to waste your time and money.

Keep in mind cultural differences here!

Freelancing is global, and other people won’t necessarily be from your culture.  I’ve worked with people from cultures where it’s shameful to admit that you don’t know or understand something.  For a while I didn’t understand why people who apparently “knew what they were doing” somehow repeatedly got it wrong.

I learned never to ask “do you understand XYZ?” as this will get a confident “yes.”  Much better to ask them to walk you through their understanding of the task.

Consider More than One freelancer

If the work is long term or ongoing, consider hiring more than one freelancer to carry out several smaller tasks.  Keep in mind, this is not something the freelancers need to know about and it can help you to avoid spending too much time on a freelancer who may not be up to the task.

Managing the project

We all have different management styles and tools.  But one key point here: unlike a staff member, a freelancer can walk away at the end of a project without wearing longer-term consequences.  They do their task and that’s it.

Usually a freelancer takes a task, and comes back when its done.  That means you don’t get to change the requirements or get regular email updates unless they were part of the scope

Ideally, the freelancer will deliver exactly what you asked for, in the time frame you agreed.  But it doesn’t always go that way.

You have to work with the outcome.  Here, as much as anywhere, the buck stops with you.

I’ve looked at cases where it’s gone pear shaped – both in my hires and in those of others, and most of the time, I’ve found that it’s not the freelancer’s fault.  Or, at the very least, the size of the problem isn’t.  Often, the writing was on the wall and ignored until it was too late.

Ostrich-style management doesn’t work anywhere – and that includes when managing a freelancer.

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Being unclear in what you want
  • Verbal-only arrangements
  • Trying to change the scope of the project after it’s started
  • Not understanding what they will do for you, and what the outcome of that is
  • Not managing their delivery times
  • Trying to micro-manage
  • Not having some way to ensure the quality/results you wanted
  • Not ensuring that whatever they made fits in with the rest of the project.


Other tips

Most platforms give you a few days at the end of the order to review the order.  After this short window, the job is ‘complete’ and you may not get free corrections.

Personally, if I’m starting in a new area, I’ll often hire several freelancers to give me their take on the same small project.  Yes, it might quadruple the price, but if that price is $50, does it matter?  I’m not only buying a task, I’m testing a potential long-term expert to work with.

When the work is finished, choose the most suitable freelancer and stay in touch for the next project!  A good designer or copywriter is invaluable – stay with the ones you find!

What defines “the most suitable”?  More than you might think!  Their competence at writing or designing is important, but only part of the picture.  Also keep an eye on …

  • What did they ask you in the brief?  Were they extracting info from you that you didn’t realise they needed (or were they just doing the minimum)?
  • What was their communication like through the project?  They’re not on-staff and don’t have to reply to all your questions and requests, but did you feel you knew the task status at all times?
  • Was communication easy?  Could you relate with each other?
  • Did they point out alternative ways to do something, or better paths to your goal?


Final thoughts

Getting a freelancer is not some magic silver bullet.  You have to manage well – better than if you had a staff member.  It takes time to find one you want to keep.  Occasionally, you don’t get it right, and the work is bad and you end up wasting the money.  Rarely, it’s bad despite your careful planning and preparation.

On the other hand, freelancers are often eager to impress and motivated, and often give great work.  They’re usually considerably cheaper than hiring a specialised agency.  You can bring them on and off your projects without worrying about payroll or a costly recruitment process.

It’s a great way to get some specialised skills for a project without increasing headcount, but the ultimate responsibility is still with you.