Hire the Right People (In-House, Freelancers, Contractors)
Who You Work With Matters
If you want to be successful, you’ve absolutely got to think about who you work with. It’s hard to figure out who’s right and who’s not. You want talented people that can get the job done, but you also want them to fit your culture.
You’ve got to have people that live and breathe your brand.
When you first start out, you might not have the funds to bring on a whole set of employees, which is why it’s a good idea to build a network of freelancers. Even after you’ve built up the business and hired a bunch of people to run things in-house, you can still call on these freelancers when you need a radio ad, illustration, explainer video, or something else created.
Here we share how to hire the right people for your business, whether they’re full-time employees, freelancers, or contractors.
How to Hire the Right People: The Basics
As a small business, growing pains are something everyone is hoping to have. But that doesn’t make them any easier to solve. One of the biggest hurdles you’ll have to jump comes when it’s time to start bringing on employees.
From making the decision to hire to the candidate search and onboarding, hiring your first few employees can seem like a huge time and energy suck. Like most things, you’ll need to put in a little extra time, so you can save a bunch in the long run.
Here are some basic things to keep in mind when hiring new employees:
- Ask your connections first. Before paying to have your job description on a big website, ask around. Some of your friends and acquaintances might know someone who’s perfect for the job, or they might surprise you and be interested themselves.
- Decide if you really need to hire. Maybe you don’t need a full-time employee at all. Maybe a freelancer would do, or maybe you just need to get organized. Either way, there’s no magic formula for when it’s time to hire. If you don’t have time to work on your business — moving it forward and planning for the future – because you’re too busy maintaining it, then it’s probably time to look into hiring someone new.
- Figure out your company culture. What do you care about? What values are important to you? If you’re not sure, you need to figure it out before bringing on new employees. You can learn more about this process in our chapter on Brand DNA.
- Write a great job description. Your job description will ultimately determine who ends up in your applicant pool. Since you’re probably hoping the right person ends up there, you need to craft your job description very carefully.
- Find places to disseminate that job listing. We already mentioned friends, family, and acquaintances. Some other options are niche job boards, like CrunchBoard for tech, Coroflot for design, and Mashable Job Board for media and creative, as well as job search sites like Monster, Indeed, and SimplyHired.
- Get an onboarding process. Onboarding is a method of ensuring that your new employee is caught up-to-speed and can be productive as soon as possible. Having effective onboarding helps your new hire to become a contributing employee as quickly as possible.
Creating a Network of Freelancers
You’re not a multi-million dollar media company, and that’s ok. Sometimes, the best option is to hire a freelancer or contractor instead of a full-time employee. There are talented freelancers out there who can help you out. They can help you with accounting, write your website copy, help you build a mobile app, offer design and development services, and much more.
Even though Grasshopper is 10 years old, we still call on freelancers all the time!
Remember: when it comes to freelancers, you usually get what you pay for. Make sure you look extensively at the portfolios of the people you choose to work with before making an agreement. When it comes to design and code, flaws don’t reveal themselves until someone breaks something—lots of people get burned by this. If someone makes an offer that seems too good to be true (like a blog post for $15), it probably is.
There are tons of things freelancers do:
They Create Illustrations
They Write Blog Posts
They Make Videos
How to find Freelancers Online
Our co-founders swear by freelancers and constantly look for new ones. Start by asking around – your connections might know of a video editor or professional writer that fits your needs.
If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking by asking around, try these online options:
Behance is a platform for showing and discovering all sorts of creative works. You can search the platform’s Joblist and sort by individual fields, or post your own job. Our CEO turns to Behance to find the latest and most cutting-edge designs on Behance, dipping in to an international pool of talent (his favorites are the designers in Japan).
If you’re in need of a graphic designer or illustrator, dribbble is the place to go. The platform allows you to easily find talent based on the style you’re going for. You’re guaranteed to find good designers on dribbble as it is invite only. Check out what you get when you search for “modern animals”.
If you want to get freelancers by recommendation, Coworks is a great option. You can use the platform to find freelancers for design, writing, photo, and web projects. Unlike many other freelancing sites, Coworks doesn’t charge commission. That means you can bring freelancers you already work with on to the site with no charge.
Other places to find freelancers online:
- Contently – If you’re looking for freelance writers alongside a refined editorial process complete with editors, Contently is the platform for you. It can also be used as an editing platform if you’ve already got writers you like.
- WriterAccess – Writer Access can easily hook you up with professional writers, complete with ratings. They also provide analytics and you only have to pay if you’re 100% satisfied.
- Craigslist – It might take you a while to find who you’re looking for, but many freelancers can be found on Craigslist at inexpensive prices.
- Elance and oDesk – Like Craigslist, Elance and Odesk (recently merged) require wading through the muck, but prices are reasonable and there’s a wide range of talent.
- PeoplePerHour – If you’re looking to complete a specific task—whether it be menial or sophisticated-- post it on PeoplePerHour. You can probably find someone to do it.
- Blogs You Love. – If you read an article you love, contact the writer. Many of these writers will take on freelance work, even if they have a day job.
- LinkedIn – The professional networking site is popular for a reason. Visit freelance groups, make searches, and see who your connections know.
