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The benefits of using freelance talent: freelancers can offer many advantages, but only if you know how best to use their talents

The benefits of using freelance talent: freelancers can offer many advantages, but only if you know how best to use their talents – business corner

Lynn Fey

Whether looking to establish a strategic marketing plan, build a Web site, design a seasonal direct-mail piece, spark a public relations program or create other marketing initiatives, using freelance talent may be a frame shop’s best way to get the job done.

For established businesses, using freelance talent translates into cutting-edge skills and fresh perspectives to help get jobs done faster and better. Using freelancers gives frame store owners a chance to focus on other aspects of their business. And for new businesses, freelance talent provides the expertise needed to grow quickly without diverting scarce resources from daily tasks.

Freelancers can help complete projects quickly, without the cost of additional overhead that full-time employees require. And they provide flexibility so, as business goals change and new projects arise, you can tap the specific talent needed to get the job done.

Freelance talent can be a valuable, cost-effective resource for your business when …

* Your activities would benefit from an outsider’s perspective.

* Your vision is fuzzy as to what needs to be done and in what order of priority.

* Your needs are seasonal or you need help with a one-time project

* Your talents can be more effectively used in other parts of the business.

Find the Talent

Finding the right person begins with understanding exactly what you need. When hiring a freelancer or independent contractor, you’re hiring a specialist with unique skills and expertise, so ask these questions as a starting point:

* What isn’t getting done now that needs to be done?

* What role will the freelancer play?

* What is the deadline?

* What is the budget?

* How much interaction will they have with other people?

* How much guidance will they receive?

* How much technical expertise is required?

* Is this an ongoing or a one-time project?

After developing a thorough understanding of your needs, create a detailed job description that specifically addresses your requirements.

The optimal situation is to hire someone based on a referral from another business s owner, client, vendor or industry contact. If this isn’t possible, ask local associations r and/or schools for referrals. The Internet is also a good source for freelance talent; however, go there only after exhausting your referral network.

Evaluate Skills

Once you have a candidate, how do you know if he or she is the right person? Here are a few tips from Microsoft’s bCentral (www.bcentral.com):

Request work samples and/or a resume. Look for experience in the field. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in custom framing; however, depending on the talent needed, retail, home accessory, art or small business experience could be beneficial. Ask detailed questions about work samples or resume accomplishments. The goal is to understand how this person thinks and what his or her role was in previous successes.

For example, if you’re looking at a direct-mail sample, figure out how the person was involved. Did he or she create the strategy, write the copy, design the look, coordinate printing or oversee mailing?

Ask to see a client list. You want to be similar in size to his or her other customers. If you’re the smallest on the block, you won’t get the attention you deserve. If you’re the largest, the freelancer will most likely not have the experience needed for your business.

Conduct an interview. Look for evidence that your professional styles are a good fit. Ask for concrete examples of past performance.

A recent article titled, “Tips on Hiring Contractors” from the International Association of Business Communication’s Web site, suggests asking the following questions:

* What makes you ideal for this project?

* Is the time allotted for this project reasonable?

* When have you worked on a similar schedule or deadline?

* Have you ever been in a situation where a client’s needs have changed before the project was completed? How did you adapt to meet the new goals?

* What’s the most difficult thing about this project? Why?

* What is the least interesting thing about this project? Why will you do it?

* Have you ever had someone question the viability of your solution to a project problem? What was the issue? How was it resolved?

* Give an example of a mistake you made while working on a previous project. What happened? How was the error resolved?

Overall, the best candidates will exhibit strong problem-solving abilities, good communication skills, integrity and a strong motivation to learn.

Talk about money. Find out how the candidate structures fee arrangements. Some freelancers work on retainer and others work on an hourly basis or quoted project fee. Put rates and compensation requirements in writing–it makes everything easier down the road, even on simple projects.

Ask for references and check them. Talking with former or current clients will give you a feel for the scope of the candidate’s past projects and how he or she handled them.

Utilize the Talent

Once you have selected the best candidate, follow these suggestions by Microsoft’s bCentral and Westbound Publications (www.westbound.com) to maximize success:

Give complete background information. Provide the resources needed that will allow the freelancer to hit the ground running.

Be clear on details. What are the start and finish dates? When and how should he or she contact you? At what key points do you want to be involved?

Establish interim checkpoints. This ensures the project stays on target and allows you to monitor its progress.

Talk about money. Keep your budget in sight at all times.

Be available. Discuss schedules so you can be accessible when needed. Be timely in returning work submitted for approval.

Provide constructive feedback. Offer your criticism in a constructive way, and be open to your freelancer’s suggestions.

Determine all necessary decision makers. Who is involved in the decision-making process and at what stages? Establish a decision-making protocol and stick with it. This will keep work moving along smoothly.

Keep the IRS Happy

Freelancers are also known as independent contractors, free agents, contract workers or 1099 workers (named after the IRS form you use to report their income). Unfortunately, many businesses misuse this classification to avoid paying employment taxes or offering employee benefits.

The IRS has developed a series of “tests” for determining whether a worker is really an employee or a freelancer. The key factor is the degree of control, or right to control, business has over the worker.

Welcome Business USA (www.welcome business.com) offers a few key tips to help you avoid any confusion:

* Don’t dictate hours or exactly how the work is to be performed.

* Hire freelancers with their own space and equipment. They should not work regularly in your office, although in-office meetings are okay.

* Don’t have freelancers and regular employees doing identical jobs.

* Do the paperwork. Get a tax ID number or social security number and complete Form 1099 for each freelancer earning over $600 a year. It should be sent to the freelancer in January and filed with the IRS by the end of February.

* If possible, hire freelancers who work for multiple companies.

* For long-term projects, consider using a written contract emphasizing that they are not employees.

Lynn Fey has more than 17 years of marketing experience with a diverse range of products and services. She currently owns her own marketing consulting firm, InSight Solutions, which is based in Atlanta. She can be reached at lynnfey@aol.com.

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