It's the end of the month and your business is crying out for attention. You have invoices to send, sales calls to make, a blog to update, and you haven't had time to chase down a lower-cost supplier for one of your products. How can one person possibly do it all? The short answer is that you can't. Not well, anyway.
Owning a small business has always been hard work, which you don't mind. You started your company because you have strengths in multiple areas, and you don't mind rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty. But even if you're an extraordinary accountant, that doesn't mean you know beans about marketing. And just because you can sell anything to anybody doesn't mean you know your way around a web page template. To compete, you'll probably need outside help.
Assess your strengths. Freelancers are available in lots of different areas, from software development and blog writing to public relations and tax planning. The type of assistance you need depends on your abilities, your weaknesses and areas you want to strengthen in your business. Freelancers let you focus on what you do best, whether it's selling widgets or writing grants.
Determine Your Needs. What's holding your business back? What are the areas desperate for attention? Is it marketing, accounting or computer glitches? If you have a mentor, ask him to help you either grow in those areas or identify the best places to find freelancers. If you don't have a seasoned businessperson helping you, find one. One resource is SCORE , a nonprofit organization that provides counseling for small businesses.
Take time to clearly define the project's scope and schedule before you look for someone to tackle it.
Begin the Search. Where do you find good help? Huge online outsourcing companies such as guru.com , elance.com and oDesk.com have tens of thousands of freelancers. But navigating your way through what can be complicated systems doesn't make your life easier; it gives you more work to do. For example, some sites require you to set up an escrow account and pay through the site instead of paying the freelancer directly. There can be bidding wars and large numbers of resumes to wade through.
Look for niche companies that screen candidates and require them to invest some time and money into the process. The niche sites have fewer members, so you'll have fewer resumes to review and fewer bidding wars for the freelancers. Would you rather review resumes from 15 applicants who are all possibilities or 200 applicants who may net you the same 15 possibilities?
Finding the right niche website depends on your needs. Start by searching for the type of work you need, plus the word "freelancer." For example, if you are looking for a graphics person, search for "graphic design freelancer."
The biggest mistake employers make is hiring based on price alone. The cheapest gun for hire may have no experience in your field, which isn't a bargain if the work isn't up to par. Review portfolios and samples thoroughly prior to offering anyone a contract. Ask for references and ask questions. Have a phone interview to discuss rates and schedules and to invite the prospect's input.
Move Forward. A good relationship begins with mutual respect. If you want projects with a 24-hour turnaround or decide to expand the scope of the project before it's completed, communicate your expectations clearly and be prepared to pay extra. To protect both of you, especially if your freelancer works remotely, review her work in stages to avoid unpleasant surprises. Once you find the right fit, you'll have more time for what you do best.
Lesley Spencer Pyle is the founder and president of HomeBasedWorkingMoms.com and HireMyMom.com , and she is the author of The Work-at-Home Workbook: Your Step-by-Step Guide on Selecting and Starting the Perfect Home Business for You . Pyle has been working from home for more than 13 years.