3 Common Freelance Hiring Nightmares – And How to Avoid Them

Many people have horror stories when it comes to hiring freelancers for services ranging from writing to coding to web design. And, unfortunately, it’s not at all uncommon to hear these types of statements about them as a result:

  • They’re unreliable
  • They lie about the level of job they can take on
  • They disappear without a trace
  • They steal your code 
  • Their quality of work is shamelessly poor, and so on.

Maybe you even have a tale about a freelancer that has soured your thought of ever wanting to hire a remote worker to help you fill your needs? If so, you are not alone.

It can make you wonder why, in a world where remote work is coming of age and the Internet is everywhere, do we have so many problems, still, trying to find great freelance talent?

Here’s the good news: There are still wonderful freelancers out there who don’t abide by the same poor work ethic as the others in their field who give them a bad name. The key is recognizing the diamonds from the cubic zirconium, so you know when you have the real deal and when you’ve been fooled.

With that thought in mind, here are three of the most common freelancing nightmares, as well as ways to avoid finding yourself in them:

Nightmare #1 – The freelancer provides low-quality work

Your whole purpose in hiring a freelancer is because you want a higher quality of product than you’re able to provide yourself. Either you have no skill in that required area or you simply don’t have time to apply it. Regardless of the reason, you want a freelancer that gives you the highest quality product available, which can hit you extra hard when you get low quality work – especially if you paid top dollar for it.

Here are some pointers to help you avoid this scenario all together:

1. Set your communication expectations upfront. Tell them immediately what you expect from them. Do you need them on Skype from 9 AM to 6 PM EST each day?  If so, let them know that before you hire them. Do you expect an email each day with progress?  Make sure they are aware of this so you’re not sitting there wondering what they’re doing.

Also, let them know when and how you will be available to them so they know when they can and cannot engage you.  This lessens the likelihood that you’ll run into issues because they’ll know how to contact you if a problem arises.

2. Create milestones.  This suggestion works well especially if you have a larger project that you’re hiring a freelancer for. Take the task and break it down into smaller bits by setting milestones along the way. For instance, if you are hiring a freelance writer to create a 10 chapter e-book for you, you could set milestones at each chapter to review their work.

This allows you to make sure you’re a good fit and to figure out how you work together. If you don’t like their work or you’re not meshing, simply don’t go beyond the first milestone, pay them for their work, and let them go. Take what you learned about what you need and use that as criteria when hiring the next person.

On the other hand, if it appears that you’re going to do okay together once you reach the first milestone, then just create another one and go step by step. This helps you retain control over your project and minimizes the damage if you happen to hire a freelancer who provides low quality work.

3. Hire multiple people.  Admittedly, this option works best if you have a smaller project  (or microtask) that is going to lead into a larger one. One way to do it is to post the job, hiring a few different people for it so that you can see who does best job. Then pick the freelancer you like the most to work on your next, more important project.

4. Post a crystal-clear job description.  The more descriptive you are about the job you are hiring for, the better your results will likely be. This allows the freelancers interested in it to have a better idea of what is expected of them, allowing them to not even apply if they feel they aren’t qualified or can’t do what you ask.

For starters, the header should give enough information to attract the right type of freelancer. A good header includes the type of freelancer you’re looking for by stating the industry (health, tech, business) and the project type (e-book creation, code, web design). An example is “Tech Writer Needed for iPhone Article” or “Need Web Designer for Cake Decorating Business.” It is specific enough that someone will know right away whether they’re interested and qualified.

The job description must also be incredibly clear.  Include things like:

  • What the job is specifically, breaking it down as much as possible so it is easy to understand
  • Use bullet points to list expectations or needs
  • State the projected duration of task
  • If you have an example of the kind of work you’re looking for, state it or provide a link to it
  • List your expectations
  • Ask for portfolios or samples that pertain to your specific request
  • If you have a budget, state it

(Tip: Sometimes it helps to look at other job posts to get a feel for what people are including in their posts, what they are looking for, and the quality of proposals the jobs are attracting from potential candidates based on how they’re worded.)

5. Do a code review.  If you’re listing a coding project, have someone you trust and who is a rock star coder review the code – immediately – before continuing onto another project.  Make sure that it is freshly written as code samples could be from anyone.  You can even take screenshots to make sure the freelancer is creating the code themselves.

Nightmare #2 – The freelancer is unreliable, sometimes even disappearing completely

This scenario is rather unfortunate.  Some freelancers like their freedom so much that they forget that they have obligations and responsibilities to the clients that have hired them, proving themselves to be completely unreliable. Others have a problem staying accountable because they don’t have an employer standing over their shoulder, making sure they get their work done.

Some even disappear completely. One day they’re there and the next they’re gone. Sometimes with your money already in hand. So, how do you avoid this? Here are some options to consider:

1. Hire and fire swiftly.  When you get a red flag that tells you that something isn’t right, do not ignore it.  Sure, it can be really difficult to let someone go, but some people can and will drive your business into the ground with their own needs in mind if you let them, so STOP BEING NICE!

