The 7 steps to finding the best freelancer.

Your search for the right freelancer doesn't have to be a mythical quest. Here are 7 steps to finding the best freelance worker for your needs.
Apr 13, 2021 • 10 minute read
Francesco Solfrini @francescosolfrin
Technical Co-pilot
Cover photo for The 7 steps to finding the best freelancer.

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Times they are a changin’

Have you heard we are in the middle of a freelance revolution? More and more talent are leaving traditional forms of employment to become independent workers.

If you’re looking for a freelancer for your next job, you can certainly find one easily. Online marketplaces like Freelancer.com give you access to millions of talented freelancers and help you screen them with clear ranking criteria. Each talent profile comes with an overall score, as well as more granular indicators such as:

  • Jobs completed

  • Repeat hire rate

  • Ability to deliver on time and on budget

  • Client reviews.

Being able to access a virtually endless pool of talent from across the globe gives you lots of choices. But you might begin to wonder:

How to choose the best freelancer among so many?

The paradox of choice

In his book, The Paradox of Choice, American psychologist Barry Schwartz talks about overchoice - also called choice overload. This is a cognitive impairment by which people who are faced with too many options have a hard time deciding, and as a result they freeze up in a sort of decision-making paralysis.

You certainly can’t afford that, especially when you have a pending deadline or a project to deliver! 

To overcome this, you might be tempted to take two approaches. However, neither are ideal (don’t worry, we’ll show you the best way to move forward in a bit).

These two less-than-ideal options are to:

  • Take a shortcut and just pick the first talented freelancer that “seems” ok. However, this person might not be the best person for the job. 

  • Trying to avoid the above scenario, you could fully dedicate yourself to the task and spend hours researching. This would increase your chances of finding a good match but it would interfere with your ability to focus on your principal duties.

Plus, finding someone “good” is not enough. You want someone who shows you a different way of approaching the task, someone who wows you with their skills and professionalism. You deserve to work with someone great, a true unicorn!

In the fifteen years I spent in the advertising industry, I have worked with several freelancers. Over the years, I have developed a method to find the best talent - a method that has never failed me. 

So without further delay, let me share with you my 7-step process to find the best freelancer for your job.

The 7 steps to finding the best freelancer for the job

1. Prepare a killer brief

This is the first thing you need to do. Don’t leave it for later, thinking that you can approach it after you’ve found your freelancer. Tailoring the brief for the freelancer is a good idea, but first, you want to map out the requirements for the project in writing. 

You’ll see that having a brief in front of you will give you clarity on the task and the type of talent you’re looking for. 

When preparing a brief, don’t just go for the bare minimum, but provide any contextual information that can help gain a better understanding of the project or task. Paint the bigger picture and give stimulus to support the development of new ideas. 

Of course, you don’t want to overload the freelancer with research, data and details that are not relevant to them - what you need to do is find the right balance between too much and too little information.

2. Assign a realistic budget

While the budget is one of the key elements of a good brief, I want to talk about it in detail because of its importance. Defining a clear budget helps you stop and think about the type of talent you want to work with. 

I’m not necessarily talking about the need for an ultra high budget - as a high budget is not the only way to gain access to an excellent resource. You can find unicorns that don’t cost you the entire pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. 

However, to find them you need to be prepared to invest a bit of time.

rainbow-over-fieldPhoto by Todd Cravens on Unsplash

To decide the right budget, start by looking at median market rates for the type of resource you need, whether that’s a logo designer, a data entry person or branding specialist. 

You can do this by looking at the average fee on talent marketplaces like Freelancer.com, by searching online or asking the people in your network who know the area you’re recruiting for. They will tell you if the monetary figure you have in mind is reasonable and what calibre of talent it will give you access to. 

Talking to them might give you a better understanding of the category:

  • Are the skills you’re hiring in demand? 

  • Does your project represent a portfolio-building opportunity for a freelancer?

  • What can you leverage in the negotiation process?

Learning these details from a casual conversation could be a great bonus!

Assigning a budget from the start will help you come to terms with reality. It forces you to understand what the market offers and assign a realistic budget for the job at hand. 

If you want to go lower than the median fees, you can still do it. But having a clear picture of the market will make you aware that a lower budget might mean you'll have to compromise on something else.

3. Wear a “talent-scout” hat

I highly encourage you to go through portfolios of different prospects to understand what the market offers in terms of available skills. 

This lets you identify potential trends, latest technologies, or ideas you haven’t considered. And it strengthens your brief, allowing you to clearly express what you’re looking for (and what you don’t want). 

The other benefit of this task is that you’ll come across as more knowledgeable when you meet with potential freelancers, helping you to gain their respect and to rule out any freelancer that is inflating their knowledge or experience. 

Scouting the talent market also helps you validate your budget expectations, which guarantees smooth sailing for the remaining phases of the project. 

If you come across some really interesting freelancer profiles, make a note of them (save their name and bookmark the link to their profile). This will come in handy later on.


4. Create a quick checklist of freelancer traits

Now that you have the brief, the budget and a good idea of the talent pool, it’s very easy to come up with a checklist of what your ideal freelancer looks like. 

Besides the obvious competencies and technical skills, make sure you consider soft skills such as their ability to communicate, their approach to work and any additional traits that are important to you.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do you want them to have a casual or formal approach? 

  • Do you want someone who fits with your company’s culture, or do you just want someone who can complete simple tasks independently? 

