Most businesses require computers and computer networks. For many small businesses, the expense of having an in-house IT staff to manage those systems is one that can’t be afforded. When technical problems arise, these businesses often turn to independent freelance consultants, administrators or developers, many of whom list their services for hire on sites like Craigslist or Elance.
What if a business owner isn’t technically savvy enough to tell the inexperienced freelancers from the inexperienced ones? Or what if you are technically experienced, but have never hired a freelancer before? If you've got a computer problem that you need solved quickly, you can't waste time (and money) dealing with the wrong tech. You need the right freelancer with the right knowledge and experience to quickly and effectively solve your problem.
With that goal in mind, here are ten things to consider when hiring an IT freelancer.
1. First and foremost, your freelancer should be able to translate all technical issues in a way that you understand. Never hire someone who talks down to you or who claims the problem is too technical to easily explain. If he can’t take the time to make sure you understand the problem and the solution, he doesn’t respect you, and that could lead to trouble. Look for a freelancer who explains things in simple terms – even if you understand the more complicated ones – easily and politely.
2. Keep in mind at all times that you get what you pay for. At first glance, a $15/hour freelancer might seem to be cheaper than a $50/hour technical consultant. Then consider this: the more expensive tech may be able to solve your problem in less time, and the inexperienced freelancer will burn hour after hour trying to figure it all out, until that cheaper fee actually becomes more expensive over time. A $15/hr tech won't have the skill that a $50/hr tech does, but the $50/hr tech will be cheaper in the long run because they know what they're doing and will ultimately cost you less money.
And BEWARE of someone who quotes you a rate before they ask you a single question or before they know what kind of work they'll be doing. Freelancer sites are full of people who are just out to make a quick payday, and submit proposals on things they don’t really know how to do.
3. Your tech should give detailed implementation plans or proposals of what she’s going to do, tell you how long it might take, and tell you in advance that she’ll summarize in writing after the fact what was done. While it may seem like it’ll save you some headaches, don’t hire someone who claims "I'll just login and take care of it". If you don’t have a paper or email trail, and problems arise later, you won’t be able to revisit the work that was done. Make sure you receive an actual documented plan that shows how your freelancer will tackle your problem.
4. Your freelancer should be able to provide references; NOT WEBSITE LINKS, but actual people they've worked with before who'd be willing to talk to you about the work that was done. If your freelancer says that all his clients are confidential, or that previous clients have asked not to be contacted, or that non-disclosure agreements were signed and he’s not at liberty to discuss previous work, that’s a big red flag. If he offers only associates he’s worked with before, but no one who’s paid him, this should be a huge warning. You want to actually speak with someone who’s paid this freelancer to do work, and get an idea of how he accomplishes things so you know what kind of relationship you’ll have once he’s hired.
5. A solid tech will present you with options when possible - not just one answer. (A lucky internet searcher can find the right answer on the internet. Options, however, reveal that the freelancer can see the width and depth of your problem.) He’ll also be able to present you with the pros and cons of those options, explained in terms that make sense, so you can make an intelligent decision based on all the information at hand.
6. Your tech should provide timely responses to calls or email. Perhaps you can’t reasonably expect an answer within 5 minutes, but if your tech promises that you’ll get a response within a business day for non-critical issues, and within four hours for emergencies, there’s another sign of experience.
7. A responsible freelancer should do what he says he’s going to do without fail, especially the little things. Did he say he’d call you back in an hour? Did he promise to email you an update by end of the day? Were you told he’d send a proposal by the end of the week? Whatever it is, he'd better deliver. If your freelancer doesn't handle the little things well, how are the big things going to get handled?
8. If problems arise, your freelancer should admit problems quickly, and should freely admit what they DON'T know. No freelancer should keep details from you, no matter how small.
9. Your freelancer should have a ready answer when you ask "what kind of documentation will you provide?" For example, if your freelancer is going to write code, ask for samples of other code he's written. Even if you don't read or understand a single word of whatever language it is, five minutes of internet research will tell you what a "comment" in that code language looks like. Are there no comments in the sample provided? Don’t hire that tech for the job!
10. Last but not least, your tech should do what you ask them to do! If you need a database modification, you don't need someone who offers to modify a sidebar element. If your website isn’t loading correctly,
A great freelancer will be happy to comply with the items on this list. More importantly, you’ll rest easier knowing that you’ve hired the right person for the job.