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Outsourcing? Don't Hire These 9 Freelancers!

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In my years as a freelance communications professional, I've dealt with numerous "clean-up" jobs. These are the jobs where I come in as the second or even third freelancer hired, specifically to fix whatever travesty the contractor before me left behind. In that time, I've learned to recognize some early warning signs when it comes to outsourcing work. Selecting a professional freelancer, whether a writer, graphic designer, marketer or so on, doesn't have to be a harrowing experience nor a money pit. Simply avoid these nine freelancers to save yourself stress, time and money.

  1. Ghost Without a Past: This freelancer is identifiable by a lack of credentials to her name. For example, she may proclaim to be an expert in communications, but instead lacks a solid social media platform with elements like a well-connected LinkedIn profile or Twitter. Or, your potential designer may insist on his artistry and experience, but a website check reveals very few clients and even fewer portfolio examples. Your best choice: A freelancer who can back up their expertise and claims with evidence and history.
  2. The Star Player: This independent contractor is related to Ghostie, above. This freelancer at least realizes their own lack of depth, and sets about to try to correct it. However, the result is often a lot of hollow cheerleading. When an IC has praise that is either tellingly recent, over-enthusiastic or very sudden, I get suspicious. Is someone trying cover up a bad hire on their part? Are those Elance and Guru ratings from real people? Again, as above, the key here is depth and history.
  3. The (Kinda) Freelancer: This worker isn't usually freelancing by choice. He may be a victim of the economy, or she might be a new graduate. This doesn't necessarily point to quality issues, but there are some questions as to staying power and motivation. In addition, freelancing does require some business/entrepreneur know-how. If you're looking for a long-term professional, think twice.
  4. I'm "All" Yours Freelancer: Is your potential hire stationed in someone else's office? Is someone else's phone number and email on his business card? If your freelancer has one main client, what's going to be leftover for you?
  5. Do As I Say: The "Do As I Say" freelancer is the CPA who doesn't file his own taxes on time, the publicist without cultivated news media contacts, or the writer with stilted and clumsy language on her blog. A professional knows the field inside and out -- and this knowledge is evident in practice.
  6. Subpar and Slipshod: This freelancer hasn't put enough time or thought into the establishment of their service. You should be cautious of signs of a hasty and under-researched business launch, such as freebie website builders like Weebly and Wix and business cards with the printer's logo on the back (meaning they were likely a freebie). These things simply don't scream "staying power" and are easy to spot to the trained professional eye. Wait out this freelancer. Come back later.
  7. Lack of Gatekeeper Knowledge: Gatekeeper knowledge is those parts of a career that are quite basic to the professional, but not so obvious to the casual observer. For example, a newbie Spanish translator won't mention which dialects she can provide on her website, perhaps thinking that her European Spanish works just fine for your Midwest audience (umm, no). Or, a fresh-out-of-college grant writer won't know about the local law clinic that provides free advice and handholding to nonprofits. Again, knowledge of the field (and lack of it) says a lot about your potential hire.
  8. The Wizard of Oz: This contractor likes to have a big name, but when you look behind the curtain, you'll find that a fancy title is just a cover for a volunteer gig. You may find that the crowing "client" testimonial on their Facebook page is really a personal friend or a three-month internship instructor. If your potential hire slaps up claims about their "expert" experience, but doesn't list what that is, specifically, then you may have a Wizard on your hands. Dig deeper.
  9. The Stranger: The stranger often reminds me of the "great white hope" phenomenon you see in movies and other mainstream culture (think Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers). This person may come into a community, organization or field talking a big game without acknowledging the ties and work done before her. For example, I recently saw a fundraiser blathering about building ties within a discrete community as if such coalitions never existed before. Not only is this an insult to the community, but it also speaks to a (mistaken) rescuer mindset. So glad you're here, Erin Gruwell, but we had Jaime Escalante in the house 20 years ago. Good contractors work with and within the existing community- they don't claim credit for building a new one out of dust.

Hiring your independent contractor doesn't have to be a black hole of money and time. Sure, you probably know the salient characteristics that you want in your freelancer, but you should also take time to seek out the hidden clues above in order to avoid an outsourcing fiasco. Good luck!