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Working with freelancers: How to find talent online

Let's get one thing straight -  Australia is expensive! 

Both Sydney and Melbourne made the top 10 of the worlds most expensive cities to live in. In Australia, we also have one of the highest minimum wages in the world, which has now increased to over $17 per hour.

Minimum Wages Around The World - Source - ABC News 2016

Minimum Wages Around The World - Source - ABC News 2016

This is great news for anyone working in Australia, but one of the biggest barriers to starting a new business. 

To counteract this, many entrepreneurs and small business people are hiring staff from overseas to handle:

  • Website Development
  • Sales and Marketing
  • Graphic Design
  • General Business Administration

The Advantages of hiring an online team

There are some obvious advantages to this for Australian small business owners:

  • Cost - Outsourcing these tasks can be significantly cheaper than hiring local talent. Hourly rates on services like upwork are often below $10 per hour.
  • 24/7 Productivity - having workers around the world means tasks can be worked on overnight, while you sleep!
  • Scalability - Having remote workers means that there is no need to rent additional office space. Workers contracts are usually flexible, so you are free to hire more or less workers as needed. 

The disadvantages of hiring an offshore team

Unfortunately, many people don't realise the downsides of hiring an offshore development team before it is too late. This can include:

  • Low Quality Work - This is obvious for some projects (logos, copy etc) but can be hard to spot for other projects (SEO, website development, marketing consulting). 
  • On boarding time - It takes time to get projects right, this means you will have to have discussions with the freelancer on a regular basis, and can expect that it will usually take a few tries to get 80% (let alone 99%) right. 
  • Language/ Cultural barriers - Most off shore freelancers do not speak English naively, and this can result in some aspects of what you are after getting lost in translation. 

Here are some tips to help you find the right offshore team:

Write a comprehensive brief

If you want anything to be created remotely, be prepared to write a comprehensive brief. This is how the remote worker can figure out what it is exactly that you need. A good brief needs to contain:

  • Context - How the work that they will be doing fits into the broader scheme of your organisation. 
  • Scope - This needs to go beyond what you want them to do, and into what you also don't want them to do. 
  • Time frame - How long do they have to work on the project. 

There are also other sections that are needed depending on what you need done. For example, if you are getting a logo designed, be sure to include examples of logos you do and do not like. For websites, include as much copy as possible and the pages that are needed.

Basically, you want to provide enough information for whomever is doing the task to complete it independently. It is best to do this before advertising for the position, as it will also help you to define the type of help you require. 

Do a background check

Competition for remote working jobs is fierce. Most people stretch the truth when they are in job interviews where there are 20-30 candidates applying for the position, imagine what they would do when there are thousands of contenders? 

The truth is that for most freelancers to get a look in online, they either need to:

  • Be extremely competitively priced (e.g. free)
  • Create another account and hire themselves
  • Exaggerate their services and learn on the job
  • Lie through their teeth

This can mean anything from exaggerating their competencies, to using other people's work as their own. And while most online portals to find freelancers have some form of feedback system, these can be easily gamed by creating false accounts, or doing work for free,  or even paying other freelancers to fix their feedback ratings. 

The fact is, these feedback ratings (satisfaction %, hours worked, dollars earned) are just numbers. There are more things that need to be taken into account including:

  • The quality of their past work
  • References and testimonials
  • Trustworthiness
  • Level of English spoken
  • Availability
  • The number of other projects they are working on

Make yourself available to answer questions

Once you have provided a great brief to the freelancer, you will probably need to answer a few questions they have about it. You can usually tell the more experienced freelancers at this point. They are the ones who will be asking questions. 

You can usually tell the more experienced freelancers at this point. They are the ones who will be asking lots of questions

And while you may have people working through the night, you will probably still need to answer some basic questions about the project or task to keep it on the right track. This means either having a constant chat window open, or using a task management program like trello, or producteev. 

Set Realistic Expectations

Just because someone is working as a freelancer or offshore doesn't mean they don't need the same level of information as other workers.

You wouldn't set a new hire loose on top tier clients without a little training, so why would you do this for anyone you found online?  Regardless of the level of professionalism and experience an employee has, it still takes a long time to get used to the way an organisation works. 

You can't expect your new overseas hire to just go about doing their job with little or no guidance from you. There is a reason most employees have comprehensive on-boarding programs, and don't set serious tasks until employees have had a chance to settle in.

Give your new a smaller project to start with. One that allows them to get used to they way you work, and you a chance to get used to the way they work. 

Carefully evaluate what they send back to you. Is it of a good standard?

What do you like and what do you dislike about it? Are there things that don't fit with your brand?

Make sure to let the freelancer know exactly what it is you do and don't like about what they have submitted.

Be honest, but try to avoid being brutal. Preferably have a conversation over skype or google hangouts, as emails can be perceived as being extremely curt. 

Hire Fast. Fire Fast. 

If you are looking for a long term partner, be prepared to hire fast and fire fast. This means getting rid of people who's work is substandard, or who are less competent than they originally made out they were. 

This doesn't necessarily mean firing them, but could be as simple as not re-hiring them. 

Ask for advice from others who have done it before

You won't be the first one among your group of friends to try and hire offshore help. If possible, get recommendations of freelancers who have worked for them, and also get their feedback on what has and has not worked for them in the past. 

Have you had experiences hiring people online? Let me know what worked in the comments section.