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How to find a top-notch freelancer for your design business

Rebecca Huehls's Layout avatar

As the owner of a design business, you likely are a contractor and know clients hire contractors when they need a specific job done at a fixed cost.

You also know that clients want you to solve a web design problem for them while offering outstanding customer service. However, no designer — not even you — emerges before clients like a benevolent wizard, ready to lead them safely beyond a menacing fog.

In some ways, finding a freelancer who solves your problem is similar to finding clients:

  • You’ll likely do some networking.
  • You’ll have to negotiate the payment.
  • Communicating what you need and when you need it is critical.

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Hiring someone may also require a few different skills:

  • You’re in the driver’s seat as you define what work you want to subcontract and what your budget enables you to pay a subcontractor.
  • As you search for someone who can do the work, you need to assess whether their skills and experience are a good fit.
  • If you’ve relied on clients to draw up contracts, you need to add drafting a contract to your repertoire.
  • You have to manage someone else’s work as well as your own.

As you search for a subcontractor and lay the groundwork for what could become a long-term working relationship, this article offers tips and resources to help you along the way.

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Determine how freelancers can support your business goals

When you are considering subcontracting work, start by figuring out how hiring subcontractors can help you and your business. Here are a few common reasons business owners hire one or more subcontractors:

  • Handling a surge in work: Perhaps you’re considering a few awesome projects with overlapping schedules or a project that’s more work than you can handle alone.
  • Offering services that don’t jibe with your skillset: Many web designers’ development skills go only so far. Subcontracting a developer can enable you take on bigger clients or projects.
  • Getting help with tasks you simply don’t enjoy: A contractor can help with work that’s design-related or that keeps your business running smoothly.
  • Creating a safety net: Subcontractors can help a solo business owner get through an unexpected illness or emergency. Although contractors aren’t always available when you need them, they’re used to shifting client schedules and taking on last-minute work. You may want to establish relationships with subcontractors so that you can meet clients’ needs and deadlines even when you’re temporarily sidelined.

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Define the work and payment

When you hire a freelancer, the work may be tied to a specific project or your ongoing operations.

Project-based work

In this model, the work is part of a specific project that you’re doing for a client, and you offer the subcontractor part the fee that the client pays you. The client may not know exactly what they want, so you need to clarify those details as much as possible before you officially hire someone to complete part of the project. That said, you can start contacting potential candidates early with tentative details so that, when your client is ready, you have a subcontractor and your project on their schedule. The statement of work should reflect the requirements that your client outlines as well as any details or features that are important to your brand as a designer, such as timeliness, your aesthetic, or the site’s functionality.

Tip: Be upfront with clients about using subcontractors, especially if the contractor will need access to the client’s confidential information in order to complete the work.

Ongoing operations

If you’re looking to hire a virtual assistant or subcontract other tasks related to running your business, the process is similar to creating a job description when you’re hiring an employee. You need to know what specific tasks you want an assistant to do and about how much time you think they’ll need to do it. You can then offer an assistant a monthly retainer or an hourly rate.

Find contractors online

Your professional and personal networks are the best places to find referrals to awesome (maybe even wizard-like) subcontractors. After you have a clear job description and know your budget, online networks such as the following can also be good resources:

  • Social media: Your friends and connections via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and elsewhere may do just the work you need or know someone who does.
  • Web design communities: Online communities such as Dribbble and Behance enable you to network with other web design professionals.
  • Online job boards: These job boards can be a dragon’s lair of people willing to take your money and burn you, either by disappearing or being difficult or combative. But they can also help you find new freelancers who are smart and capable but need experience and references.

Tip: To improve your chances of finding a quality subcontractor, see whether the service screens potential candidates or provides tools to help you do so. Check how long the service has been in business and, in the U.S., see whether the Better Business Bureau rates the service you’re planning to use. For example, VirtualAssistants.com has been in business since 1999 and has an A+ rating with the BBB.

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After you find a few leads, you can interview your prospects in person, via the phone, or online via video chat. For tips on conducting useful interviews, check out John Rampton’s advice for making interviewees comfortable and while keeping interviews productive and consistent.

Create a written agreement

After you find a contractor who seems to be a good fit, make sure you protect yourself and your contractor with a written contract and/or statement of work. You need to consult with your legal professional to ensure any contract you create is complete and legally binding, but here are a few details you’ll likely want to include:

  • The scope of work, or the conditions the subcontractor needs to meet in order for work to be considered acceptable
  • The payment amount and how payment will be structured (such as an amount paid up-front and an amount paid upon completion of the project, or the amount for a monthly retainer)
  • Measures for maintaining confidentiality of your or your client’s information
  • Ownership of the work, such as all rights for a logo transfer to the client

For more details about contracts, Nolo.com has ten tips for creating a contractual agreement.

Tip: The contract process can be a trial run for your working relationship with a contractor. If your prospective contractor and you can’t see eye-to-eye on a contract, that may be a sign that the relationship isn’t a good fit.

Build a good working relationship

After you find a contractor, how you lay the groundwork for your working relationship can make an enormous difference in the quality of the work you receive. At Entrepreneur, Brandon Smith explains how he developed training resources for his virtual assistant and how improving his communication style enabled his virtual assistant to be an effective partner in his business.

Remember, too, that a subcontractor knows only what you tell them. Schedule a regular meeting or email them updates so they understand any changes to the schedule or scope of work.

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Although finding a top-notch freelancer can take extra time and work, hiring a contractor has a number of benefits. A little extra help can enable you to meet your business goals, and a contractor can provide that help for a fixed cost or for a temporary amount of time. If you ever decide that you need a partner or are ready to hire an employee, your awesome contractor may be an obvious choice.

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