Sometimes you have to do what’s hard in order to survive.  Remember that this is about your business.  If it doesn’t make it, then you’ve made all your hard work and effort essentially useless, so make those tough decisions before they make you go bankrupt…or crazy.

Having a platform like Elance or Odesk to hire freelancers allows you to start and stop jobs easily, scale your business up or down as needed, and gives you access to millions of candidates right at your fingertips.  You owe it to yourself and your business to find the right fit.

2. Have a backup plan.  Relying on one single person to meet all of your needs gives you a single point of failure with no way to rebound. Instead, have a team of potential candidates, hire in parallel, and have at least two people who are able to do the same task.  Servers need backups and so do your other critical business functions, which is why you’re better off with a plan in place before you need it.

3. Document, document, document.  Generally, disappearing freelancers hate documentation, so if they refuse, consider that a red flag. Additionally, make sure that you document everything too. That way, if they do prove to be unreliable or simply walk away, you don’t have to start from scratch as you’ll have your work up until the point that they took off.

Nightmare #3: The freelancer steals your code

If you saw the movie Social Network, then you know that copyright violation does happen. In fact, it even happened to me.

I was copied on my idea of Beer2Buds from an American guy living in Germany.  Blatant copy and branding.  While I found it flattering to some degree, I had no legal recourse. Then, my business partner convinced me to put the first version of Beer2Buds on his servers so, when he disappeared somewhere in China, the code was lost with him. Again, no legal recourse.

My answer to this type of nightmare is this:

1) Keep the code on your servers, ALWAYS.  When my CTO passed away suddenly and tragically , one lesson I had fortunately learned was to keep the code in my control.  Probably a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless.

2) Out-execute.  First of all, the idea is yours so you will always be a step ahead of the copycats.  Second, people who steal ideas or copy yours can only go so far.  There is so much power, not to mention integrity, in being innovative and a game changer, two qualities that code thieves usually lack.

3) Use a platformto protect you. When possible, use a platform to help protect both you and your code to prevent any potential issues. For example, NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) do not work in China, especially when you have no address.

4) Separate the code baseinto segments.  Use a platform like github and create branches so that you give specific tasks to specific groups to only work on one section of your code. That way, no one has the whole thing.

While these suggestions don’t necessarily guarantee that you won’t find yourself in the middle of a freelance nightmare, they will lessen your risk considerably. So, what else can you do to protect yourself?

What to Do Before Hiring a Freelancer

Before you even hire a freelancer, there are certain things you can and should do to ensure that you’re getting a top-quality individual. Think of it in terms of hiring an employee and set up your own interview process of sorts. In it, you will want to do the following three things:

  • Review their portfolio.  Take the time to see what samples they’ve uploaded to their profile. Does their work reflect the type of quality that you’re looking for?  Does it fit your style or the style for the project?
  • Read their reviews.  Think about what is MOST important for you, i.e. quality, cost, responsiveness, etc.  Then, skim through the reviews to get a quick view on the freelancer’s character. For instance, do they rate low consistently in adhering to cost and cost is one of your most important factors?  This would probably signal that they would be a bad fit for you.  Or, maybe they rate high on responsiveness and that is most important to you, so you decide to try them out. There is no right or wrong answers here as it is all about what you want out of your freelance relationship.
  • View their skills tests results.  Don’t forget that you can look at the skills the person has from the assessment tests they’ve taken to determine whether they are qualified for your particular project. For example, if it is a logo project you’re posting, it might be nice to know that they rate in the top 5% for Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that hiring a freelancer is not easy, but the more you can do to prepare yourself, the smoother the process will be. Expect to work hard and be a good leader and, in the end, you will likely create a quality relationship with a freelancer who meets and possibly even exceeds your expectations.

Have you ever had any of these issues happen to you?  If so, how did you deal with them? Please leave a note in the comments as I’d love to hear about your experiences!

5 Comments on “3 Common Freelance Hiring Nightmares – And How to Avoid Them”

  1. Mitchell Harris

    Lots of good advice here. I personally never hire anyone without seeing a Git repository. Its much easier to get a sense of the developers mentality and intellectual curiosity. Also, you are able to evaluate social proof by seeing how many people fork or watch a particular project a developer created. Finally, a big factor I pay attention to is whether the developer contributes to open source projects. It’s not a silver bullet but it goes a long way in filtering out the noise.

  2. Vanessa

    Very good advice! It’s really great to read this especially if you are in the process of hiring a freelancer. It sort of gives you an idea of how to avoid any trouble.

  3. Jenny

    “Document, document, document” I learned that in the hard way, and I’m glad that you’re sharing all these great advices. Keep up the good work!

  4. Luis

    the practice of ethic is the most high value when a freelancer take a project, that means he will find any way to finish it in the time accorded or report any problem or challenge on a reasonable time.

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