Choosing the Right Freelancer or Contractor

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on October 17, 2010 in: Business - Plain & Simple, Time Management Strategies, Tips in 10

You need to get work done but you can’t do it all by yourself. The busier your business gets, the more you need to do and the less time you have to do it in! That’s when you turn to professionals like freelancers and contractors to help you out.

I’ve recommended sites like Guru and Elance for this purpose. I like these sites because they provide business owners with an efficient way to get several quotes on their project at once. This is a good use of time and a great way to find the right freelancer at the right price. Of course, there are other sites out there (vWorker and Odesk come to mind) and these ideas apply to most of those sites, too.

In a previous Tips In Ten article, I listed a six step process that you could use to find freelancers or contractors to work on your projects. Step three was creating a request-for-proposal and I talked in more detail about that in the last issue. And that’s where we left off: You had taken ten minutes to post a project on Guru or Elance and proposals (or bids) were starting to come in.

In this article, I’ll talk about comparing proposals and sorting them to ultimately hire the right contractor.

In general, the early stage of finding the right contractor is basically a sorting stage. You’ll have a big list of freelancers who have submitted bids for your project and you need to sort them. The fastest way to start sorting them is into a “definitely no” pile and a “maybe” pile. If you do this electronically, you might be able to just delete the “no” people right away while you keep the “maybe” people.

And how do you choose the “definitely no” people to delete? My advice: Start by eliminating:

1.   People who clearly are not proposing a solution to your problem. Yes, you’ll get some people who will make you wonder: “Did they even read my proposal?”
2.   People whose lack of talent is apparent. This will be easy to spot: If they send you samples that are of extremely low quality, get rid of them.
3.   People with poor feedback. You should be able to see feedback that people have received. If they have bad overall feedback, get rid of them.

After you’ve done that, it’s now time to take that group of remaining “maybe” freelancers and cut them in half.

At this stage, people often look to price as a key indicator, especially if they have never worked with freelancers before. It seems to make sense because it’s an easy metric to observe. However, you’ll find that there is a broad range of talent and it doesn’t always mesh with price: You can find talented freelancers in a range of prices and you can find untalented ones in a range of prices. Automatically sorting by price (at this stage) is a mistake.

So, how do you cut that pool of “maybe” freelancers in half? I’d suggest this simple exercise, which you should do periodically throughout the proposal process: List the names of all of the “maybe” freelancers on a piece of a paper (or in an Excel spreadsheet) and then review their proposals against the following questions, awarding either a 1 or a 0 as a score for each question:

1.    Do they show that they understand the project and have the expertise and samples to back it up?
2.    Do they make proactive recommendations or provide guarantees? (Good professionals will provide these things).
3.    Can they communicate in a way that you understand and can work with?
4.    Do they provide clear financial AND timeline parameters?
5.    Do they fit with your financial AND/OR timeline requests?

You’ll notice that question 4 and question 5 are similar. This is why you need to ask both: Question 4 makes sure that the freelancer understands, communicates, and commits to both financial and timeline parameters. Question 5 compares their view of the project with your own. (It’s possible that you have under-estimated or over-estimated the budget or timeline).

So, by assigning a simple 1 or 0 to each question for each of your professionals, you’ll get stellar rockstars who have scores of five and you’ll find a bunch of mismatches who have scores of zero… and a bunch of freelancers in between. This will make it really easy to eliminate half or more of your freelancers. (I’d suggest that you eliminate any freelancer who scores three or less. If you’re still left with a whole bunch, then eliminate any freelancer who scores four or less. And there’s a very good chance that you’ll end up picking someone who scores four or five out of five on this list.

If your project’s proposal acceptance period has expired then you should have a small pool to draw from. (That’s why doing the above exercise periodically throughout the process will help you to manage the amount of time you spend sorting the professionals).

I keep saying that price shouldn’t be used as a sorting tool, but you will at some point need to think about price. I believe it’s better to do it towards the end, once you have a list of freelancers culled down to a few. But even then, don’t make your decision based on price alone. Instead, make your decision based on the balance between price and return on investment. You might find that one price will give you one level of return but a slightly higher price can give you a disproportionately higher return. In that case, you’ll want to revisit your budget and see if you can rework something to get the return that is better.

As you narrow the field, contact the freelancers and let them know that they are on a short-list and then give them an approximate date that you will have reached a decision. Do not invite them to do anything else to further compete. Just thank them for bidding and give them the brief heads-up. This will do two things:

1.    It will make sure that they set aside the time. Freelancers who are busy will appreciate the notice. (This can help to make sure your project gets started sooner and completed on time).
2.    It will also help you to identify really good professionals who might sweeten the deal or offer additional resources or information for you. (By letting them be proactive, you’ll see who from among your shortlist most wants to work with you).

By using this simple sorting method, it is possible to find the ideal freelancer in less than ten minutes a day.

Bonus Tips:

  • Once you know who your freelancer is, give them a timeline to start. Many projects are awarded but never get past that stage so your chosen contractor will be more prepared when you give them a timeline.
  • Stay in touch with your contractor. Make sure that they are equipped with all of the information they need to do the job.
  • Treat the freelancer professionally and courteously.
  • Provide constructive criticism during the review stage. This is far more helpful than “looks good” or “needs work”.
  • When the project is complete, pay them promptly and leave feedback.

Some freelancers or contractors might seem like order-takers who simply do the work you need them to do when you need them to do it. Sometimes these freelancers are the kind we want. However, if you find the right freelancer who is a proactive partner, and you treat them as a professional colleague, you will get higher quality work and a long-term peer who truly wants to see your business do well. When they understand your business goals, they can provide a more valuable contribution to your business.

Heather Recommends:

Running a business can be busy, challenging work. I can help you become more productive and successful. Find out how.

Product Spotlight


Business Lunch Club