You need a website built by next week? No problem. How about getting that odd bit of software edited? Need a recording transcribed, or contact details for mattress suppliers in Nevada? Consider it done.
Welcome to the world of freelance job sites. Whatever you need to be done, there’s someone out there ready to do it. But you don’t have to talk to many people to find tales of jobs badly done, or not done at all.
Why they’re so great
Within minutes, you can find experts across the world to help with your life or your business. It’s often very cost effective, with work done by people who’d rather take a lower rate and work through a site like Elance or Odesk, than go to the trouble of marketing themselves. All the contractual details are sorted out by the site, who normally streamline payments and provide you with a real-time communication board. If the work isn’t up to standard, there’s normally a procedure to get it sorted or refund you.
Why they’re a problem
The big sites have few checks in place for who’s offering work. All the sites allow you to see people’s reviews and feedback – where it’s been left. The downwards price pressure has deterred many good freelancers from working on them, which means the average standard can be low. Even with a money back guarantee, it’s hard to prove that something hasn’t been done when it’s just about ok, rather than great.
So should you use them? The answer is all about choosing the right service at the right time, and understanding how to get the best of them. So here goes.
Choose your tasks carefully, and be specific
Very specific tasks work better than vague ones. The more clearly you can define what you need, the more likely you are to get it. Finding someone to code a website may well be easier than finding someone to design it to your taste, unless you’re very specific.
Choose tasks where ‘good enough’ is a reasonable result
Ideal tasks are those where there’s not a lot of scope for things to be either brilliant or disastrous. Tasks that involve following clear instructions can be a good bet. I generally don’t advise things such as logos, as they’re so personal and fundamental to a brand, but a client of mine with a clear idea of what he wanted, for a brand that wasn’t particularly design-led, got one successfully created for a small fee.
If you don’t know what you’re talking about, go for specialist sites
The flip side is that it’s almost impossible for you to make a choice between the real expert with little clue about writing a good profile, and the teenager with ambition and a good eye for sales copy. It’s a bit like walking into a department store and hoping that the sales guy with the smart suit is telling you the truth. If you’re at risk of being ripped off through lack of knowledge, head for site that pre-approves contractors, such as Ooomph, or which focuses on a specialist area, such as 99 Designs for creative work.
How to choose a freelancer
Look for active freelancers with a high ratio of positive reviews to jobs done. People who’ve been disappointed in the level of work are more likely to pay and go than actively leave a negative review, so lack of specific feedback can be telling.
Check whether feedback is for the same kind of work as you’re interested in. Many people dabble in different areas: graphic designers claiming SEO skills for instance.
Pay attention to complete profiles, detailed and relevant portfolios. Elance offers its own skills tests, which require a base level of skill.
Even if you’ve got a big job in mind, start by trying someone out on a small project. If you’re doing, say, a web build, you might want to ask two or three people to do a few hours of work so you can evaluate who’s the best fit.
For freelancers too, time is money
Good freelancers will want to help you make a choice, but particularly if it’s a small job or a low rate, they can’t afford to spend lots of time sending you information about them or their work. If you’re seriously interested in someone, pay for a trial task rather than asking them to spend time for free.
Keep all your communication within your chosen site
Most sites offer a communication board for you to talk to your freelancer. Use it. As soon as you start taking your discussions off the site, you’re likely to invalidate any claim for a refund or help if things don’t work out. If someone asks you to pay them away from the site, refuse. You may want to move to an independent relationship further down the line, but only consider that if you’ve already got a strong track record with that person.
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