How to find freelancers online

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There’s no excuse now for any business to have an amateurish logo, website or content. Access to experienced freelancers online means polished marketing materials, clever copywriting and proficient programming skills is just an email away. But how do you find the right freelancer for you?

Around 9 percent of Australia’s labour market is freelance, which means you can tap into a highly skilled workforce to get custom design, coding and writing done at a fraction of the cost of hiring an in-house expert. There are hundreds of online freelance marketplaces, giving access to millions of freelancers all over the world.

Finding the right freelancer for your needs can be quite a challenge. The old motto, “Fast, Good, Cheap: Pick any two”, is a good reminder when you’re looking for freelance talent. Top talent is expensive but generally will deliver a higher quality job and deliver fast — if you can afford it.

Scope the job

Firstly, a little planning up front can save you a whole lot of angst and time later on. What outcome do you want? Before you look for someone to design your logo, make sure you have a clear picture of what your business does and how you want to present yourself. Before looking for a website programmer, work out what you want your new website to do — will you sell products online, or do you want to encourage new clients to make contact?

The more specific you are, the easier it will be to find the right person.

Not sure what you want? Don’t just look at your competitors’ websites: you want to be fresh, not a carbon copy. Look at businesses from other industries and even other countries, and start a collection of things that appeal to you and things you don’t like. What functions and designs make sense for your business? Work out what is essential, and what is nice-to-have.

Set a budget

Start with a figure in mind and then do some research to see if your ballpark number is sensible. Talk to friends and other business owners, and have a word with your accountant.

Websites, for example, can cost as much (or as little) as a car. A perfectly suitable one will get you from A to B for a couple of thousand dollars or less — but your maintenance costs can be high, it won’t look flashy and you will need to be careful about loading it up too much. Set a realistic budget, and include “room to wriggle” if the person you want to engage charges a higher rate.

Spell it out clearly

There are two keys to a successful freelancer relationship — one is clear communication and the second is honest negotiation. The more clearly you spell out what you want, preferably in writing, the more likely you will get it. If you are not sure about something, ask for their input and then be prepared to discuss further. Before you go ahead, make sure you both agree what will be delivered (including what copyright you will have), when you will get it, how much you will pay and how and when the payment will happen.

Start hunting – big marketplaces

There are some very big freelance marketplaces on the web. Many are free for employers, with the site accepting payments and taking a cut of the freelancer’s rate once the job is paid.

Usually, you post your project on the website, and freelancers bid for the job. Often, freelancers’ online portfolios, history and testimonials from other clients are available to check, and you offer the job to your preferred bidder.

Sometimes dozens of freelancers will create a design or detailed project proposal for your job but only the one person whose work you select will be paid for their work — so most experienced and talented freelancers don’t bother with the bidding sites. The large marketplaces are filled with freelancers who are just starting out and haven’t built up a solid client portfolio, so they can be a risk.

The biggest freelance marketplaces include Freelancer.com, DesignCrowd and 99Designs (which all began in Australia) and Elance, oDesk and Guru. All have tens of thousands of freelancers on their books (sometimes hundreds of thousands) from all over the world.

The big marketplaces can be a good way to get a quick job done cheaply, but they are also overwhelming. You’ll often have a lot of bids on your project, and it can be hard to know which response to select and whether the bidder will deliver a quality job.

Niche marketplaces

Don’t forget to ask your own connections for recommendations — word of mouth is still a great way to find freelancers. Specialist agencies and directories for freelancers include:

Most freelancers will also have a presence on the professional social media network LinkedIn, which can be a great place to find top talent. Search for ‘people’ by ‘location’, and include keywords such as ‘freelance’ and ‘design.’ LinkedIn algorithms are tailored to your own profile and connections, so search results will be influenced by your own contacts and connections, which can often deliver very suitable freelancers with experience in your industry.