How to find good freelancers online

How to find freelancers online

Searching the horizon for the perfect online freelancer… (Photo: Leszek Nowak)

This is part two of The complete guide to hiring freelancers online. If you haven’t read part one, you can find it here.

In the first part of this guide I explained the importance of geography for the kind of freelancers you’ll encounter. I also showed some online platforms and marketplaces that you can use to find a freelancer for your job. Once you’ve decided on a platform and on an area where you want to hire from, it’s time to get started with the search process. I mostly use oDesk to find suitable candidates for my jobs, but other platforms like Elance or should be fine too, as are possibly other, smaller platforms. I will use oDesk as an example in this post, because it’s the service I’m most familiar with, but the ideas are general and apply to whichever platform you decide to use.

Posting a job online

The search process starts with posting an online job ad. The major platforms offer space for you to post jobs, which freelancers can browse, and to which you can refer any interested candidates. (Some of the smaller platforms don’t have this feature, and only allow you to browse freelancer profiles and offers.) With your job description you want to achieve three things:

  • Inform potential applicants about the work they’ll be doing and the conditions under which they’ll be doing it.
  • Bring about some self-selection from potential candidates.
  • Provide you with some instruments to select the best candidate from the list of applications you’ll get.

It’s important to provide your future freelancer with an accurate picture of the work and your expectations regarding it. Especially if you have some non-standard demands, you’ll want to make them known in advance. Otherwise they can be used against you later in negotiating a price for the job to be done. Think about things like transfer of copyright, use of specific software, providing you with source code, templates, or specific output formats, short deadlines, unusual work hours. etc.

You also want to avoid applications from people you know you’ll reject later on anyway. If you have specific requirements regarding geographic area, languages spoken, education, feedback score, or other measurable characteristics, state them clearly in your job description. This won’t filter out all unwanted applications–especially freelancers from India and Bangladesh have a tendency to send a standard application to any new job that is posted online–but many freelancers won’t apply to a job where they’re guaranteed to be rejected. Save yourself and the online freelancers some time here.

Finally you want to get freelancers to apply to your job in such a way that you can make an informed selection. I often put an easter egg into my job descriptions, requiring applicants to put a certain phrase at the top of their application, thus weeding out those who didn’t even take the time to read my job description. Some entrepreneurs argue that this method has become too widely known, so they proceed to include a double easter egg. I will also add one or two short essay questions that will tell me both if the freelancer knows what he’s talking about and whether they are willing to invest a little effort in applying for my job. (Be sure to check it against Google if their answer sounds too polished.)

Scouting for good applications

Once you’ve posted your job description, it depends a bit on the type of job how soon you’ll get people to apply. If the job is in English and it concerns copywriting, translation, data entry, SEO, VA, or light IT tasks, applications will start pouring in the minute you hit enter (especially from the Indian subcontinent). In other languages or for more difficult tasks, the initial supply might be less overwhelming. I’ve posted more complicated jobs in Dutch that initially didn’t get any applications at all.

No matter how large the supply of applicants for your job, it’s essential that you also actively search for candidates yourself. The people who respond the quickest to your post are those looking most actively for a job, not necessarily those who are most qualified. I usually run a detailed query on a keyword for my job with filters active for feedback score, language, geographic area, experience, and hourly rate. (The major online freelancer marketplaces give you the option of filtering search results this way.) I usually set all the quality filters first, and if I’m still left with many search results, I start capping the hourly rates until I’m left with about 50-100 profiles.

I browse through those profiles and look at maybe 20-30% in detail. If I think someone is qualified and offers a good hourly rate, I invite them to apply to my posted job. Invite more than one freelancer for your job. Many won’t be interested, and some will suddenly charge much higher rates than those showing on their profile. (I’ve also encountered freelancers who made me a better offer once invited to an interesting job.)

Selecting a freelancer

At the end of this phase you should end up with a pool of job applications by self-selected freelancers, and a couple that you selected based on your filters. Now it’s time to select the best freelancer for your project. How to go about that, you will read in part 3 of the complete guide to hiring freelancers online.


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