5 Guidelines to Maximize Freelance Employees

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Running a business requires many different skills. From time to time, you’re going to need to hire an outside expert to help.

Don’t get me wrong -- I like to have my hands in everything. I enjoy teaching myself new skills and I’m all for bootstrapping. But in many instances, working with a freelancer makes the most sense. And that’s partly because they’re more affordable than ever.

When I hired a freelance graphic designer to create a logo for my company many years ago, he charged me $1,000 -- a small fortune! Today, I could hire someone to design that same logo for a mere $50. Recently, I hired a freelancer from India to update my entire website for a grand. 3-D graphics used to be so costly that using them was out of the question. Now they too are accessible.

Anything you might need done -- including content production, CAD drawings and even voice-overs -- can be easily outsourced these days, thanks to sites such as Guru, Elance, Fiverr and oDesk. On Fiverr, in fact, many tasks are priced at a mere $5! At that price, it’s hard to lose.

Related: Freelance Site Fiverr Raises $30 Million in a Play to Become the 'Amazon of Marketplace Services'

Although most of my experiences working with freelancers have been positive, a few haven’t. These are my tips to get the best work at the best price.

1. Do your homework. There are more than a few sites that connect freelancers with work that needs getting done these days. Read the fine print closely. What are the site’s policies in regards to payment and non-disclosure issues? Does the person you hire have the right to post what they create for you on their own website?

Spend some time familiarizing yourself with how each site works to make sure you’re hiring the best person for the job. Have anyone you hire sign a work-for-hire agreement that includes a non-disclosure component. You don’t want to have to deal with any co-ownership disputes later on.

2. Choose wisely. After you’ve identified several freelancers that possess the skills you need, look at their portfolios closely. Most importantly, what’s their track record like? How long have they been on the site? What is their rating? How much money have they collected? Have any of their clients hired them more than once? If they have repeat business, that’s a great sign.

Designers that actively use these sites are invested in them, and their work is likely to be good. Once you post a description of the job you need done and how much you’re willing to pay, you’ll receive a slew of bids. Don’t necessarily pick the lowest bid. I interview potential freelancers through Skype, because I want to be able to look at whom I’m hiring in the eye. In my experience, it’s the best way to start building a one-on-one relationship.

Related: 3 Legal Precautions in Hiring Freelancers

3. Provide guidance. Be specific about the job you need done! A lot of confusion can arise unless you are very specific about what you’re looking for. Provide the freelancer with an ample amount of information, including examples of the job that you need performed.

When I hire a freelancer to design a sell sheet, I make sure to provide him or her with the marketing copy I want to be used, a photograph and even examples of other similar products. Essentially, provide everything they need. Frankly, I’m of the opinion that you can never provide a clear enough picture.

4. Establish an explicit timeline. Ask up front: How long is this going to take? This is especially important for jobs that have a tight deadline. Don’t rely on a single due date. Instead, create a series of check-in points. Most freelancers will provide a rough sketch or design before they finalize it. Ask about their process so you understand what to expect.

Also, make sure you know what form the final product is being delivered in. If you need to make changes later, will you be able to? Look over the final product closely before delivering a final payment. Here’s a tip: In my experience, the freelancers who get back to me quickly over email tend to turn around their work faster as well.

5. Don’t pay in full upfront. I learned this lesson the hard way, when a freelancer who I paid upfront failed to finish the work we assigned him. This is why creating an explicit series of milestones is so important.

It’s easier than ever to start a business on a very limited budget. Your business might be small, but its look and feel doesn’t have to be. Hiring professionals is the quickest and most straightforward way to help your business appear professional. Take advantage of the global economy and get in on the game.

Related: Should I Hire a Contractor or an Employee?