Looking for Help? Try a Freelancer

By Tom Harnish on 19 March 2011 (Updated 19 April 2011) 0 comments
Photo: knape

In years of yore, if you hired a freelance, he'd arrive on a horse toting his weapon of choice. Nowadays, hire a freelancer, and she'll arrive via the Internet brandishing a sharp intellect.

Thanks to the Web, talent is available with a few clicks in your browser, no matter how esoteric your task or constrained your budget. The hard part is selecting the ideal freelancer for your project — and your business.

Over the last few years we've hired freelancers for a variety of jobs, mostly database and web development. But freelance job boards, sometimes called contract bid sites, can connect you with more than software artists. Anyone who can do their work sitting in front of a computer screen —& designers, writers, translators, marketers, admin types, consultants — are available, and most come pre-qualified based on past performance. 

Need someone to do research, generate sales leads, build an ad campaign, or boost your website's search engine standings? There are freelancers who can do that for you. They can create logos, brochures, animations, banners, and presentations. They can translate documents, write technical manuals, or even ghostwrite a book if you don’t have the time or talent. Professional freelancers of all stripes can solve legal, accounting, finance, engineering, human resource, and management problems for you. If you need something done, there's someone out there who's eager to do it.

Case in point: we're working on a white paper, due before the end of the month, and we needed some raw Census data to help make our case. The Census Bureau offers a lot of canned reports on topics of common interest, but our research required some illusive data well off the beaten path. The good news was that the data was available; the bad news was that it was buried in 14,000,000 computer records. Enter Elance.

Like buying on Amazon, freelancers come with star-ratings and narrative reviews. And like books, there are good ones and bad ones. But the price you pay may be a different story. We had several very low bids from folks overseas, but none of them had the 5-star reputation we were looking for.

Low bids from folks overseas are something that rankle a lot of people, particular other providers who can't possibly compete with "off shore" prices. But the fact is, there are some very good providers around the world, and they happen to live in economies where a dollar goes a long way. Many North American freelancers feel it lowers the price expectation, and it does — welcome to the global economy. We’ve hired people from Australia, Egypt, Cyprus, Ukraine, as well as the U.S.

While a dollar may go further in some places, customer expectations at home are stubbornly resilient. For example, many companies that relocated call centers off-shore several years ago found that their customers weren't happy; now they're "home-shoring" the work. In the end, it's the results that count; the working relationship and communication between employer and provider and customer are part of the equation, too. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the right chemistry with people from a different culture. But, with a little due diligence, finding the right match is not difficult at all.

Are freelancers a panacea for all your staffing woes? Clearly no. Do you have to be careful hiring them and managing them? Clearly yes. Can a freelancer make your business more successful. Absolutely.

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