Best Practices to selecting a consultant or freelancer

I select, hire and work with outside consultants and freelancers for my own company as well as my clients. And have, for the most part, positive and workable experiences leading to successful project outcomes.

In my experience, I learned and continue to learn best practices to selecting and hiring an outside consultants or vendors so we all (my clients, freelancers and me) feel that rush of successful project completion with objectives met with “no surprises.”

In the past, I have also worked with clients who have been unhappy with earlier consultants and/or project outcomes because of the rush to hire someone or team that turned out to be the wrong fit. At that point, they have brought me in to either redo the project, start all over again or hire the right resources depending on what is needed. That costs time, money and can be avoided.

Here are 11 tips for helping you select and hire the right outside resource.

1.  Start by analyzing, articulating and writing down what you need with regards to projects, skills or pain points or issues you need resolved.

Are you looking for a website developer or a website designer or an art director or do you know? If titles are not familiar to you take a really basic approach and define what you need, where are your pain points and what skills do you think are needed to fix the pain points. For example, visitors to our site are only staying a few minutes how do we get them to stay longer or our blog is getting very few readers-what do we need to do to increase our readership? Or we have a team that is not meeting deadlines or working together.

I am assuming you will get a list that you can rank by what you need most. Then prioritize that list by what is most valuable and most profitable to your company.

2. Define the project, the scope, budget limits and rough schedule.

Once this information is defined and established, internally in your organization, then you can have clear, complete information for your selected consultant. These actions will also help you get more specific information from them. This includes how their skills, experience and working style matches your needs.

Knowing and defining what you need and are looking for is critical to do before talking to any outside consultant. But don’t get too rigid, flexibility will help you accept feedback from the consultant you select as well as those you don’t. If you are truly hiring an expert, they will be able to further define the scope of the project and perhaps even steer you to a more suitable project type or other solution that might be better or help you define the more basic issues.

Be realistic about budget and schedule requirements—you may have to compromise on the deliverable date to get the best provider for the job. And, you should be open to budget negotiation to get the best consultant for your needs.

And, again you want this consultant to share their thoughts, ability and recommendations with you too. You are hiring someone who has the ability you and your company do not, so you want to listen and learn from this trusted source.

3. Interview the consultant.

Now that you are closer to knowing what you need and want, you will want to interview various consultant/freelancers.

Ask questions—lots of questions. You are hiring a partner for the duration of the project and you want people who not only have the experience and background but also the “soft” skills that include communication skills and interpersonal skills and ability to work with you and communicate effectively with you.

If you are working with a remote consultant/vendor, communication criteria and accountability become even more critical. These are always important but especially with someone you might never meet face to face.

Check their references and ask for feedback from other clients who have used their services. If you have any concerns about a vendor’s specific capabilities, voice your concerns to them now. And, remember the vendor is putting their best foot forward with their best people.

Be aware that if you are hiring someone new to the consulting gig or just out of school, they may not have clients you can talk to or they may have reservations because of confidentiality issues. That is okay. If you take time to start them on a basic, simple project, it will allow you to see how this person or team fits within your group.

Make sure you know who your day-to-day contact will be and interview them too. Then ask that unless there is an unforeseen emergency that consistent interfacing contact is with you through the duration of the project and the vendor is not changing contact people periodically during the process. Getting a new person up to speed and understanding you and your business can slow or halt the project progress.

4. Look for specific experience fit

Ideally, the vendor that you select has the specific experience with the type of project that you defined and in the area that you need.

Don’t be your vendor’s “guinea pig.”

5. Review the vendor’s work

Review their “portfolio” (if they have one), their website, their online presence and reviews. Make sure that your expectations about style, quality and, if copy and design, that tone and way are applicable to what you want and need.

6. Confirm who will be doing the work

Some vendors outsource various parts of projects to other vendors, if you are comfortable with that then that is okay. But ask the vendor beforehand if all aspects of the project are done with them or what outside vendors might be involved. Having your selected vendor outsource some of the project isn’t necessarily an issue such as a designer working with a website developer. But you should be aware and be comfortable with which aspects of your project might be outsourced. If it is the crux of the project that is outsourced then you may want to consider another vendor.

7. Test

I do this allot particularly if the consultant/freelancers I think is best doesn’t have the exact experience that I would like. I start with a small project. That way I can see the vendor in action and when it is crucial will know if this vendor is trustworthy and can handle what I need. And, you can do the same.

Some companies ask for a “mockup” or sample project but I think it is better to use a real project. This allows the vendor to get paid for their work and you to really see what the provider’s capabilities are in action.

8. An agreed to schedule

By this point, you have defined with your provider a budget and working plan. This plan should include defined, concrete goals. This will allow you to know the scheduled checkpoints and review the status and direction of the project at those check in points. Also, be sure, to find the project scope and budget parameters, you do not want to be surprised with “change” fee notices when you thought that the second-round copy was included.

Stay involved in the project and define what you mean by updates and when those updates are need. If any course corrections need to be made allow adequate time to make those and don’t allow yourself to be in the dark until you get a finished product, which by then is too late. My motto is “No surprises” and this is a way to avoid as much as possible project or vendor surprises.

9. Final product ownership

For any type of outsourced project, make sure that you are clear about who owns the work product and any important components of that product or project. Make sure the service provider understands how you intend to use the deliverables that they are providing. This is particularly true of photography, illustrations or other artwork, this vendor created. And, be fair, you might need to pay usage fees or pay more money if you want outright sole ownership.

10. Define what you expect as far as any ongoing support

During the planning phase, negotiate with your vendor what happens when the work is complete. Is there ongoing support or options to make changes? If artwork, what do you need and in what format. Don’t be greedy but try specifying some amount of free support or negotiating discounted prices for future modifications. That seemingly small detail can save you time and money later.

11. Get everything in writing

Include the scope of the project, what the deliverables are, the agreed to budget, schedule, and criteria that may change the scope and cost of the project.

Keep a record of all interactions as well as changes to the agreement. Save email, text or any other exchanges.

Hiring top-notch expertise, as outside vendors and freelancers, is a great way to meet your business needs without hiring a full-time staff member. There are numerous, excellent vendors available and by being upfront with honest and open communication you can have a successful outcome and even better a successful, ongoing relationship.