I run a business that depends very, very heavily on freelance contractors. They’re the lifeblood of my business.
Finding and hiring talented (but affordable) professionals was instrumental in allowing me to scale my business up the way I did. I owe a lot to those guys — I couldn’t have done it without them.
(If you’re wondering, I basically run a small digital publishing company that publishes on Kindle, iTunes, Nook, Kindle Paperback, ACX audiobooks etc. I outsource pretty much everything including writing, cover design, editing, marketing, and project management…everything)
It took me a while to figure out what I was doing. There are good workers out there, and there are bad workers.
And it’s not just a matter of skill.
There are people out there selling their services as “writers” or “designers,” who quite honestly have absolutely no business doing so.
When you post a gig on Upwork, you may find yourself absolutely inundated with shitty proposals from people who suck.
Sorry to be blunt about it, but it’s true.
But believe it or not, the skill issue isn’t even the biggest problem you’ll run into.
It’s not just a matter of being good at the job or not. You’ll also run into problems with things like honesty and reliability. And that’s really what can trip you up.
There’s a Huge Freelance Marketplace Out There. I went through a lot of shitty freelancers before I learned to weed them out.
Upwork has its problems, for clients and for freelancers. But from experience, it’s still the most reliable and widely used bidding platform for this kind of thing. (quick history bit: it used to be oDesk but elance bought them and became upwork)
There’s other platforms too like freelancer.com, guru.com, microwokers, but I like upwork the most.
I will point out that these platforms are not the only way to find freelance contractors. You can also use subreddits like /r/forhire, Fiverr, as well as other resources like 99Designs (for graphic design) and the Problogger job board (for copywriting and content writing).
You can also hire through LinkedIn but it’s a topic for different time because it requires a slightly different strategy.
But honestly, if you’re on a budget and you’re new to all of this, I’d stick with Upwork at first. One of the biggest benefits, other than a sizable pool of potential candidates, is that Upwork has an escrow system that protects both clients and freelancers.
So if your writer flakes out, or your seemingly perfect graphic designer turns out to be a faker who swiped someone else’s portfolio to claim as their own, you’ll be able to avoid getting fleeced out of your money.
This also protects workers from not getting paid for their work. Well, at least in theory. For the most part, Upwork has better support for clients than for freelancers.
But if you’re hiring, that’s a good thing, at least for you.
A Quick Guide to Writing A Good Job Posting for Upwork
This post is more about shitty freelancers to avoid, but I did want to give at least a quick rundown of how to write the kind of job post that attracts the good ones.
Be as specific as you can, just in general. Don’t be vague. Don’t worry. No one’s going to steal your idea. Seriously, they’re not. If they were the kind of people who’d even consider doing that — much less be able to pull it off — they wouldn’t be writing or designing for literal pennies on Upwork. Plus, being too vague comes across as unprofessional. This can be a deterrent for experienced freelancers.
Be specific about your niche and topic. This may matter more for some things than others. But if you’re having an ebook ghostwritten, you want someone who’s at least somewhat familiar with the subject matter. Tell applicants what it’s about, at least in a general sense. Is it about diet and weight loss? Self-help? The good old perennial “how to make money online” category? Someone who’s a world-class expert on ketogenic diets might not know shit about how to flip antiques on eBay.
Figure out your budget, and state it up front. Don’t leave it blank and wait for everyone to haggle their way to the bottom. Now, this approach might be worth considering if you’ve got a little budget to play around with. But look. If you’re willing to pay like $0.01/word for a 5k-10k word ebook, you need to realize that prices literally don’t even go any lower than that. If you’re already at the low end of the budget scale, you’re not going to get people to undercut each other even more. Not listing a budget is actually a deterrent for many experienced writers and designers. It comes across as unprofessional, and makes it obvious you don’t know what you’re doing. Just list the price you’re willing to pay. If you’re on a low budget, own it. Give some talented newcomer a shot at their first ever paying gig.
Ask for samples of their previous work. Just about anyone should be able to show you something to prove they can do what you need them to do. Even someone who’s never been paid for writing or designing should be able to at least show you some spec work.
I may do another post about this at some point that goes into more detail.
But basically, these guidelines can help you put together a good post that attracts good talent.
Well, for the most part. Again, you’ll get proposals that suck.
And sure, if you need a writer and the proposal’s in broken English, you can just toss that out and move on.
But the contractors that can really, genuinely hurt your business usually make it past that point. They may even interview well.
The problems don’t become apparent until later on.
The 3 Kinds of Bad Contractors That Can Seriously Ruin Your Business
I’ve had my fair share of bad experiences, that’s for sure. And over time, I’ve run into enough of these situations that I’ve started noticing some patterns.
Overall, there are 3 different “types” I’ve run into that cause trouble.
The whole point of making this post is so if you’re new to hiring on Upwork, you’ll have a heads-up about what to keep an eye out for.
So, here they are.
#1. The Disappearing Act
Also known as “the flake.”
Their proposal caught your eye immediately. They were a league ahead of everyone else in the game.
The interview was perfect.
You gave them a paid sample project first (always a good idea, by the way), and it was astounding.
At what you’re paying, this guy is a steal.
So you’ve got the money in escrow, he’s ready to start, everything’s good to go.
Then a few days later, with the due date coming up, you send them a quick email asking how it’s coming along.
You never hear from them again.
Eventually, you end up pulling your money out of escrow, scrapping the project, and posting again to find someone else.
