A Quick Guide to Hiring Freelancers in a Time of Crisis

Projects can be stalled in an instant when a crisis hits. You may have to furlough nonessential employees or, worse, terminate them. That does not mean your work needs to stop. You may have another option, and that is to hire a freelancer to step in and pick up where your staff left off. You can find a freelancer for every aspect of a project if you know where to look.

Businesses hiring freelancers has become common. In fact, in its last (downloadable) report on the gig economy, Gallup found that “36 percent of all U.S. workers participate in the gig economy in some capacity.” That number is expected to grow as Millennials, and Generation Zrs settle into the workplace, given that they put a premium on work-life balance, so the flexibility of freelancing is especially appealing.

This guide will help you figure out how to quickly bring a freelancer on board in a time of crisis.

Where Do You Find Freelancers?

Finding great freelance talent doesn’t have to be a Herculean task if you know where to look. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Network: “There might be a temptation to go with the mainstream freelancing marketplaces just because those are the ones people may have heard of,” says Portland-based freelance writer Katherine Gustafson. “It’s an easy, quick method of getting people. It’s a better idea, however, to be a little bit more proactive about finding someone. [It’s better to] use your network to see who’s going to be professional enough to really serve your purposes and fit the need you have. That’s the first place to start because there’s nothing as good as word-of-mouth. That’s how a lot of the higher-end, more experienced freelancers get their clients, referrals.”

Research: “Look online for people’s work to see if they have similar expertise [to what] you’re looking for,” Gustafson says, “then contact them directly or through LinkedIn. That’s increasingly where freelancers market themselves.”

Gayle Falkenthal, owner of Falcon Valley Group and founder of PR Panic Room, also recommends LinkedIn. “A simple search should yield good candidates.” After searching LinkedIn, Falkenthal says to approach professional associations to see who they have listed as freelancers. “Interview several candidates. Cultural fit is important as you’ll need to put your trust in this person.”

Freelance Marketplaces: For every specialty, there’s a marketplace where you can find a freelancer available. Brian Hamilton, founder of Brian Hamilton Foundation and Sageworks says, “These [marketplaces] have service providers in thousands of categories and niches. Generally, a quick [internet] search for a freelancer in the field you need will bring up the best site.”

How Do You Vet Freelancers?

“The best way to vet a freelancer is to look at their past work and what previous clients have said,” says Hamilton. “If the freelancer is in a technical position, you can also ask for any certifications that verify they are able to perform the task at hand.” Professional freelancers will have a website that describes their services, displays work samples, and lists testimonials. “Most freelance marketplaces today allow you to review previous work and read reviews from others who have hired the freelancer on the platform,” explains Hamilton.

Gustafson suggests giving them a small paid trial project before you sign any lengthy contract with a freelancer. “If they’ve handled themselves professionally and responsibly, you can move forward from there,” says Gustafson.

How Do You Pay Freelancers?

“Typically, a freelance person is paid by the job,” says Carlos Leach, founder and managing partner of The Leach Firm, “and has little or no relation to how long they work on a project where employees are usually paid in units, what is hourly or salary.”

How a person is paid is a big factor in the eyes of a court when deciding whether a person is a freelancer or employee, explains Leach.

You can also expect to negotiate the fee, says Gustafson. Freelancers are independent contractors who own their own small businesses. They are paid by invoice. What you will pay will be laid out in the proposal, and then in the contract, the freelancer provides. Any work you want the freelancer to do that is outside of the contract, known as scope creep, will have to be negotiated separately.

How Do You Onboard Freelancers?

Expect professional freelancers to onboard you. They are not employees. The extent of onboarding from your end will be laid out in the contract, i.e., you detail the work to be done and the deadline; you sign off on that information as well as the negotiated fee. “Treat the process as a business transaction,” Gustafson says.

What Mistakes Should You Avoid?

“The main issue I see for anybody using a freelancer,” warns Leach, “is whether they convert to an employee.” If they do, you lose all the benefits of using a freelancer, such as not having to pay benefits and taxes on them.

There are several factors that a court looks at to determine whether a freelancer is really an employee, explains Leach. “The first and most important factor is control.” The freelancer needs to control how, where, when, and by whom the work will be done (freelancers can subcontract). “A freelancer,” Leach says, “would receive a set of instructions on the goal to be accomplished, but [you don’t] tell them what to do in every aspect of those job duties.”

A freelancer’s time with a company will be limited by the length of the project. If there’s no end date, then they slide over to becoming an employee.”

“What a freelancer does also cannot be integral to your business,” explains Leach. For example, a law firm could contract a freelance accountant to handle its books, but it could not contract a freelance attorney to help with client load. An attorney’s work is integral to the business. An accountant’s is not. If you need to have help with the workload in that respect, you need a temporary employee. If you need someone to work onsite full-time or part-time, you would be hampering a freelancer’s ability to have other clients, and you’re looking for a temporary employee.

You can obtain a full list of what makes freelancers independent contractors or employees on your state department of labor website, local department of labor, as well as the federal site.

“Freelancers are made to step into a crisis situation,” Gustafson says. They are experienced specialists who are experts at what they do. They already work remotely, have the tools to do the job, and love what they do. They can come in on a moment’s notice and help you quickly ramp up or down. All you need to do is find them.