Building Your Business

The Freelancer’s Guide to Hiring Helpers

By Susan Johnston July 21st, 2014

Since freelancing is often a career of self-reliance, the idea of hiring temporary assistants to help with administrative tasks may sound strange to some.

But think about it this way: If you can pay someone else a quarter of your rate to transcribe interviews or help with research, outsourcing certain tasks could free you to spend more time completing work.

Here are a few important tips from freelancers who found ways to take a little off their own plates with the help of others.

Determine your needs

Joel Keller, a New Jersey-based freelance writer and founder of AntennaFreeTV, hired a virtual assistant (VA) last summer to help him research potential alumni magazines to pitch. “I think a virtual assistant helps, because instead of taking this mound of information and boiling it down, it frees me up to think of different angles and do work that’s not related to that project,” Keller said.

It’s rare to find a true jack of all trades, so before you hire help, think carefully about what you need that person (or people) to do. Do you want someone to come to your office and organize files? Could you accomplish your goals with a virtual assistant remotely? Are native English skills important?

If you’re hiring writers, as Maine-based freelance writer Kathryn Hawkins does, make sure you understand the scope and style of the project first. [Full disclosure: I have worked with Hawkins on a few projects.] Ideally, you should also have a contract with your client that explains part of the project will be subcontracted. “I work to get a good sense of what the client is looking for in a piece before bringing the freelancer on board,” she says. Hawkins and her husband started their own content agency, Eucalypt Media, in 2013, so they could take on larger projects. “We can determine when to bring on other skilled contractors to help out with certain elements of a project,” she added.

Vet your freelancers

Paying for an assistant will only benefit your bottom line if the person you hire already has enough experience.

Christie Aschwanden, a freelance science and medical writer in Colorado, hired a college student one summer to help her scan a backlog of clips. She connected with the student through a contact at a local high school, but her assistant needed more hand-holding than expected, and as a result, wasn’t hired back when the contract ended. “Her classification system just sort of defied reason,” Aschwanden remembered.

In this case, she’d hired the student based on a referral for what she’d assumed was a basic task. If Aschwanden ever needs to hire someone in the future, she said she’d pay more money to attract someone more skilled and get more details from references. “It’s easier to have a frank conversation by phone,” she added.

Giving someone a test run before committing to a long-term business partnership is another option. Hawkins typically hires people from her network of freelancers, but, she said, “If we’re working with someone new for the first time, we’ll typically start them out with a relatively small project before commissioning anything more substantial.”

Make expectations clear

Since Keller’s writing project had the potential to balloon beyond his budget, he agreed to a set number of hours with his VA and budget accordingly. Although you cannot legally dictate how and when an independent contractor completes work, you should communicate clear expectations.

“Be very clear with assignments, especially when working with someone new,” Hawkins said. “Make sure to provide a specific deliverable, a deadline (or series of deadlines), and fee structure, so that you both have the same set of expectations.”

Instead of relying on a handshake or verbal agreement, have the person sign an independent contractor form so they can’t later claim they should have been classified as an employee. Also, they should submit a W-9 for tax purposes. If you’re paying someone more than $600 per year, you’ll need to file a 1099 with the Internal Revenue Service. However, if you’re hiring someone through a VA service, the company may handle any necessary paperwork and payment.

Build in a profit margin

Whether you’re hiring someone to proofread, transcribe your work, or write, you need do the math to make sure you’re still earning a profit. Even if someone else is writing, you’ll need to allot time for oversight to ensure quality and consistency.

Of course, price issues can be sensitive, especially when you’re hiring people in other parts of the world. When Aschwanden hired virtual workers via oDesk to help her organize links to her online clips, she felt bad about the low rates they’d quoted, so she sent them extra money as a tip. For more intensive projects, you may need to pay a higher rate to find someone with certain technical skills.

“Don’t necessarily shop for price,” Keller added. “If you shop for cheap, you may get cheap results.”

Image by Dita Margarita
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