Ideally, you won’t lose any money on this guy. But what you do lose is something even more precious: your time.
So what’s this guy’s deal? Why is he such a flake?
Honestly, there are a couple possibilities. None of these are excuses.
Depression, alcohol abuse, other mental illnesses. Major depressive disorder can fuck your shit up. None of these things excuse this disappearing act, but they are possible underlying issues. I’m not trying to make you sympathize with The Disappearing Act guy, just pointing out people don’t flake out like that randomly out of spite. They’re a full time college student, or they have small kids, and they greatly overestimated how much free time they had available for your project. Again, this is not an excuse or anything. Just a potential factor. They took on too much work at once and overloaded themselves, leading to smaller projects and lower-paying clients falling by the wayside. Again, not your fault, not an excuse, just a reason. They’ve got performance anxiety. This usually ties into number 1, with some kind of substratum of depression or anxiety going on in there.
Those are just a few of the reasons this shit happens, but none of them are your problem.
When it comes to The Disappearing Act, you want to have a zero tolerance policy for things like missed due dates or delayed communications.
Regardless of what’s going on with them, your time and money are too valuable to put them at risk with someone who would waste them.
How to Avoid The Disappearing Act
So how do you make sure that great writer or designer you just hired isn’t a flake?
On Upwork, you can simply look at their previous history.
Check their total hours logged.
As a rough guideline, when you’re starting out, don’t hire them unless they’ve logged over 100 hours total to reduce turnovers.
Sure, you can get seasoned workers that are new to upwork that doesn’t have many hours logged yet but it can be a homerun or a strikeout because they don’t have their feedback at stake.
When you get a bit more advanced, you can consider working with new workers because you’ll know what to look for.
Also, look a little more closely. What is their history like with long term clients they’ve had in the past?
I recommend going with workers who have worked with a past long term client for at least three months.
How are their ratings? Do they have good reviews?
If you’re not sure, move on to the next candidate.
#2: The Time Waster
This guy looks promising at first. Good portfolio, decent work history. So, you hire him.
Next thing you know, he’s blowing up your inbox 24/7 with questions, comments, clarifications, and apparently anything else that pops into his head.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. A few questions from your contractor is a good thing. Freelancers will sometimes need a clarification on something, and that’s fine. In fact, it can be a good thing. It’s a sign of professionalism. It means they take their work seriously.
But this guy takes it to the extreme.
And yet, for all their many questions, they still end up delivering something that’s way off of what you wanted.
They usually mean well, but they end up costing more time and money than they’re worth.
How to Avoid The Time Waster
So how do you keep this from happening?
What I do, is I hold an initial voice call when I hire them. I record and document it. That way, I know what’s been covered, and what hasn’t.
But that’s really just an extra layer of precaution. The best way to avoid The Time Waster is to only hire contractors who have handled similar jobs in the past.
I’ve already mentioned looking for someone who understands your niche, but that’s just part of it.
You also want someone who’s done the same type of work before.
Let’s say you’re hiring a writer for an ebook about The Cabbage Soup Diet.
You definitely want someone who knows a thing or two about weight loss, nutrition, and things of that nature.
But you also want someone who has specifically written ebooks before. Someone could be a world class email sales copywriter, but not really quite have a handle on how to style and structure an ebook.
It’s its own format, with its own peculiarities. There’s more to writing a good ebook than just being a good writer in general.
So if you need an ebook, look for someone who does ebooks regularly. The same goes for blog posts, sales letters, logo design, or just about anything else.
#3: The Fake
They have impressive reviews. Their profile looks nice, very professional.
And their portfolio is perfect. It’s exactly what you’re looking for.
Sounds great, right? There’s just one problem.
Everything about them is a lie.
They scammed someone else into writing some content for them, for which they never paid. So voila, they have a portfolio filled with seemingly legitimate work.
That professional looking headshot? Also stolen. Run it through Google Reverse Image Search, and you’ll realize they stole it from some small town newspaper editor named Frances from Bumhole, Indiana.
You just hired The Fake.
They may then metamorphose into The Disappearing Act.
But there’s an even more insidious possibility.
They might be, in turn, scamming someone else into doing the actual work for them.
Seriously, that happens. I’ve met writers with some horror stories about that. The Fake may be sourcing work on Upwork, or content mills, or wherever, then posting it as a client.
But either way, The Fake is probably the worst kind of shitty freelancer.
The others may just be kind of hapless, not ill intentioned. The Fake is a straight-up scam artist.
How to Avoid The Fake
How do you avoid scammers and fakers?
Hold a Skype call with them. Ask them to explain, in their own words, what your project entails.
You can pretty easily tell who’s a faker and who’s genuine, based on their answers.
There are some really crappy freelancers out there. But there are also plenty of gems. You just have to find them. And when you find them, keep them. They will make your life a WHOLE lot easier.
Most freelancers are sincere, hardworking people with good time management skills and plenty of professionalism.
But by knowing the “warning signs,” you can save yourself a whole lot of headaches and frustrations by avoiding people who suck.
I hope this post was helpful, because hiring freelancers can be a total game changer for your business. It can be the key to scaling up and bringing in more money — all while reducing the amount of work that you have to do yourself. Also, if you hire overseas, some of these guys will take care of work for you at pennies on the dollar of US workers.
I hope they improve your business and quality of life as they did to mine. I wish you the best of luck!