Freelancers—also called independent contractors—are sole proprietors who specialize in a single business function and are hired by businesses to work on small projects where their skills are needed. You may hire a freelance writer, photographer, web designer, or developer to spruce up your website, or a freelance accountant to oversee finances or help at tax time. Realize, however, that freelancers don't actually replace employees: if you need someone to work on your website full-time, that's an employee (the IRS has strict guidelines around this: ensure you review them carefully before proceeding). Whether you're seeking talent to fill a gap on your team or just trying to access specialized skills that your company needs for a one-time project, odds are good that you'll consider working with a freelancer in the near future. Benefits Of Hiring A Freelancer There are a number of advantages to hiring a freelancer over a traditional employee, including: Cost savings - It’s expensive to hire a traditional employee. In addition to their salary, you’ll likely have to cover their health insurance, retirement plan, paid time off, employment taxes, and other expenses. With a freelancer, you can eliminate many of these high overhead costs while still having access to the talent you need. Specialized talent - If you’re looking for a specific set of skills for a project, a freelancer can come in handy. Many freelancers offer specialized talent that you may not have internally. Flexibility - Compared to a traditional employee, a freelancer is far more flexible as they may be willing to work on the evenings, weekends, and even over holidays. You can reach out to them at short notice to help with an immediate or sudden project. In addition, you don’t have to make any long-term commitments to them. Quality work - Since freelancers aren’t guaranteed a steady workload, they often go above and beyond to satisfy their clients. As long as you hire the right freelancer with experience in the skillset you’re seeking, you can expect top-notch work. Innovation - A freelancer can serve as a fresh set of eyes for your business. They may come up with new ideas and solutions that take your business to the next level. Depending on who they are and what skills they have, they may even help you implement them. Diversity - When you work with a freelancer, you get the chance to expand the diversity of your business. Diversity often leads to improved performance, culture, and customer satisfaction. How To Hire A Freelancer Fortunately, there are many online resources that can help you find a freelancer for your business. Here are several you might want to explore. LinkedIn - LinkedIn has a variety of qualified freelance workers. You can find them through the search tool or relevant groups. Another option is to post a freelance position on the platform and see who applies. Upwork - Upwork is designed to bring together freelancers and businesses. To find a freelancer, you can post a job, browse the Project Catalog, or take advantage of a professional recruiter through Talent Scout. FlexJobs - FlexJobs is ideal if your business is remote or you’re open to a freelancer who works remotely. It lets you access a talented pool of thoroughly vetted freelancers. You can post a listing to find the right candidate. Guru - Guru has a reputation for quality freelancers in fields such as marketing, software development, graphic design, and writing. You can use the platform to review and compare quotes from freelancers, collaborate on projects, and make payments. Now that you know where to look for a freelancer, let’s go over how to hire them. Establish the scope of work - First and foremost, determine what project or tasks you’d like the freelancer to complete. Jot down a list of requirements and expectations. The more specific you are, the more likely you are to find the right candidate. Determine a budget - While some freelancers prefer to get paid by hour, others charge a flat rate per project. Research what other companies pay freelancers for work similar to what you’re requesting, so you can come up with a budget. Search for a freelancer - After you figure out your scope of work and budget, it’s time to zero in on the right candidate. The online resources listed above are a great place to start. Interview candidates - If you find any candidates that pique your interest, interview them. Ideally, you’d interview at least two or three freelancers, so you can compare your options and choose the best fit. Create a contract - Once you’ve found the right candidate, create a contract. Be sure to include your business name and the freelancer’s name, start and end dates, payment terms, deadlines, and a termination clause. Complete the work - As soon as the freelancer signs the contract, you can start the project with them. Do your best to answer questions as they come up and support them along the way. Maintain the relationship - There’s a good chance you’ll want to utilize the freelancer’s skills again at some point in time. That’s why you should praise their work and keep in touch with them. What To Consider When Hiring A Freelancer There is no shortage of freelancers on the market. However, they’re not all created equal. Before you move forward with a freelancer, be sure to consider the following factors. Expertise and skills - Make sure the freelancer you choose has the skills necessary to complete your project or tasks. They should be able to support your business and fill any talent gaps you may have. Work samples - A portfolio of relevant work samples can help you confirm that a freelancer is who they claim to be. It may give you some reassurance that they’ll be able to meet your needs. Pricing - Freelance rates vary greatly. Opt for a freelancer with a fair pricing structure that aligns with your budget. While it may be tempting to go with the cheapest option, doing so may lead to quality issues. Timing - Your project timeline should work well for the freelancer you choose. This is particularly true if you have a tight deadline to meet. References - Don’t hesitate to ask a candidate for references from former and current clients. If you contact their references and are pleased with what you hear or read, you’ll feel more confident hiring them. How To Prepare Your Business For Freelancers Getting the most from your freelancers requires advanced planning. While skilled professionals and experts know how to do their job, they likely don’t understand how to navigate your