Elance, oDesk, and other "bid-for-project" freelancer portals have exploded in popularity since the recession hit several years back. Increasingly, organizations desperate to accomplish more with shrinking-by-the-minute budgets are turning to such sites again and again as an alternative to expensive agency relationships.
But with every freelance Tom, Dick, and Harriet out there clamoring for a slice of your marketing budget, how can you make sure you don't get burned?
Each time you dangle a ripe, juicy project over a vast pool of snapping freelancers, the resulting bloodbath could leave you wondering whether it was worth it. You need to get yourself schooled in the following three critical areas before wading into the fray:
- Rates. What's a reasonable amount to pay for a freelance writer in your industry?
- Skill. What skill level should you expect when working with that kind of freelancer?
- Reputation. Does your freelancer have a good reputation in his or her field?
When working with freelancers, "let the buyer beware" is a good rule of thumb. If you aren't careful in the due-diligence process, you may be in for more than you bargained for (literally).
From a Writer's Standpoint
OK, I admit it: Most experienced, reputable freelancers I know wouldn't be caught dead on one of those sites. Some of it is about ego―but there's more to it. Do those freelance portals make a skilled professional feel like one of the desperate "single gals" called out onto the dance floor to catch the bouquet at a wedding? Definitely.
It's never great when a writer with 20 years of demonstrated experience is judged against someone with a murky background (or, worse, no background whatsoever) who will crank a project out for two cents per word.
From a Business Standpoint
The larger and most important issue, however, is that companies that focus too squarely on getting a rock-bottom price in return for delivery of a complex, business-critical writing project are most likely to be disappointed with the result.
Messaging and tone can miss the mark, review cycles may get extended, and companies often end up paying more to correct the content―or to have it re-written entirely by another (usually more realistically priced) writer!
Getting What You Pay For
Whatever the reason you want or need to use a bid-for-project site, you need to be smart about it. Here are a few key guidelines to use when evaluating project bids from freelancers:
1. Don't choose the cheapest
That seems like it should go without saying, but unfortunately it doesn't. Here's the lowdown: When you go with the least-expensive resource, you're not merely going to "get what you pay for" in terms of end product. You're also aligning yourself with someone who is clearly not even experienced or savvy enough to put himself or herself in the ballpark with other bidders. Do you want that person's work to be representing you—or driving your revenue goals?
Familiarize yourself with the Writer's Market, and grab yourself a subscription so that you can compare writer bids with the actual going rates in the industry for experienced, professional writers.
2. Peruse the portfolio
Don't merely look at a freelancer's portfolio; really take it to task as if it were work submitted to you for approval. Does that person truly have the creativity, flexibility, and hardcore writing chops to take on your brand? Has she written content for your industry before? (The only correct answer here is yes.) Does she have experience writing the type of material you need? (Again, the only correct answer is yes.) Can you easily spot silly, amateurish mistakes? Is what she's done in the past actually good?
Critique her work, and compare and contrast it against the work of the others you are considering. She doesn't have an online portfolio? Forget it!
3. Reach out to the references
As is true when interviewing candidates for employment, always check references. And not just the safe, "vetted" references they give you. Get their resumes, and then get on the phone with their former employers. Ask questions about their history and how the company felt about them as a staff member. Would the former employers rehire the candidates in the future?
If you come away from those conversations with a bad feeling or serious questions, move on to the next candidate.
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It's always a crapshoot when hiring from a bid-for-project site. You can get burned, but you always have a chance of finding a true diamond in the rough. If you're armed with a strong sense of your project's objectives and a few common-sense rules, you'll stand a much better chance of coming out of your new freelance relationship unscathed.
(Image courtesy of Bigstock: Battle)