Sometimes an agency might be too expensive or they might be overkill for your marketing or branding activities. In such cases, people look towards freelancers for the work. However, there are so many horror stories from both sides of the camp that hiring freelance talent is always considered risky business. From my experience both as a client and as a freelancer, the problem is always in the brief. This article will mostly focus on copywriters and designers that form the backbone of your creative work but may be applicable in other areas as well.
Finding the freelancer
Facebook groups like DSD and DSE [Desperately Seeking Entrepreneurs, not the other one]. Have a lot of freelancers and small businesses in them. Just make a post and ask them to contact you, give them an idea of what sort of work you want and ask for quotations. With multiple quotations in hand, you will get a rough idea of what your budget should be like. Also, it never hurts to ask people in your network for creative professionals they might know.
You get what you pay for
The lowest bidder fetish is one that most of us cannot let go of and I have no qualms with that. Overheads must be kept low and if someone can do job X at less than half the price, how can we possibly say no, especially in a market where people are good at convincing but rarely good at delivering. In such cases, always ask for the portfolio and see if their designs are consistent. An inconsistent design pattern means they might be borrowing assets from places such as Freepik.com or worse, stealing them. Designers who use free illustrations and vectors as a crutch should not be doing work beyond low-key social media posts. Same goes for copywriters who tend to steal lines more than create them.
You're paying a premium for the brain
Expensive talent is expensive because of their knowledge, experience and the process. They have a streamlined method of work and ideation. This comes with the years in the industry and knowledge acquisition, which produces work that lasts. A new designer might create a logo for you that looks great but a few years down the line, when you are producing merchandise, your vendor might come in and say that the logo has too many fine details to show up on the materials or that it simply doesn't look good on the medium. This problem was made apparent to me when one of my clients was making a wax seal with a logo that was beautiful in its own right but the seal-makers could not fit in such fine details and text.
Focus on how they will do the job
What you want is someone who is aligned with your own interests. If a freelancer has been doing excellent work producing long form copy like blogs and such, it might not be a good idea to make them write headline copies for press ads. Ask the professional to tell you what the process of the job will be. Without a clear cut process that makes sense, you risk the timeline and objective of your work. Their attitude and approach to work is also important. A person who waits for inspiration to strike them is a risky investment. I always make it clear to my clients how I am going to handle the entire process in a step-by-step manner where I explain how many work hours each phase or step will take.
Have a clear idea of what you want
If you think that the freelancer will figure out what you want, know that in most cases, they aren't mind readers. A good professional will have the right questions to ask you but referring to the first point, fresh talent will often try not to ask questions to please you. Always have several references handy to show the freelancer what sort of work you want and make the objective clear. For example, the design might be for brand awareness and not sales. Such objectives must always be made clear.
Create a viable timeline
Remember one thing, ASAP is not a time. It's a vague idea of a time. Try to give your freelancer space to think and produce the content instead of rushing them into work that may or may not be good. Best is if you create the timeline after a discussion with the individual. That way, there's a middle ground and more space for iterations.
Quick talkers with low bids and great promises are the dangerous individuals you would want to avoid. In some cases, a person might come in and tell you that they will grow your business tenfold without even properly hearing about your business or understanding how the sales process works. Or worse, after hearing it, they don't ask questions and just nod vigorously in agreement. These are salesmen who just want the money and will most probably be problematic throughout the work process. Get someone who will explain the work without buzzwords in the simplest manner. Look at their portfolio and carry on.
Give written briefs
Writing isn't everyone's strongest suit but having the instructions, objectives, and references in an email or a PDF file is immensely helpful for the freelancer. Jot down your thoughts on a Word file, what you want, how you want it, where you want it, why you want it, your key objectives [sales, brand awareness, lead generation, engagement], the timeline, relevant references and any pain points you want to address. Also make it clear what can go and what cannot go according to your compliance, brand guidelines and regulations.
Finally, never lose sight of the objective
It's solely your job to stick to the key objective of the project since you are the project manager. Yes, all of what I said makes it sound like a lot of work but that's the opportunity cost of not hiring an agency or a studio.
Writer is the founder of Rantages and uses his 8 years of content experience as a consultant to help brands develop their long-term vision and bring stability to their marketing activities.
Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.