Hiring a freelancer

Ok, we’ve seen quite a few threads on “how to get freelance work”, “What should a freelancer make” and “I’m officially ROGUE, now what?” to name a few. Would anyone like to look at the other side of the coin?

No need for hypothetical situations; lets get right down to the nity gritty.

I’m a small business who has decent cash flow and a strong urge to expand, even in these uncertain times. I know my design skills are not on par with the likes of Taylor, Michael D or the vast number of the people here. I know a stronger product offering is a catalyst to take the business to the next level. Should I hire a freelancer?

I agree that this looks like a “no brainer.” However, I have a few reservations.

  1. First and foremost; There are no guarantee’s in life. There is no guarantee that hiring a freelancer to design a few items will result in increased sales or better margins. All of the risk and expense is on me, they bear no cross in this venture, so to speak.

  2. We are cash flow positive at this point, but our budget is no where near the level of household Brands (who seem to be struggling as they aren’t as lean). Hiring a designer sounds, without serious investigation, expensive. Then I refer to my initial reservation above.

  3. What if my freelancer turns out to be a flake? References?

How would you talk me into hiring a freelancer? I’ve toyed with the idea for a while and I would like to put it out there for discussion.

Yes, hiring a freelancer can be intimidating and can work out both good and bad. There are all kinds of cases. I was on the hiring side of freelancers while working corporate for 6 years before ever doing freelance myself, so have seen the issues on both sides (incidentally part of the reason I decided to go freelance was I was finding few freelancers out there that met my needs and felt I could do it better).

Some advice-

  1. Portfolio of actual work speaks volumes. They should be able to show you what they’ve done, and that includes process. Not just shiny final renderings or hypothetical school projects. If they don’t have this, be cautious.
  2. Experience counts for a lot. If they are straight out of school, they may not have the experience to deliver or adapt to real world business life. If they’ve been a freelancer for 10 years and are still at it, chances are they know what they are doing or they wouldn’t still be in business.
  3. Yes, you can ask for references, though this is not that common as far as I know for freelancers. See point #1.
  4. Freelancers work best when it is a two way relationship. That means asking them the right questions, but also answering their questions. Fill them in as much as possible even beyond the brief so they know your goals, situations, why you are looking for a freelancer, etc. A good freelancer will ask a lot of questions. If they don’t and just want a brief and to get sketching, be wary.
  5. A freelancer can bring a unique outside view. Be very clear about what the constraints are and what are the open areas. A good freelancer will work within the constraints, but maybe outside of what your expectations are. You are paying them for new ideas. If you want only someone to draw what you tell them, you don’t want a good freelancer, and if they will do this, there is a chance the are not very good and just hungry for work. A freelancer should be THINKING, not just DOING.
  6. Be clear about your expectations. What deliverables you need, when, budgets, etc. Make sure all is clear before starting anything.
  7. Despite all of the above, sometimes a freelancer just doesn’t deliver. I’ve had it happen with guys in the biz for 10+ years. it is a risk, but so is anything in business. Be prepared for anything. That being said, a freelancer is also taking a risk. Maybe not the same as yours, but they are risking their reputation, the chance you won’t pay them, their time against a different project that could be better for their portfolio, or make them more money, etc. If you can see it from their eyes as much as possible that will only make the relationship better.

best of luck,

R

Richard,

What is a ballpark amount to spend on a freelance artist? I know it’ll range widely depending on experience, but just for my little start-up to budget for – if let’s say, I wanted a logo + packaging design/graphics and perhaps some art direction consultation?

Pretty hard to say, without knowing details. That should be another thing to add to the list too. If you get a quote without giving enough details, you’re probably not getting service worth much. A good designer will get all deliverables and details before any quote and should also provide you with a complete breakdown of what deliverables are being provided and where the cost breakout.

You also of course get what you pay for…

R

Richard, as always, is spot on.

Judging from your portfolio, Caffeine, you’re looking to expand more into the soft-goods market. if that’s the case, drop me a line because I can put you in touch with an excellent soft-goods designer (not me, definitely not me.)

Heya Caffeine,

Appreciate the compliment!

I can give you some examples of what I would charge personally in the freelance softgoods design and development specific category.

However, I’m no genius when it comes to Packaging/Graphic Design/Art Direction, so these would be left out of the example proposal. I believe you’d have to go to different freelance designers to hit these specific areas.

Let me know if I can help.


EDIT: As far as references go… I’ve had one potential freelance client request 3 references… and it admittedly caught me way off guard. I was even maybe somewhat offended, if I were to go to the route of the feeling, but mainly surprised. The problem being, my clients are entrepreneurs/large businesses, and the projects I’m finished with, they’re generally dealing with an upstart business, keeping a business afloat, or in China getting the products manufactured. Now my previous client needs to be bothered, just feels like I’m unnecessarily hassling a friend/colleague/client in order to possibly get another project. 2 out of my 3 supplied references replied to the potential client, the 3rd being too busy (running his new business), but I eventually got the gig. It definitely made me raise an eyebrow or three.

Taylor brings up a good point. The freelancers out there are typically very, VERY good at what they do, but are also focused on one specific aspect of a product’s design. Just as Taylor mentioned, he may be really great at softgoods design (and I’m sure he is,) he may not be very experienced with packaging design. That makes sense considering it’s not actual product design.

What I’m saying is that it takes a group of people to come together and make a cohesive design, from packaging, graphics and body design. That’s typically what a normal design firm can offer as they have all those disciplines under one roof. Obviously, you pay for that level of expertise. Experienced freelances offer a high-level of expertise generally for a slightly reduced rate, but can’t typically offer everything you need to bring a product to fruition. For that, you’ll need multiple people. Nobody is great at doing everything.

