How to find and vet the best freelancers

You’ve probably heard all these different stories about these people called freelancers. Some fabulous. Some horrible. In one story, they sound pretty awesome because it sounds like a cost-effective way to get stuff done. Others make outsourcing sound like a legal headache that could hurt your enterprise. What should you believe?

As a serial freelancer and serial freelance recruiter and manager, I’m sold on the fact that the benefits of freelancers far outweigh the costs.

First and foremost, agile talent increases your speed and capabilities. Outsourcing is like a utility supply. The goal is to use the best of something in order to take your business to the next level. Temporary could mean a week, a few months or even years.

Second, it decreases costs. You don’t have to pay for software, benefits or any other costs tied to traditional employees.

Lastly, you get access to a wider array of unique insights and experiences; not to mention you also get access to a larger network. Freelancers work with a lot of different companies, which means they not only have more connections you can utilize, but they also have more insights from past experiences.

You may be thinking: But I’ve tried working with freelancers before, and they didn’t deliver.

There’s multiple reasons your experience could have been a poor one.

  • You worked with a bad apple.
  • You sourced your talent from the wrong place.
  • You didn’t know what you really needed done.

Point blank: More of the world is headed in the freelancer’s direction, focusing less on traditional employment arrangements and more on talent however it is best found and arranged. This is not only better for experts who want more flexibility in their lives but also for you — business owners and managers.

In this post, you’ll learn how I source, vet and attract the most affordable freelancers, who are still of the highest caliber in their fields.

How to find the right freelancers

Right now, you’re in one of two boats.

One, you know exactly what and who you need. You’re 1,000 percent positive about it because you understand the project you’re hiring for because you’ve done it yourself. Or two, you’re unsure of what and who you need because this isn’t your speciality or expertise.

Either way, here’s what I recommend doing.

Visit niche communities.

Visit niche websites, such as Dribbble, or Designer News, and look for people who are active in the community. Find their email addresses and reach out.

Before you email, make sure you have a clear idea of:

  • The goals / KPIs you’re contracting them to meet and exceed for you in X amount time
  • Your budget range and payment options (project-based, hourly…)

Brainstorm and search.

Ask yourself: Where can I find the type of talent I want?

This is really easy if you’re looking for a marketer or writer. Just go to your favorite blogs; find your favorite writers’ email addresses; and email them.

Again, before you email, make sure you read the aforementioned bullet points.

Here’s an example of a successful cold email I sent to one of the most talented freelance writers I’ve worked with.

Here’s another example of a company that cold emailed me about freelancing for them.

Another question to ask yourself is: Who does [marketing, design, etc.] that I love and I think I have roughly the same budget as?

Visit these companies’ sites, and go to their about pages. Do they have team members listed? Can you search Dribbble or LinkedIn for the company name, and see who freelances there and specializes in what you’re looking for? You may even get lucky and find the person who worked on the exact freelancer who worked on the company project you love.

If your search comes up dry, which it likely won’t, you can always reach out to the company’s department head, and ask them for a connection to their freelancer.

Develop relationships early and often.

Whenever I read a blog post that I find myself pocketing for later, I typically conduct some research on the writer and reach out. Here’s an example of a successful email I sent to a young freelancer after reading his phenomenal post about social media on Medium.

I tend to hire younger, up-and-coming freelancers because it’s not only wildly rewarding to develop people with potential, but it’s also less expensive because they haven’t essentially “made it” yet.

Look for talented, young superstars — interns at Google, Basecamp, Facebook. They’re usually very receptive and totally open to chatting with you about freelance opportunities.

Write a short and sweet gig description.

Pretend your job posting is like an email you have to read. What’s the perfect email (besides no email) look like to you?

It’s probably short, easily scannable and has a clear call-to-action so you quickly know what you need to do next.

Here’s an example:

Catchy headline in bold

Company: (Don’t describe your company. Just link to it. Applicants should do the research themselves, and they will.)


  • Bullet 1
  • Bullet 2
  • Bullet 3


  • Bullet 1
  • Bullet 2
  • Bullet 3

(Optional) Responsibilities:

  • Bullet 1
  • Bullet 2
  • Bullet 3

(Optional) Skills:

  • Bullet 1
  • Bullet 2
  • Bullet 3

How to Apply: Insert what you want them to do to apply clearly and concisely. If you have more than one thing you want then use bullet points. (And don’t make them complete 24 ridiculously long application questions.)

Here’s one more thing to keep in mind. I’ve found that the companies, which land the highest caliber candidates and see the biggest ROI from their freelancers, are the ones that:

  • Offer flexibility in work environment, i.e. allow freelancers to work remotely.
  • Consistently pay on-time or early and often.
  • Give the freelancer definitive goals and metrics to meet and be judged on in weekly reviews.
  • Hold weekly deliverable meetings for both parties’ benefits.
  • Allow the freelancer to do their job, meaning you agree to a goal/KPI and trust the freelancer to reach that KPI in a set amount of time.

Know the right places to post and people to ask.

Knowing the right people to ask and the right places to look will save you a multitude of time when hunting for freelancers.

I’ve tested every online platform to find candidates you can dream of. Here’s a quick review of my findings:

  • Referrals are typically the best.
  • Highly curated, niche marketplaces are also pretty phenomenal.
  • Craigslist is not a bad place to advertise, or so I hear.
  • Marketplace conglomerates, like UpWork/Elance, spam you with an overload of mediocre to terrible but super cheap overseas’ contractors.

How to decipher dud freelancers from stud freelancers

When it comes to choosing quality freelancers, nine times out of 10 I pick the best candidates. Here’s my outsourcing algorithm.

Trust me, and trust your instinct.

I said nine times out of 10 I pick the best candidates, but if I relied on my gut 100 percent of the time, I’d score 100 percent of the time. I say this because every candidate I did choose, who did fail at something, I had “a feeling” about before I hired them.

If something does not feel right, it probably is not so move on so you can find the right person quicker.

Do they pass the airport test?

Would you want to be stuck in the airport with this person?

Seriously, ask yourself this question. You must, must, must like the person you hire otherwise you’ll subconsciously be biased toward them and their work.

You don’t need to ask the candidate specific questions to know whether you like them or not. This is another instinct. Turns out, we make pretty good decisions when we’re confident in ourselves.

Show me the work.

I don’t care a damn about resumes, and you shouldn’t either.

Anyone could fabricate a beautiful resume with grandiose verbiage and bullet points, but not everyone will have the audacity to lie about their portfolio because that would be copyright infringement.

Ask for a link to their online portfolio or LinkedIn or blog — whatever. Get a link or a get a work sample.

Judge them based on what they’ve done — not what they said they’ve done.

Ask for referrals, not references.

There are three sides to every story, and you’ll never get the third one so why even waste your time getting the first two?

Instead of asking for references from candidates you source from uncurated, online job boards and freelance posting websites, I suggest sourcing your candidates through referrals to begin with.

Here’s an example successful email I sent to a connection. It landed me a stellar and affordable freelance writer within a day.

Have an expert vet talent for you.

Well, wouldn’t that just be a perfect world — if I could source all my freelancers through referrals — you might be sarcastically thinking right now like I don’t know how difficult that can be.

Think outside the box, and utilize a platform that has a database of already vetted freelance experts.