We’re rapidly turning into a freelance nation.

Thanks to modern technology and the desire for flexible work hours and greater professional independence, more Americans are hanging their own shingle. The latest official government tally (a GAO report from 2006) found that 30% of the U.S. workforce was self-employed, independent contractors or temporary workers, and that number has likely risen for many reasons. A 2013 report by software company Intuit predicts that 40% of the U.S. workforce will be freelance by 2040.

It’s not just workers who benefit from the freelance movement. A growing number of employers, small and large, are turning to freelance workers—sometimes replacing their once-full-time positions with independent contractors. This allows a company to be nimbler—only paying people for hours they actually work—and reduces many of the regulatory hurdles and costs of hiring an employee.

In the past year, only 33% of small business owners want to grow their business which makes freelancers and contractors even more valuable.

But the freelance movement also poses new challenges for employers. For one, how do you cull through the fast-growing pool of freelancers and find the best and brightest? Here are five tips for finding the best freelancers for your business:

1. Understand—and Write Down—Your Needs

Like when hiring full-time employees, it’s important to consider what skills, experience and time commitment you need before starting your search. If you’re hiring a freelance web designer, for example, what software programs or programming skills will they need? What type of work or functionality do you need on your site? Do they need experience designing for mobile?

Working through key questions should help you fine-tune your freelancer search. Write out a detailed job description—as you would when hiring a full-time employee—that you can provide to prospective candidates to ensure everyone is on the same page. This might include how many hours of work per week you expect them to work and what the working arrangement will be. Will they work exclusively from home, or do you need them in the office occasionally? Will you have regular check-in meetings? Is there any specific equipment they will need to perform their job? How long do you expect to need the freelancer—just for a few months or on an on-going basis? What personality traits in the freelancer are you seeking? The more you flesh out the job description, the more likely you’ll find the right person who fulfills it. (Read this primer from PeoplePerHour.com on how to write a job description that attracts quality freelancers. Hint: “Be friendly, informative and detailed.”)

Once you have a full job description, it’s a good idea to conduct interviews with at least a few prospective freelancers. Here are seven questions to ask freelancers before taking them on board.

Phoenix Lockmaster, a small locksmith in Phoenix, Arizona, describes a bad experience it had hiring a freelance photographer to take photos for its web site and blog. The problem, it says, is that it didn’t do enough due diligence: “Not knowing any better, we hired one of the first freelancers we found,” the company writes on its blog. “Little did we know, the images our new friend was about to produce wouldn’t exceed the quality of those shot with a potato.”

 2. Tap Personal and Professional Connections

Chances are that people you know professionally or personally already know terrific freelancers they can recommend. Having people you trust direct reliable freelancers your way is a great way to start your search—and can save you a lot of time and agony. Also consider whether any talented people you’ve worked with previously might be looking for freelance work.  (Keep in mind that even many people with regular jobs are open to moonlighting, according to a recent study by the Freelancers Union.)

 3. Use the Right Online Search Tools

Many online tools are aimed at helping businesses find freelancers. Sites like Upwork.com and Guru.com let employers scan detailed freelancer listings or post project needs and solicit bids. Guru, for example, lets freelancers post samples of their work, describe their skills and experience and list their hourly rates. The site shows how many projects a freelancer has completed through Guru and lets companies that have hired that freelancer leave star ratings and feedback on various attributes, such as timeliness, creativity and communication.

Many companies have also had luck with LinkedIn and Craigslist—especially when they need freelancers from their local area. Altruette, a New York company that makes charms and donates some of its profits to charity, has used Craigslist many times to hire freelancers, according to a 2012 article on Inc.com. However, “every time we hired through Craigslist we needed to meet six or seven candidates in person before moving forward, since from their resumes it was hard to tell who was going to be the best fit,” write co-founders Lee Clifford and Julie Schlosser.

Regardless of what type of site you’re using, it’s important to vet any freelancer carefully before hiring them.

4. Pay a Competitive Wage

Gone are the days (if they ever existed) when talented freelancers gladly accept less pay than their on-staff counterparts. In fact, many experienced freelancers expect to earn slightly more than their employed peers in order to cover the additional costs and risks associated with self-employment.

Do some research beforehand to figure out the going rate for the type of freelance work you need. You can do this using the online freelancer marketplaces, such as Guru and eLance, or by looking at listings on job boards in the industry you’re seeking freelancers in. Also consider asking your professional connections what they pay freelancers. Hourly rates often differ based on a freelancer’s skills and experience, your local market’s going wages and the type of work being performed.

 5. Don’t Be Afraid to Test-Drive Candidates

One large benefit of using freelancers is the ability to try out several different people and stick with those who perform best and meet your needs. Some companies these days even do test drives when hiring full-time employees. While it’s still important to vet and interview prospective candidates, you shouldn’t be afraid of pulling the plug on those that don’t work out.

 

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