LET'S GET STRATEGIC
Vetting Freelance Talent in 2023
by Linda Pophal
The use of freelancers and contractors is on the rise, and this trend is likely to continue as hordes of workers are laid off or decide they simply aren’t willing to give up the freedom and flexibility of remote and hybrid work to return full-time to physical workplaces. Freelancers can offer great benefits to employers who know what to look for, what to look out for, and how to effectively evaluate talent before bringing them on board.
THE GROWING GIG ECONOMY
Research conducted by Gusto indicates that over the past few years, contractor payments have risen 23%, with the ratio of contractors per employee at nearly 1-to-5. Among U.S.-based contractors, the most common tasks outsourced include the following:
- Consulting—27% of U.S. contractors and 18% of international contractors consult for their clients.
- Creative work—This is the second most common area for U.S. and international contractors, with 27% of U.S. contractors and 26% of international contractors doing this work. This typically includes social media management, design services, and copywriting.
- Administrative or back-office support—18% of U.S. contractors and 37% of international contractors provide back-office support.
Freelancers allow companies to focus on their core business without having to worry about training and managing new employees—or doing the work themselves. They also represent a lower risk than in-house employees because they minimize the impact of a potential bad hire who might be harder to part ways with.
Companies have access to a wide range of information they can review online to gain additional insights into candidates. The two must-do’s, regardless of the type of talent being considered, are to ask for work samples and for recommendations or references. The bottom line is that you want to have confidence that the individual can do the type of work you’re looking for and that they’ve done it successfully for others.
ASK FOR WORK SAMPLES
Casey Jones is founder and head of marketing and finance at CJ&CO, a digital marketing company. Jones says that the “first thing I look for is the ability to create humanized content.” That’s important, he states, “because the audience is highly receptive to engaging content and, ideally, it should feel like a two-way conversation.” Humanized content helps develop deeper audience connections, he notes.
Every organization, of course, will have its own must-have criteria when vetting freelance talent, based on its unique needs and brand, audience, and areas of focus. “You need someone who can not only produce high-quality work, but also communicate effectively and understand your brand’s unique voice,” says Marcus Clarke, founder and head of SEO at Searchant. If freelance candidates can’t produce samples—no matter how new they are to their field—“that’s a big red flag,” says Amy Weiher, founder and creative director of Weiher Creative.
The quality of work samples also obviously has an impact. When reviewing samples, Jonathan Elser, founder and co-CEO of EcomHalo, says that “alarm bells start ringing if the work the applicant shows us has mistakes or typos.” Another red flag is if they have not properly credited any work that has been borrowed, whether it’s text or images. One challenge for vetting freelancers is that the work product being shared may have been edited or improved upon by former clients. That makes asking for—and reaching out to—references very important.
ASK FOR RECOMMENDATIONS OR REFERENCES
Ask potential freelancers to supply references and referrals in addition to doing some searching online to see if you can find client lists or other information to help you connect with people who can provide valid answers on the quality of their work. When you connect with former clients, ask questions about how well the freelancer understood and took direction and how they responded to feedback and direction, and ask that all-important question, “Would you hire them again?”
Fit is another important consideration when hiring freelancers, just as it is when hiring full-time employees. Freelancers, just like their on-site employee colleagues, need to be able to get along with others and comply with the organization’s policies and preferences.
There are some additional areas that organizations can explore when vetting freelancers; these can help improve the chances that your choice will be the right one. Freelancer motivations are a good area to explore, suggests Weiher. “I like to ask my freelance writers why they do what they do,” she says. “If I get an answer that gushes over the English language or reveals some deep need to affect people’s emotions with their writing, that’s the writer for me. If I get an answer that involves needing money, not liking their boss, etc., I’m going to be much more apt to pass on that writer and continue looking.”
Finding out how long they worked with previous companies is also important. This information can offer a clue to whether a freelancer prefers to stay with one company over a period of time or if they are quick to quit. It also gives an indication of client satisfaction with their work—the longer they’ve worked with a client, the more that says about the quality of their work.