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How to Hire a Freelancer or Contractor and Live Happily Ever After

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If you’re reading this article, you’re probably convinced that you need to hire a freelancer or contractor to help you with some parts of your business. Maybe our post on Finding a Freelancer or Contractor for Startups convinced you. Or maybe you just know from elsewhere that they are what you need right now.

Either way, in this article, we’ll give tips on how to hire a freelancer or contractor. We’ll go over where you can find them and how to manage the project so that you and your contractor will still love each other at the end of the project.

What Types of Projects are Ideal for Contractors and Freelancers?

Before you even start looking for a freelancer or contractor, you’ll need to have a good idea on what kind of project you’re going to use them for. If you don’t have a specific project in mind, your relationship with the contractor or freelancer likely would very end badly.

How to Scope Out a Project Before Hiring a Freelancer or Contractor

Contractors and freelancers are ideal for discrete projects. If you can define a start and an end to the project, then you can hire a contractor or freelancer for the job. If you just need an extra hand to run your business or someone who can grow into other roles, then you should probably hire an employee instead.

Your first step in hiring a freelancer or contractor is to write down or sketch out what you want done. If you want a website built, sketch out how a customer or reader will see each page of your website. If you want a logo designed, sketch out some ideas for the logo or describe your business for the graphics designer to build on.

An experienced freelancer or contractor will be able to look at your idea, tell you what can or cannot be done, and give a quote. You don’t have to know the details of graphic design or website building—after all, that’s why you’re hiring a freelancer or contractor. You do, however, have to have a clear idea of what you want.

There’s a formal term for defining the project this way. It’s called laying out the scope of the project. Any time you start adding to the initially defined scope, it’s called scope creep.

Scoping out a Project Doesn’t Mean the Working Relationship Ends When the Project Ends

Defining the start and end to a project doesn’t always mean that the business relationship would end at the conclusion of that project. You can always hire the person or the group to do additional projects. For instance, maybe you’re hiring a freelance writer to write five articles for your website. When the five articles are done, then the project has ended.

But nothing prevents you from hiring the writer for another five articles right afterwards. The key is that the writer gets paid at the end of the project, or after specific timelines described in the project.

Examples of Discrete Projects for Freelancers and Contractors

Examples of projects you can hire a freelancer or contractor for include:

  • Build the interior of your office
  • Build a website
  • Do a social media advertising campaign
  • Design a marketing flyer for a mail campaign
  • Perform SEO tuneup for your website
  • Take photos of your products for your webstore
  • Make a mobile app

The job possibilities are endless as long as you can make them into discrete projects with a start and an end.

The best way to end a freelancer or contractor contract is when the project is finished. However, you can pick an end date as well. (E.g. you need a temporary administrative assistant for two weeks while your existing assistant goes on vacation.)

Some freelancer or contractor contracts will let you end the contract in the middle of a project, sometimes for no reason at all. In that case, you’d need to pay them for the work done up to the end of the contract.

Be Aware of the Legal Gray Area of Employee vs. Independent Contractor

Sometimes, the law automatically changes the freelancer or contractor into your employee and forces you to, for example, withhold Social Security or Medicare taxes for them. Unfortunately, the law isn’t always very clear on where that line is.

Here are some guidelines from the IRS on how to tell the difference between an employee and an independent contractor. Your state might have additional rules too. If you have any doubt, consult with a labor and employment lawyer.

If your freelancer or contractor is something other than a sole proprietorship (e.g. is an LLC or a corporation) or has multiple employees, then you have less to fear that they’ll be automatically classified as an employee under the law.

Still, hiring freelancers and contractors on a per-project basis can help a lot in keeping you out of this legal gray area.

Where Can You Hire a Freelancer or Contractor?

There are several ways to find freelancers and contractors. Some are tried and true old-fashioned ways. Others are more internet based.

Ask Fellow Small Business Owners for Referrals

You might be able to find freelancer or contractor recommendations from your business network. These include:

  • Your friends who are fellow business owners
  • Other businesses you buy from or sell to
  • Business groups such as your local Chamber of Commerce

This type of word-of-mouth hires are often the best, since you’re getting names from satisfied customers. You’d also know they’re not fly-by-night outfits who take your money and disappear without doing any actual work.

Search the Internet with “Near Me”

In the olden days, people looked for businesses on a physical listing called the Yellow Pages. It’s a huge book every telephone landline customer gets every year, and it’s a listing of all the local businesses. Naturally, folks don’t tend to use the physical book anymore, but the Yellow Pages still exist online, and it is still one way to look for freelancers and contractors near you.

Or you can just do an internet search for the type of business or service you need with “near me” added. You should of course still do your due diligence to make sure the businesses are real, do good work, and offer a fair price.

We know you know this method, but we thought a reminder of the obvious can’t hurt.

Look Through Solicitation Emails

Sometimes, if you have a website up for a while and list a contact email, you’ll get solicitation emails on helping you build or improve your website. Be very careful about talking to these folks, however.

Often, these are mass marketing emails barely customized to switch out the business name. We’ve had offers to build an app for our freelance writing business. Why would a freelance writer ever need an app? Almost certainly, this means these are thoughtless, mass emails. We’d hesitate to respond to such emails.

Still, some emails might be legitimate. We don’t recommend you reply to these emails right away and ask for information. Instead, look at the email address and see if you can find their website. See if they list references/past work. Verify the claims as much as you can. Do plenty of research before you make the first contact. Be. Careful.

Your Web Hosting Company or Platform Provider Often Have Affiliation Relationships with Developers

After you sign up with a web hosting company, you’ll often get offers to help you build a website. The starter offers tend to be simple websites of just a few pages. The same freelancers or contractors should also be able to help you build more complex websites.

