Creative output is not a cure-all for a poor relationship, and a freelancer you get along with personally may not have the raw creative or technical firepower to accomplish your business goals. It’s a matter of balance, but ideally, you need both components. That’s why it’s critical to vet a freelancer before signing an agreement.
Here are some questions to get you started, and some thoughts on what you might look for in a freelancer’s answers:
- What types of content do you have experience in, and what are your specialties? You probably have a decent idea of the freelancer’s skill set from your research, but you may not be aware of some interesting items. For example, you may be hiring someone for their web content expertise, and then you learn that they can also help you with email campaigns. A designer might be able to help you with your overall branding in addition to creating a logo.
- What industries have you worked in? Obviously, prior knowledge of your industry and competition could be helpful. In a highly technical field when you’re looking for a subject matter expert (SME), it may be essential. However, here’s some food for thought: There can often be an advantage to hiring independents with experience outside your industry, because they can bring different perspectives from those who are specialized in a niche. Top-notch creatives have broad business experience and pride themselves on being ‘quick studies’ to apply their talents in new industries and topic areas.
- What are your business hours? This is more important than it appears to be on the surface–what you’re really trying to ferret out is whether a freelancer is full-time or part-time, which will give you some insight into the freelancer’s flexibility, availability, and perhaps even overall commitment to the business.
- What’s your policy on revisions? A common response here might be “I work until you’re happy, but I find that, if I don’t nail it on the first try, it only requires tweaks.” Others may say matter-of-factly that the first two rounds of revisions are included, and additional work is at an hourly rate after that. It’s a warning sign if this discussion makes someone uncomfortable or evasive–a professional freelancer should be willing to talk openly about processes.
- Can you tell me about a recent project that went well and why you believe that’s the case? How about a project that didn’t go well? Here, you’re trying to get a feel for the freelancer’s work style and the types of projects they’ve been involved in. Complex or simple? Tight deadlines? Large volume? It’s important to consider the response in terms of not just the stories themselves but how they’re told: with details and professional confidence, or with vague defensiveness or even arrogance?
- What’s your usual process/how do you work? I’ll be honest: When I get this question, the little devil on my shoulder wants to answer, “How would you like me to work? That’s what I’ll do!” An appropriate response doesn’t need to be ridiculously detailed, but it should provide you insights about the usual steps a freelancer takes with an average client: brainstorming, outlines, communications preferences, approval processes, recap meeting, etc.
- Do you have some past clients I may contact as references? When you vet a freelancer, they should be willing and able to give you the names and contact information of several people; keep in mind, these will be satisfied customers for whom the jobs have gone well. Even though it’s common practice in creative fields to do work for many entities within the same industry, it may not be in the freelancer’s best interest to have a client know he’s working with a competitor or perceived competitor.
- What’s your availability? If fast response time is one of your baseline needs, pay particular attention to this answer. At the risk of stating the obvious, the best freelancers pack their days and may be scheduling two months or more into the future. On the other hand, if your project is a good fit and pays well, that may be all the incentive you need to get a freelancer on the job.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: I’m leaving out the question “How much do you charge?” Budget alignment is obviously part of the process to vet a freelancer, but the reality is that most experienced freelancers are rightfully reluctant to give a precise number on the spot. Others might be willing to give an estimated range for similar projects, or even to provide a rate sheet. So sure, go ahead and ask the question, but recognize you will probably need to wait until you’ve given enough details for the freelancer to provide a detailed quote.
This post is adapted from Jake Poinier’s Dr. Freelance guide, Help! My Freelancers Are Driving Me Crazy: 12 Keys to Driving Loyalty and Results from Your Creative Workforce–available on Amazon.