Published on February 18th, 2013 | by Tom Wake1
How to use online freelance websites more effectively
The days of so called IT gurus charging tens of thousands of pounds to build a naff website that looks impressive, but can only be updated by a man charging £100 an hour, are over.
It’s not just for ‘tech stuff’ either. You can find writers, accountants and a whole range of professionals looking for work on these freelancer website portals.
But before you rush out and start hiring there are a couple of things to bear in mind…
You see not every worker you’ll encounter online will be right for the job. There’s nothing worse than getting half way through a project and realising that the person you’ve hired just isn’t up to the task. That’s why I’ve created this quick guide to help guide you through the process.
Here are our top 10 tips to keep in mind when you hire online
It’s about preparation, patience and practice. Once you get the hang of managing freelancers online it’s actually very straightforward. These tried and tested tips will help you navigate the most common pitfalls and help steer you out on top.
1. Be ultra specific in your brief
Make sure you clarify every detail before work gets underway.
This is perhaps the most important tip. It might sound obvious but you need to be extremely clear and concise when you’re posting jobs otherwise you are setting yourself up for failure. I’ve learnt this the hard way on more than one occasion. Information that you would normally assume to be taken as given needs to be spelled out clearly especially when you’re dealing with tech jobs.
If you’re able to take screenshots and highlight a website issue or annotate a document or design idea, do it! It could save you hours of explaining. Tip: to take a screenshot on a PC you simply press PrtScn or ‘Print Screen’ and it’ll save it to your clipboard. On Macs you need to press shift + command + 3.
2. Wait for several bids to come in first…
When you want a job done fast it can be tempting to plump for the first candidate who makes a bid. The problem with doing this is that you risk paying way over the odds and/or potentially miss out on seeing which other strong applicants are out there.
Try to give it at least 6 hours for a few more bids to come, that way they’ll be outbidding each other. Better still give it 24 hours so that freelancers in other time zones have a chance to apply.
Also don’t be afraid to negotiate! If there’s a candidate you like the look of but the price seems a little steep, drop them a line and see if they’ll revise their offer. You be surprised at how often this works.
3. Immediately ditch any ‘canned’ proposals
More often than not you’ll get a selection of proposals that are simply copy and pasted. In other words the freelancer hasn’t read your job spec, they’ve simply pitched for random work by regurgitating their resume in the hope that you’ll take them on.
Don’t do it!
How can you trust that someone understands the job you’ve posted if they haven’t actually looked at it? It also tells you a lot about a freelancer’s work ethic and integrity. All they’re bothered about is getting a job any which way they can – and the chances are they’re not going to deliver it with the same care and attention as someone who’s taken the time to read and understand your proposal.
4. Take note of time zones and language barriers
It’s a major catch 22. Some of the very best deals on Freelancer websites come from Asia, in particular India and Pakistan.
The benefits are obvious: you can often get expert staff at knock down rates. The downside is that there can sometimes be a language barrier. Sometimes a simple job that should only take 10 seconds to explain suddenly takes hours. Also some parts of the world are more prone to blackouts than others. I’ve had jobs delayed by a day or two simply because the freelancer couldn’t get online.
If your freelancer is in a completely different time zone to you, do bear in mind that you may need to be online and available at funny times to help instruct them regarding any changes.
Weigh up the pros and cons. Your time is valuable and sometimes it can be worth paying a little extra for a candidate for whom English is their first language.
5. Check credentials before you hire (but have realistic expectations)
You can find some great workers on freelance rwebsites but don’t expect Pulitzer prize winning writers or coders fresh out of MIT willing to complete your project for £3.50.
There are some real pros out there but a lot of online freelancers are after a bit of pocket money, while others are just starting out and trying to make a name for themselves. The best thing to do is check their past ratings. How have others scored them? Have they got an online portfolio so that you can see an example of their work?
If you find a ‘good ‘un’ save them to your watchlist and make a note of their details so you can use them for future jobs. It’s far better to find reliable workers who know your individual requirements. You’ll be able to trust them with bigger jobs and you won’t have to explain everything from scratch each time you set up a new job.
6. Have all the necessary login details to hand to save time
As soon as you’ve accepted someone’s bid make sure you can give them everything they need right away so that there are no delays.
For example if you are hiring a freelancer for a website job that might mean providing them with login details and FTP access. Don’t ever give anyone your master details (or personal login), set up a special admin account for Freelance users and change the password after jobs are successfully completed.
Setting up an FTP account varies according to which host you use so look at their help and support documentation. Don’t worry it’s not hard! In most cases it only takes a minute or two.
7. Set up a Skype account so that you can discuss details
A lot of freelancers will ask you for your Skype address when you hire them. Obviously it’s completely up to you whether you do this but it can save time if you’re both trying to relay a lot of information back and forth.
If you don’t want to give out a personal Skype address (completely understandable!) set up a one using a different email address. You can set up a free Skype account here.
Tip: If you’re hiring a freelancer for whom English is their second language don’t expect them to mind their P&Qs. They’re probably not intending to be rude, it’s just that they can come across as ‘direct’. It might sound like they’re barking orders but they’re just trying to get the job done for you as fast as possible.
8. If it’s not working say so!
I’ve often hired freelancers who looked great on paper (and made a great pitch) but was then let down immediately. Problem after problem arises, they get less communicative and sometimes even say the job can’t be done.
If you get the sense that they’re unable to do the job open up a dialogue with them. Politely ask them outright. The chances are they’ll want out if it’s over their head. It’s far better to nip problems in the bud so that you’re not wasting time chasing someone on a job they’re not capable of doing.
Whatever you do in these instances don’t mark the job as complete (otherwise you’ll be liable for payment). Agree that you’re both cancelling the job by mutual agreement and then part amicably. It’s not the end of the world, these things happen.
9. Don’t release payment until you’re completely happy
One of the best things about most of these freelancer websites is that your money is protected and you don’t pay a bean until you’re happy that the job has been completed.
When you hire someone for a job you release funds in what is called an escrow account. This is a separate, independent holding account. It shows the freelancer that you’ve got the funds for the job but also protects you, the employer, because no money will be released into their account until you say so.
If something does go wrong and there’s a dispute, a third party (usually the freelancer website team) can then mediate.
10. Be generous in praise and fair in criticism
If your freelancer gets the job done and there are only a few minor niggles the unspoken etiquette is that you award them 5 stars across the board.
I made the mistake of awarding some 4.8s and 4.9s on one particular website and it upset the freelancer. They rightly explained that if there was anything that I wasn’t 100% happy with I should have let them know so that they could put it right. As it happens they hadn’t really done anything wrong, it just felt excessive to give 5 stars for anything – as 5 stars indicates perfect.
Different rules apply here because the problem for the freelancer is that if their average score is anything less than 5 stars they will lose work. Several employers will only employ 5 star candidates. That’s why it’s essential to maintain clear channels of communication throughout any project.