A playbook for outsourcing to freelancers

Posted by Chris Woods on 4 Jan, 2017
View comments Marketing
The freelance economy is booming. Whether you’re employing freelancers already, or just embarking on outsourcing, our playbook will make the process easier.

In fact, there are more than 55 million freelancers in the USA currently, a number which represents 35% of the entire country’s workforce according to Freelancing in America: 2016, an annual report by Upwork.

From app developers to web designers, content writers to social media marketers, there is a huge pool of freelance talent available for hire by the hour or by the project. For businesses, the exploding freelance culture means on demand and flexible access to almost any marketing skill imaginable, with no long-term contracts and none of the costs of hiring a new employee.

Working with freelancers is different to briefing a regular member of staff though.

Not only do you need to choose a platform to connect with freelancers boasting the skills you need, you also need to sift through proposals, decide on the right match and manage the relationship as the project gets underway. Whether you’re one of the millions of businesses employing freelancers already, or about to embark on an outsourcing journey for the first time, our playbook will make it easier to find, hire and manage a freelancer.

The on demand economy in numbers

If you haven’t yet completed a project with a freelancer, the chances are you will do at some point in the near future:

  • Between 2007 and 2015, there has been a huge increase in hyper-specialists. These are freelancers who offer a very niche, very specific service and they are thriving. According to People Per Hour, there has been a 7x increase in marketing hyper specialists, a 14 x increase in writing hyper-specialization, a 20x increase in design and a 38 x growth in web developing and mobile hyper-specialism. This growth in specialists means you’re now more likely to be able to find that very niche expert you require to get the job done from the freelancing community.
  • Freelancing is now becoming an accepted career path with 63% choosing to join the freelancing economy in 2016. In 2015, 43% freelanced out of necessity, compared with 37% in 2016.
  • 73% of freelancers say technology makes it easier to find freelance work (Source: Freelancing in America: 2016)
  • 66% of freelancers say they have found more work online in the last 12 months than they did in 2015 (Source: Freelancing in America: 2016)

So, now you’re ready to join this growing community, here are a few do’s and don’t to set you off on the right track. These are guidelines, rather than policies from each individual platform, and best practice advice from someone who has been a freelancer and worked with thousands of clients! Some of these things may seem like common sense but as you’ll see, that can often fly right out the window when it comes to working with freelancers. To keep your freelance team productive, happy and engaged, follow our playbook…

1. Set a fair budget

Now, we know that oftentimes, freelancing is a resource used when there isn’t a big budget to get a job done. However, you are still employing someone, albeit in a temporary capacity, and the budget you define should be fair for the work you expect back in return.

This employer has fallen foul of that rule (names obscured to protect the guilty):

  • At first glance, 12 euros / $12.53 dollars might seem like an Ok-ish rate for 1000 words. But, let’s break it down:
  • Unless you are paying in the same currency the freelancer also uses, there will be an exchange rate to factor in, which could be less than favorable to the worker.
  • The platform will take a commission from the freelancer earnings, not the employer. PeoplePerHour takes 15% of the first $217 earned each month, then 3.5% for all earnings after that. On Upwork, there’s a 20% service fee on the first $500 billed to each client, 10% on billings between $501.-$10,000 and 5% for billing exceeding $10,000.
  • There are also withdrawal fees from the platform to contend with before the freelancer can access their cash. For PeoplePerHour, that means a $2.99 domestic bank transfer fee if you aren’t dealing in their home currency or a 1.9% fee to send to PayPal.
  • For Upwork there is a flat $1 fee to request a withdrawal to PayPal. For Skrill, there is a $1 fee per transfer plus a currency conversion fee for any payment not received in US dollars.
  • After all that, the freelancer will also have to pay income tax on their earnings and likely spend a good couple of hours researching the products, creating the content and then making any requested edits.

Suddenly that 12 bucks takeaway is looking more like a couple of dollars for several hours work at a skilled trade.

2. Write a useful brief

This job posting commits two carnal sins. First of all, a $100 budget to write and distribute 15 press releases? That’s at least 15 -20 hours worth of work, requires an extensive media contacts list (hard to come by, expensive in and of itself and built up over a considerable amount of time) and is subject to all of the same fees outlined above.

Not only does this post fail on the budget side of things, it’s also lacking a useful brief. After upping the available funds for this job, the whole post could do with a second look. As an employer you want to attract the right talent to fill gaps in your own or your business’ skillset. You can only do that by being specific about what you’re actually looking for.

This post should state the subject or industry for the news releases to ensure only the right candidates apply. Someone with experience in the automotive industry or who is primarily a B2B or tech writer will likely not be the best fit for a fashion and beauty PR for example.

Adding the country of distribution for the eventual press releases is also highly advisable. A US freelancer might not have great UK media contacts. Specifying where the releases need to be distributed will save a lot of wasted time and effort sifting through candidates without the required experience or media network.

Contrast the above post with this job advert:

  • This employer ticks all the boxes!
  • Required skills are clearly listed.
  • The monthly commitment required has been shared.
  • The industry is clear
  • The workload has been broken down into a useful tasks format

3. Be realistic in your expectations

As the data on the on demand industry shows, more and more of the workforce is turning to freelancing through choice and as a way of striking out on their own. Where there may have previously been some stigma about freelancing or an expectation that time was being passed waiting for a ‘proper’ job, this is no longer the case. With that in mind, be realistic in your expectations.

Treat your freelance team as you would your own employees. That means no expectation of work or conference calls on a Sunday evening or at 9.00pm at night, unless this has been previously discussed and agreed.

Keep in mind also that as with any service, results may well take time to filter through. This is dependent on the work you outsource but appointing a freelancer to manage your social media for example won’t result in a big leap in genuine followers, subscribers, web traffic or sales in just a few days or weeks.

4. Be fair in your feedback

On the flip side, be fair in your feedback, in both good and bad scenarios. If the freelancer isn’t living up to expectations, a conversation or email flagging up concerns may be all that it takes to set your new team member’s performance back on the right path.

If things don’t change, be honest about why you are terminating the contract. Most platforms will ask you to review your experience with the chosen freelancer – be clear, concise and factual. If you have had a bad experience, this honest review can help save other brands from the same fate.

Likewise, if you have had a great experience, be honest when it comes to rating your freelancer.


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