work style and place. So, before you turn to the design guru down the street, spend a little time setting up your own shop to help the freelancer succeed. Step 1: Document Your Processes Freelancers need to understand your business processes. If you’re like most companies, that information isn’t written down, which means it walks out the door when your employees quit or even if they go on vacation. “Ask Jill. She knows,” only works if Jill is there to answer the question. Therefore, now is the time to document business processes and build an internal knowledge base. At a minimum, write that information down or add it to an electronic knowledge base. Who are the key stakeholders that need to weigh in on decisions? When do specific tasks need to occur? What systems and tools do you already use? This is just some of the information to include. Hardly anyone enjoys documenting, but the good news is that documentation forces you to review what you do and why. This simple task also opens the door to improving processes, as it takes workers off autopilot mode—no more doing a task just because “we’ve always done it that way.” Step 2: Embrace Outsider Knowledge Shake off the top-down management mentality and get ready for questions—and feedback. Freelancers can offer a fresh perspective as they share how other clients have solved similar problems to yours. But you have to be open to hearing about new opportunities and nicely wrapped versions of “that’s the wrong way to do it.” That external viewpoint might include a big win, or it could mean a series of small victories that improve process efficiencies, like setting up email auto-responders. The good news: a freelancer may be more willing to suggest process improvements than an employee who wants to avoid rocking the boat. Step 3: Plan For Fierce Competition “The growing trend of employees making it on their own as freelancers rather than salaried workers will undoubtedly have consequences for businesses across a variety of industries,” George Santos, director of talent delivery and head of marketing at 180 Engineering, told Forbes. “For instance, it may mean competing with other businesses for someone’s time, facing uncertainty when it comes to the manpower at your disposal, and not being able to tackle tasks on short notice.” Translation? Plan to extend project deadlines and start networking now to build up your list of freelancers. A larger freelancer pool doesn’t necessarily mean instant help when you need it— you’ll be competing with other businesses for some of the same freelancers. A big budget may not always win you a contractor, either. Freelancers want to work with reasonable clients and perform work that they enjoy. This means that they may not always choose the highest bidder for their services. So how can you ensure freelancers want to work with your business? First, treat them as partners. As Stefan Palios, a freelance writer, told Forbes, “It’s simple: as a freelancer, I work in partnership with my clients. I’m an expert at what I do and they are an expert at what they do. We both have a part to play, and that’s great.” Second, pay promptly. Palios continues with, “I can’t tell you how nice it is to simply know a client will pay you and not have to expend mental energy chasing them down.” Remember, freelancers are small business owners too—and they don’t enjoy chasing unpaid invoices any more than you do. Step 4: Learn to Manage a Remote Team Most freelancers are remote workers—they work in their own space and on their own time (if you’re asking a freelancer to act like an employee, you’ll want to hire an employee instead). If you don’t already manage remote workers, start learning how to manage a remote team, including determining the needed collaboration tools, including meeting apps, shared documents, feedback methods, and communication channels. That last part is essential: working with freelancers also means improving your remote-team communication skills. Don’t leave freelancers wondering what’s going on. Ensure you’re available and communicative. Providing feedback and clear directions are what every freelancer needs, no matter how experienced, recommended, or brilliant they are. Step 5: Talk to Your HR Team Human resources should be your new best friend as you juggle employees and freelancers. No, your freelancer won’t be employed by your HR team, but consulting with your human resources department (or outsourced HR professional) can help you find the right freelancer and keep you out of hot water in terms of classifying a skilled worker as “employee” versus “contractor.” Ask your HR team how to manage your freelancer pool. Hiring a freelancer requires due diligence, including relationship management. HR can vet freelance candidates and manage the ongoing conversation to keep your list of potential freelancers up-to-date. They can also guide you on the boundaries associated with using freelancers. It’s a mental shift to utilize freelancer talent, including deciding when to work with an independent contractor versus hiring an employee. But with a bit of preparation, you can use freelancers successfully to grow your business. Step 6: Remember Your In-House Team, Too Freelancers can’t do everything: you still need a strong in-house team to manage the freelance relationship and to ensure you’re getting what you want from your freelancers. So take steps to keep your valuable employees from jumping ship. Competitive pay, additional benefits such as mental health coverage, and industry-standard (or better) perks are essential to retaining employees. It’s well known that people leave managers, not companies—which means that you (and your managers) need to also be the bosses that people want to work for. That includes adopting a coaching mentality, listening to your employees, and modeling healthy self-care, such as taking vacation time. Freelancers are dependent upon your team to succeed. Your team, however, is dependent upon you. Hiring a freelancer can help you meet various business goals in a cost-effective, convenient way. To ensure a positive experience and prime results, hone in on what you hope to accomplish and take the time to find the right candidate for the job. If you're pleased with the freelancer you chose, be sure to maintain a relationship with them so they can utilize their expertise in the future. On the flipside, if you determine they're not the best fit, don't be afraid to continue your search. Best of luck in your search for the perfect freelancer!