  • Do you want someone with a sense of humour? It might not apply to you, but for some people that’s a deal-breaker!

  • Do you want someone local so you can meet face-to-face? If not, are you or your team equipped to handle any time-zone differences if the freelancer works from a different geographical location?

Whatever you include in your checklist, try to follow these two major principles:

Be specific

While you want to set yourself up for the chance to work with freelancers long-term, your criteria need to fit the specific project and budget at hand. 

Think about the person you went out on a date with when you were sixteen. Were you thinking about spending the rest of your life with them? Probably not. You were just considering how their dance moves could impress your friends at the next party; or were looking for a cinema fanatic who could spend hours with you dissecting a film frame-by-frame. 

What was perfect back then might not suit your current self, right?

To give you a simple example, if you run a winery, don’t just look for a graphic designer, look for a wine label designer. 

To take it even one step further, consider a wine label designer who specialises in illustration if that’s your thing. 

Heck, you can go further than that by choosing a wine-label illustrator who specialises in a specific medium, like pen and ink, sketches or watercolor.

Be realistic 

As for your budget, you need to be realistic about what the market has to offer. It’s not realistic requiring an endless list of criteria that few freelancers would meet. 

That’s not to say we’ve forgotten your quest: we are still looking for a unicorn, but we’re not there yet.

As a rule of thumb, I would have no more than ten requirements. Less is even better.

Keep in mind that your checklist should be proportional to your budget. A higher budget allows you to access freelancers with more experience and skills. If you’re in this position, go ahead and be picky about what you need. 

However, if you have a conservative budget, don’t expect less experienced freelancers to meet every criterion on your list.

5. Create a shortlist

collection of plush unicorn toysPhoto by June Gathercole on Unsplash

You’re on a roll! With your checklist at hand, you can easily come up with a shortlist of potential unicorn freelancers.

There are two ways to do this:

  1. Go back and look at the most interesting profiles you’ve come across while completing Step 3. Do you have at least two or three freelancers that could be suitable for the job? Do they all fit the criteria in your checklist? If so, you can move on to Step 6. Otherwise keep reading.

  2. Post a project on your online marketplace like Freelancer.com. This is an easy task since you already have a clear brief at hand. Just identify the key details and include them in your project. I suggest you don’t share the full brief at this stage. More likely it will include sensitive information you only want to disclose with the chosen freelancer.

Whether you’ve identified them in the scouting phase or via posting a project, now you have a list of freelancers to consider. Use your checklist to cull them down until you end up with a final shortlist of two or three talented individuals.


6. Assess the freelancers

You’re close to the finish line. This is the time to validate the impressions you initially formed when reading the freelancers’ profiles or their responses to your project.

Contact the shortlisted freelancers so you can find out more about them and their ability to deliver the project. 

If you can, try to have a face-to-face meeting with them (either a real-life meeting or a video call). It’ll help you pick up several nuances that are very important in making your final decision.

Use your checklist to help you keep your line of questioning on track. 

For lengthy and/or business-critical projects, you might also consider giving your candidates a smaller test project to help you assess their skills before hiring them for anything more significant.

You could also ask questions like:

  • How would you approach this project? 

  • How do you see it compared to similar projects you’ve done in the past?

  • What are the key challenges you see in completing this project?

  • What is your current workload? 

  • How soon can you deliver?

  • Do you have any recommendations in regard to how the work should be organized or broken down into steps?

This is also the time to talk about preferred methods of communication (email vs instant messaging, phone call vs video call, etc.) and frequency. 

Just remember: you’re the client, so they should accommodate your preferences!

The time you spend in assessing the freelancers should be directly proportional to the importance and length of the project and whether or not it’s someone you want working on recurring tasks. 

The last thing to consider is that when you contact a freelancer, you’re also putting yourself and your company out there - make sure you make a great impression! 

The best freelancers want to work with the best clients. They are in demand and won’t respond to incomplete briefs or to clients who don’t offer the conditions that will allow them to thrive.

7. Find your unicorn

unicorn trophyPhoto from Getty Images

Observing how the freelancers respond to your questions and conduct themselves during the interview will give you a very good understanding of their ability to meet your checklist.

While some of them may have made a good impression “on paper”, they might not be “the one” for the job. 

If, after all of that, you’re still undecided, you can’t go wrong by trusting your intuition. In all likelihood, this approach will lead you to the individual you find the easiest to work with. Very often that’s the key to a successful project.

Once you’ve made your selection, contact your freelancer and congratulate them. If you haven’t done it yet, share with them the full process you went through to find them. 

This is not a formality or a way to boost their ego. It shows how serious you are and makes them even more inclined to offer you their A-game.

Bottom Line

Contrary to common belief, unicorn freelancers are not mythological creatures. They are real and can be found via the simple 7-step process described.

And here are the benefits of a truly special unicorn:

  • They can only be captured by a maiden. Yes, that’s you! A client who has prepared a killer brief, assigned a realistic budget and conducted themselves professionally.

  • They walk so softly, their hooves make no sound. Working with them is a breeze.

  • Their horns have magical healing qualities. They can fix any business problems you have (within their area of expertise, of course).

  • They symbolize prosperity and peace. That’s what your company can expect from this collaboration. 

Why not get started and find your perfect freelancer today!

Header image by hamur0w0 on Wunderstock

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