If you’re a project manager, you may have thought about outsourcing a project that your team no longer has the resources for, either because the project requires skills you do not have or time that is better spent elsewhere. Temporarily hiring a freelancer can help resolve these two pain points, allowing you to find a person (or a team) that can successfully complete your project within a fixed budget and still keep your company moving in the right direction. With over 2.4 million American workers now freelancing, you have many options to choose from, and several websites offer services to help match project managers with freelancers, including the traditional hiring sites like Craigslist, as well as sites like Elance and oDesk.
Other sites, like Freelancify, which was started by James Fend, aims to help project managers make better freelance selections. James explains that “Freelancify uses discussion boards and a closed bidding system, [so] freelancers can only bid on projects if they receive an invitation from that project poster. The project poster decides who to send invitations to based upon their interaction on the discussion boards.” This system ultimately reduces the amounts of spam bids and also educates the project poster about what James calls “realistic expectations.” He says that “if you see that a lot of sites have $100 projects where they expect to be the next Google, freelancers are encouraged to chime in on the discussion and let them know, ‘Hey, for $100, you are not going to get this done properly from anyone.'” The site also “builds trust between the two parties by seeing one’s behavior in communication, technical skills, etc. in the works rather than just looking at someone’s portfolio.”
This type of system is designed to help project managers find successful freelancers who can actually get the job done — rather than the freelancer who just responds the fastest or with the lowest bid. While building and maintaining Freelancify, James notes that there are three common traits that project managers should look for if they want a freelancer who will actually be successful. This first trait is, as James explains, “whether they are technically skilled enough to get it done.” While prior work history may be glowing, a freelancer’s work history may not be directly applicable to your project. I’ve personally and previously witnessed the pain of unexpected onboarding time for freelancers at friends’ agencies, which can cause a freelancer to be a burden instead of a blessing.
James also encourages project managers to ask if the prospective freelancer is “going to follow through and do it.” Consider asking for recommendations to ensure the freelancer has a solid work ethic and doesn’t abuse their relationship as a freelancer to bend the flexible rules as a freelancer and play video games when they have deliverables. Finally, James suggests the project managers especially look for the ability to “communicate well enough during the process.” This is especially important if the gig requires constant feedback in both directions, or functions similar to a 9-5 in which constant communication is required to get the job done.
James notes that “factors like work history, recommendations, and rates are all clues to a freelancer’s patter in past behavior” however, James explains that while they are great factors, to take it one step beyond that, “[he] usually recommend[s] always using a trial period, because people will go through [hoops] to win a project but sometimes [give] all the excuses in the world when projects [aren't] getting done on time.”
When considering hiring a freelancer who will be successful in getting your project done, be sure to also look for red flags. For James, non-transparency is the biggest red flag. James says that he likes “to know who [he is] dealing with, what morale they have, their ethics, and honesty. Trust is the biggest factor when putting yourself on the line to get a project done.” He adds that “if they are trying to hide stuff, are short winded in talks, or don’t try to help out,” that these are all all big warning signs. James does warn that work ethics are different in different cultures, so project managers will want to keep this in mind when considering outsourcing freelancers from different countries or regions.
Once you have finally found a good freelancer, keep in mind that they are a freelancer and are, as James explains, situational. He says that “sometimes the good ones go into slumps, get jobs, and don’t put in the hours they used to.” He says that “the trick is to use trial periods with all of them to determine fit; always look for someone who is full-time with freelancing, great communication, and honest.”
Also, be sure that, as a project manager, you are clear about the scope of the project from the beginning. James explains this is critical “in order for freelancers to put in fair bids and be able to know what they are dealing with beforehand.” This is part of the reason James built Freelancify with discussion boards to help clarify projects and help freelancers decide if they are a good fit for a specific project. Allowing a potential freelancer the opportunity to learn the entire scope (including pay) of a project is as important for the success of the project as it is for a project manager to determine if they think the freelancer is a good fit, too.
Are you a project manager who often outsources work to freelancers? What traits do you look for to find a successful freelancer? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Freelance infographic via Credit Donkey.