Shopping platforms like Shopify and Square sometimes offer various services to help you with your site. For example, Square offers both marketing services and product photography services. Shopify has a partners program where professional developers, marketers, and similar can sign up to help Shopify store owners to build and grow their businesses.

We haven’t researched whether the pricing is fair, but you’ll at least know that these businesses won’t grab your money and run without providing at least some service.

Pay Attention to the Writers of Articles You Read While Doing Research

Sometimes, when you do research on the web, you’ll come across articles talking about specific subjects written by experts in those areas. These writers often freelance or consult as well. So, if you find an article particularly informative in the area of your need, contact the writer and ask if they’re for hire.

Search for Freelancers and Contractors on the Big Freelancer Platforms

Last, there are some big platforms on the internet where freelancers and contractors gather. These include:

Upwork and Fiverr have freelancers and contractors of various degrees of experience. Contently and Skyword are big online marketing platforms where businesses pay to access the software for designing and managing marketing campaigns. They each have a network of experienced freelancers from writers to videographers to graphic designers that you can hire.

Read our article Top Freelancing Websites for Finding Your Next Freelancer for more details on how these platforms work.

Have a Good Understanding on How to Do the Job Yourself

People often say that they want to hire the best. But if you don’t have any idea of how to do the job, how do you know who’s the best and who’s a mere charlatan?

We don’t mean that, if you need an app, you should know how to code before you hire your app developer. What we mean is you should talk to a few app developers and read a few articles on the internet on how apps are built. This way, you can judge the competency of the freelancer or contractor before, during, and after the project.

There are Several Ways to Pay a Contractor of Freelancer, so Be Prepared to Propose the One You Prefer

Generally, you can pay a contractor at the end of the job, at certain agreed-upon milestones when they hit quality checks, or you can pay on an hourly basis. The easiest way to pay is per job, with or without milestones.

What’s a Fair Price for Freelance or Contract Work?

That’s a question almost impossible to answer. Ideally, a lower price signals less experience, and a higher price signals better experience. But that’s not how this works in real life.

We all know of folks of low competence but large ego. They charge high for their work and often can get people to sign up just from the confident way they present themselves. There are also very competent people charging lower for their work because they’re still building their business.

We think the only way to find a fair price is by asking for a quote from several sources. Unfortunately, there is no easier way.

Keep in Mind the Minimum Wage and How Much a Professional Must Charge to Survive

As a small business owner—whether a one person business or a multiple worker business—you understand the overhead costs to keep a business afloat. Keep this in mind when you set a price you’re willing to pay for the project.

Be aware that if you’re only willing to pay $10 for work that takes at least three hours to do, you might not be getting the best work or the most competent freelancer. In many ways, you get what you paid for.

We suggest you describe your project and ask for quotes. This way, at least you’ll know how much a professional might reasonably charge for the work.

Should The Freelancer or Contractor Have a Standard Contract?

Established freelancers and contractors usually have their own form contracts. Whether the contract is full of antiquated legal jargon that even lawyers have trouble untangling is a different matter.

Believe it or not, contract is a somewhat fluid concept under the law. Just because the writing doesn’t look like a contract to a layperson doesn’t always mean that it isn’t a contract under the law. The important part is for the job to be clearly described and the payment terms to be specified.

As long as you write everything down in plain English, then you’re in good shape. Sometimes, default laws can fill in the missing details if a dispute arises.

Some big freelancing platforms like Upwork will have standard contracts that every job falls under. You might have to search for them, but they’re there.

Some Basic Questions Each Freelancer or Contractor Job Description Should Answer

As already stated, a “contract” in full legalese is not always required. However, you need to be as specific as you can when you work with a freelancer or contractor.

Here are some questions to consider and negotiate for. Fill these out in as much detail as possible to avoid future problems.

  • What’s the job? Describe in as much detail as you can.
  • At what point is the job considered to be done?
  • What is the payment?
  • How will the payment be made? (date, time, amount)
  • Who owns what in the end?
  • What happens if the deadlines are not met?
  • Who can cancel the job? At what point? How much notice?
  • What kind of guarantee/warranty comes with the finished project?
  • If the end product doesn’t work as required, is the freelancer/contractor responsible for fixing it for free?

Follow the Steps Above, and You Can Live Happily Ever After

Everyone wants to hire a freelancer or contractor who can do an excellent job. But, believe it or not, whether the job is successfully completed depends a lot on you, the business doing the hiring.

As long as you scope the project out correctly and describe it clearly, you’ll have experienced freelancers or contractors who will want to work with you. Based on your job descriptions, they’ll know where to suggest new ideas or additions that can make your project even better.

However, experienced freelancers and contractors also know a badly scoped out project when they see it. Such a project often leads to cost overruns that the freelancer or contractor often must eat or they’ll have to take shortcuts that you’ll be unhappy over. Neither side ends up happy.

When experienced freelancers or contractors see a vague job description, they might never even submit a proposal to you. And you might never get an opportunity to hire them. Lastly, if you’re not sure about the freelancer or contractor but desperately need help, start with a small project. If you think they did a great job, then move to larger and larger projects afterwards. This way, both sides gain comfort level, and you’d be off to a great working relationship.

Interested in starting and running a small business? Here’s the beginning of our step-by-step guide: What to do right after getting that great business idea.

DISCLAIMER: This article does not constitute legal or accounting advice. Instead, it contains general information. The information gives you the background you’ll need to hit the ground running when you do go get advice from a lawyer or accountant. Only lawyers and accountants properly licensed in your state/country are qualified to give you legal or accounting advice.

Questions? Comments?