Just as Taylor mentioned, he may be really great at softgoods design (and I’m sure he is,) he may not be very experienced with packaging design. That makes sense considering it’s not actual product design.

Easy now… :smiley: I always wondered why I couldn’t design products. (Bit of sarcasm there)

What I’m saying is that it takes a group of people to come together and make a cohesive design, from packaging, graphics and body design. That’s typically what a normal design firm can offer as they have all those disciplines under one roof. Obviously, you pay for that level of expertise. Experienced freelances offer a high-level of expertise generally for a slightly reduced rate, but can’t typically offer everything you need to bring a product to fruition. For that, you’ll need multiple people. Nobody is great at doing everything.

6ix is right. I had someone commission me to design packaging for them and then asked if I could design the product as well. I told them that I probably would not be the guy for them as I focus on packaging and if they would like me to work with another freelancer to make sure the product and the package were cohesive I would be happy to and would actually prefer it.

Sorry bro, you know what I meant!! ha ha

No problem. I had to put it up there. It was too easy. :laughing:

By freelancers, I feel I should point out that consultants would be also included. Also, yes, not all freelancers/consultants offer the same depth or breadth of services, though I think it is simplifying to say that not one person can provide a wide range of services.

Freelancer = consultancy in my book.

Just an example (not to toot my own horn, but more for a case in point), I currently run a consultancy/freelance business which is based on offering a wide variety of services. I do everything from strategic brand positioning, to identity and branding to design, technical development, and also packaging, marketing, graphics and web. I do almost all myself, though tend to sometimes bring in other people for specific roles (ie. web programming once I’ve done the UI and site layout).

Point being, of course you should know what your consultant can offer and what they can’t but also be mindful of how much of the whole they can cover. In general, I believe the more that can come from a single source, be it a team or individual, the better. Saves money, has a more holistic approach, and keeps things simple.

A good freelancer/consultant should know what they can do and what they can’t and even better offer suggestions for trusted partners to take on those responsibilities that they don’t do.

R

In this business, I think we all agree that relationships are so important. Almost all of my work is for friends, friends of friends, word of mouth, and people I’ve gotten to know here on core77 and coroflot.

Caffeine, you’ve got a great resource here with the boards. Most of us are familiar with your work, capabilities, and what you want to do (which is 90% of it anyway) why not just contact some folks on here?

Awesome stuff. A service is a service, I reckon.

The takeaway from my POV to this point:

A business needs to establish, clearly, the what, when and why (“Why” seems critical for a few reasons). Communication is tantamount to a successful partnership. Do your homework and make sure they are doing theirs… No one likes a bum scoop.

Clearly defined goals and a set of checks/procedures/safe-guards are present for all parties to benefit from. My question is…

New freelancers may not have the most absolutely stunning/coherent procedure checklist and the supporting documents. They may miss a few steps and stumble a bit. Likewise for the business that is new to outsourcing work. Where do these types “meet in the middle”? Is there a resource, other than the great discussion we’ve had thus far, that would guide two n00b entities in the case described above?

I say that to say this; I was brand new to everything, landing contracts, collecting, billing, etc. at one point. I was lucky enough to have patient clients who let me stumble and bumble through a few iterations. I’m smoother now, but no where near perfect and from the business end of outsourcing… damn near clueless.

I guess the one thing that is sort of a touchy subject is compensation. I think that is what makes “art” so hard to comprehend for your average Joe SixPack. There is no “standard” I.e. CAD drawing will cost you $XXXX Or a techpack will cost you $XXXX. In most bartering systems there is, at the very least, a rudimentary average price for XYZ. Do we have such a thing in the design world? Is the lack of a baseline price for XYZ a main contributing factor which makes Industrial Design or most “design” jobs so esoteric (a common complaint I read here from Designers is the misunderstanding between corporate and design)?

I’m not saying there needs to be a standard or needs to be anything for that matter… I’m just asking the question. I hope to take Taylor up on his gracious offer and make my own “standard” baseline from his excellent work.

I like where this is going and I hope I didn’t jump the shark with this post…

Yo - I will and you are right, this is a great resource… I hope you would agree that more information/discussion is a positive thing.

A good freelancer/consultant should know what they can do and what they can’t and even better offer suggestions for trusted partners to take on those responsibilities that they don’t do.

R

In this business, I think we all agree that relationships are so important. Almost all of my work is for friends, friends of friends, word of mouth, and people I’ve gotten to know here on core77 and coroflot.

Yo

Bulls-eye.

Whenever I am unable to (or am not interested) perform a specific task, I always put the client in touch with a friend or trusted designer who can. I have some great friends in the design world, but ultimately it comes down to who produces the best work, that is who I send them to. I’ve become better friends with designers who I didn’t know/didn’t really get along with, but who are super talented and motivated designers, due to sending them more work, thus making our relationships stronger. I guess the point is, just because your best friend for life is a Graphic Designer, doesn’t mean he/she should get the freelance job automatically. Poor work from a someone you referenced reflects back poorly on your value.

Same, my ability to take clients is limited, and I only take stuff I really want to do, that obviously does not compete with my j-o-b and I only take a couple of projects a quarter… that basically narrows it down a lot. What I do mostly is refer contacts to friends that I think would fit the job. I a big believer in it al comes back around eventually.

Caffeine, I would love to do a project with you though!