The complete guide to hiring freelancers online – Part 1 1

Freelancer at work

This could be your freelancer. (Or it could be you, hiring a freelancer on the other side of the world.)

Once your business has grown big enough that you can’t (or don’t want to) do all the work by yourself, it might be a good idea to hire a freelancer. There are many tasks that may not require your unique expertise, and as such can be outsourced. Hiring freelancers, instead of employees on a short or long-term contract, has a couple of advantages:

  • You don’t have to commit to anything; if your freelancer doesn’t work out you can easily let them go.
  • You don’t have to pay pension benefits, health insurance, or whatever other taxes your country requires.
  • You don’t have to study your local HR laws and regulations.
  • Freelancers are used to working independently and on a project basis.

However, hiring a freelancer rather than a regular employee also has some drawbacks:

  • A freelancer will typically be less committed to you and your business.
  • Freelancers are more expensive.

Still, if you’re not experienced with hiring personnel, a freelancer is probably your best bet. You can start hiring someone on a part-time basis and see how it works out for you, without inadvertently having made any legal commitments. If you are happy about the results, you can always increase their hours or add additional people to your team. If you’re not happy, all you have lost are the hours you’ve paid your freelancer.

One of the great things about the internet is that you can hire someone to work for you without them being in the same geographical area. In fact, it’s easy to hire a freelancer from the other side of the world. If your business is located in a Western country, it has great benefits to hire someone from a country with significantly lower wages. India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan are known for delivering English-speaking freelancers at rock bottom prices, although you may experience some difficulties in working with them. But you can find excellent professionals in places like Eastern Europe, the Philippines, and Indonesia, who can do your work at a fraction of the price you would pay in the UK or the USA.

Online freelance platforms

Finding a freelancer for your job is easier than you might think. There are a number of online marketplaces that you can use. The largest and best-known ones are oDesk, Elance, and The first two are very similar in their approach*, and they will charge you about 10% of the project value for their services. is a little different, in that it offers various membership packages with differing associated hiring fees. Effectively it charges about 13% of the project value, divided between hiring company and freelancer. These three are all good for finding both one-off and long-term hires.

There are also many smaller freelance platforms on the internet, each with their own quirks. On Fiverr freelancers offer small jobs that they are willing to do for $5. 99designs has freelancers compete in a contest to come up with the perfect design for your needs. Envato Studio and PeoplePerHour boast manually reviewing each freelancer in their databases. Guru aims to offer higher-end talents for larger projects.

I personally mostly use oDesk, because they were the first platform that I encountered. But I’m sure any of the big three would work fine. The smaller ones might also suit your needs, but you should pay more attention to their specific offering. For example, not all of them allow you to develop a direct working relationship with your freelancer.

When hiring a freelancer online, there are a couple of things you should pay attention to. In this guide I will discuss these things and help you navigate the troubled waters. My recommendations are based on my own experience, advice I’ve gotten from other entrepreneurs, and online resources. In all cases I use oDesk as an example, because that’s the platform I’m most familiar with, but the lessons are general and should apply to any platform you use.


The first thing that you should consider is a bit counterintuitive: from where in the world do you want to hire? While you can find good professionals anywhere, some countries are more likely to deliver quality than others. India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan have a very different work culture from the West. Employees from those countries typically aren’t very creative, and have to be told exactly and in detail what to do**. Also, they are not big on taking responsibility. Consider them only for very basic and routine jobs that involve no uncertainty or creative thinking. It is important to keep specifically these countries in mind, because a lot of the applications to the jobs you post online will come from there.

Philippinos are also known for shirking responsibility and having trouble in meeting deadlines. They tend to be a bit more creative than Indians, though, and their English is generally excellent without a strong accent. Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia are popular locations for European and Australian expats, who will be able to deliver high quality work at lower prices because of the lower cost of living there. Eastern Europe and the Balkans generally offer hard-working people with a good education and Western values at a reasonable price. Particularly Romania is known for delivering excellent software developers for some reason.

In the US, Northwestern Europe, and Australia you can find the highest level of employees in any field, but you’ll be paying a hefty price for it. Southern Europe also has a sizeable pool of freelancers, but their English is often not as good. Prices there vary a lot. I consider them when I need to have something translated into Romance languages. South America isn’t as much of a hotspot for online freelancers, and they will generally have Spanish rather than English as their main language. The rest of Asia somehow hasn’t entered the online job market yet.

Keeping in mind these regional characteristics will help you focus your search for a freelancer. While you may target your search for a certain job at the whole world, you may end up wasting your time. More than once I had to weed through hundreds of useless applications, coming from areas that I knew in advance weren’t going to deliver.

Hiring a freelancer

Once you’ve chosen your online platform and made a geographic selection of where you want a freelancer from, it’s time to start the search process. In part 2 of this guide I will go into the process of hiring a freelancer through oDesk in more detail.

COMING SOON: Part 2 of the complete guide to hiring freelancers online

*Elance and oDesk merged about a year ago, but have retained their respective websites. (Source: AllThingsD)

**I’m not trying to be a racist here. I’m sure there are wonderful, smart, creative, and dedicated people working from the Indian subcontinent. But in both my personal experience and in that of pretty much every online entrepreneur I’ve talked to, in 99 out of 100 cases you’ll have to deal with a big cultural barrier. Ignore my advice at your own peril.


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One thought on “The complete guide to hiring freelancers online – Part 1

  • Daisy

    It’s a really good article! Thank you! As much as I like Freelancer, I think that the best freelance job board is XPlace . It has higher hourly rates than the majority of other online marketplaces, doesn’t charge a commission from freelancers, and there are a lot of job opportunities (entry-level and more complex ones). An excellent website to make a freelance career!