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Top tips for hiring freelancers

Small businesses are choosing to use freelancers more often in a bid to cut costs and fill temporary skills gaps without the hassle of taking on a member of staff. 

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This article discusses whether using a freelancer could be suitable for your business and how to pick the right one.

Spending on freelancers by small businesses in the UK increased by 134% in 2011, making the UK the world's second largest hirer of freelancers, new research from Freelancer.co.uk has revealed. The most popular positions filled by freelancers were those in data entry, market research, copywriting and online marketing, including search engine optimisation and link building. Plus, there was a substantial increase in the number of small businesses outsourcing mobile and smartphone application development.

If you're thinking about hiring a freelancer, follow these eight tips to find and manage a successful freelance project:

Search online

Outsourcing websites like Freelancer, People Per Hour, Guru and Elance, are a quick way of finding a freelancer. You can either search a database of freelancers and pick one whose work you like and you think would suit your business. Alternatively, you can ask freelancers to bid for your job, which can result in some very competitive quotes.

Look locally

Universities and colleges are often full of nearly qualified students with up to date skills who are looking for experience. You can also use the internet to search for local freelancers, i.e. ‘freelance photographer Birmingham'.

Avoid language barriers

If you use an outsourcing site, remember that you could end up working with someone in a different country – though most sites will let you search for freelancers by country. For some businesses, this may not be a problem, though others may be more comfortable working with someone face-to-face. If you do open your search up to freelancers in other countries, make it clear that you require someone who speaks fluent English.

Ask for examples

Don't assume that the lowest quote for work is the best. Always make sure you are satisfied with examples of the freelancer's previous work and ask for references before you start working with them.

Never pay up front

It's common for freelancers to ask for a deposit in advance, but you should never pay in full until you are satisfied that a job has been finished to your requirements.

Write a thorough brief

Before you start any freelance project, you'll need to tell your contractor what you're trying to achieve, by when and what you expect to receive from them at the end of the project, i.e. 3,000 words of brochure copy, 50 photos of an event, a new website. It has been known for businesses to pay for a website design and get just that – a design and no website to be seen! So clear communication is of the utmost importance.

Protect your intellectual property (IP) rights

In most cases you will want to retain the IP rights to anything that a freelancer creates on your behalf. Ensure you have a written agreement that clearly states who will own, control and use the IP rights of all work created before any work is started. You may also wish to claim moral rights, which mean the freelancer can't object to distortions of their work or insist that they are identified as the author.

Beware the employment trap!

The law on hiring self-employed contractors can get a bit murky from an employment and tax perspective. Problems tend to arise when a self-employed person works for a company for a long period of time, especially if no contract for services in place. If no such contract exists, the freelancer could try to claim employment rights (i.e. holiday entitlement) and HM Revenue & Customs would almost certainly view them as an employee, which would mean you're responsible for managing their income tax and National Insurance contributions.

For more information, see how HMRC defines employment status.

Last updated July 2016.

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