- Forrst – Forrst is a designer’s enclave for inspiration and support. Top designers post their stuff for feedback and advice. Snag someone you like off the site.
- Amazon Mechanical Turk – Get your tasks done easily and quickly with on-demand scalable work done by people. This is especially good for menial tasks such as compiling lists.
How to Effectively use Freelancers
Freelancers don’t get the benefits of being full-time employees. They don’t have health insurance, aren’t guaranteed a paycheck, and have to do a lot of work on their own.
Just because a freelancer isn’t a fulltime employee doesn’t mean that you should treat them as easy come, easy go. To build a network of freelancers that continually give you high quality work, treat them like gold.
To effectively use freelancers, keep these tips in mind:
Provide clear guidelines to any freelancer you work with. Be clear about what you want, or else you might not get it. It’s not just for you- freelancers hate when they’re clients can’t decide. If you feel strongly about the way a blog post is written or how your brand is represented in a video, you better say so. Don’t change the scope of the project once it’s already started.
Pay Fairly and On Time
Freelancers charge what they charge. The best cost more than those who produce mediocre stuff. It can be tough to shell out cash, but once you agree to a freelancer’s terms, stick to them. Pay fairly, on time, and without complaint
Don’t be this person:
…In every communication (or project switch, as it was), she would work in something like ‘I need this to be attention-getting, but of course with your fee you would know that.’ I get it if she felt she overpaid after she had seen my work, but this was before I had completed any work at all.”– Brian Morris, freelance writer, on CreativeOverflow.
Remember That a Freelancer Is Not a Full-time Employee
Freelancers work for you, but they aren’t full-time employees. That means you don’t get to dictate their hours and can’t expect them to return your calls in five minutes. Freelancers make money by working for multiple people. Sorry -- you are not the center of their universe.
Give Honest Feedback
If you’re not happy with a freelancer’s work, it can be tough to say so. But, honest feedback is the only way a freelancer is going to understand what you want. Be clear about what you like and don’t like so they can refine their work.
Hiring the Right People In-house
You’re swamped and you recognize that it’s time to get help. If there’s an area that you and your co-founder can’t fit into your schedule or simply can’t do, it’s time to hire in-house.
When it’s time to hire people, first think about skills. You want people who know what they’re doing. Duh.
But you also want people who are dynamic team players, people who set the bar high, and then surpass it. You want people who love what they do. But it’s not just that. You also need them to fit into your Brand’s DNA.
Before you start the hiring process, make sure you have a well-defined role. Expectations need to be clear from the get-go so that the person isn’t surprised about what it means to be a part of your team.
Startup employees, more than any other kind of business, need tremendous amounts of energy and resourcefulness, and will thrive when teammates are focused and driven to see things through until they are complete.– Harris Goodman, Director of Sales and Business Developer at Late Nite Labs(source: Forbes)
So, how do you hire people for culture fit?
Want people that fit into your mold? Ask people that already understand what your company is about. You’re better off asking “who knows who” than sifting through resumes or hiring a recruiting firm. Exhaust your own connections to make sure the perfect person isn’t someone you already know!
Consider Past Experience
What did this person do in the past? Did they work for another cool startup? If so, why did they leave? Maybe they have interesting and out-of-the-box experiences, like participating in an improv group or climbing Kilimanjaro. Make sure that the person’s past experience fits with what you do and who you are.
Check Out Their Values
If your candidate’s values don’t match up with yours, that’s a red flag. If you think hunting down investors is crazy but it’s the only way the candidate thinks about financing, you’ve got a problem. If you’ve got different ideas about work-life balance, long-term goals, and general attitude, you’re likely to have issues down the line.
Gauge their Passion
A prospective employee might be a fun person to hang out with, but are they passionate about what your company does? Are they jazzed about their specialty? You want people who are bursting at the seams with ideas for how the company can improve. If you’ve hired a sales guy who mentions that a job is just a means to an end, he might not be the passionate person that you want on board.
Don’t Settle for a Bad Fit
After months of searching, it can be tempting to make a hire based on skills alone, even if the person is a bad fit for company culture. Though you may feel desperate, adding a bad fit to your team is like poisoning a well – just one drop can ruin everything! You want to hire those who are easy to work with, positive, and passionate.
Just because a prospect isn’t what you expected doesn’t mean they’re a bad fit. Someone might have all the qualities you’re looking for but require a little extra training – and they might be worth hiring! Alternatively, someone might have more experience than you’re looking for or be coming from a totally different role. It’s a little like dating – if you’re not open to the world’s amazing possibilities, you could end up alone. Remember that diversity is a huge asset.
Don’t Get Caught Up in Hiring Your Best Friend
A lot of startups have been criticized for using the term “culture fit” to mask discrimination. This is why it’s important to be open-minded. Don’t just hire people because you think they’d make a great new best friend. Let’s say you and your co-founder absolutely love sports. You live, dream, and breathe football. If you interview someone and they loathe sports, or they just don’t care, that doesn’t mean they’re a bad fit. Just because you can’t bring them to a game doesn’t mean they’re a bad choice.
Outsourcing and Contracting
Outsourcing work to contractors is a good idea for bigger projects. When we first started building our iPhone app, we contracted the work. On a quest to improve our support docs, we contracted the writing. When we were in between SEO specialists, we hired an agency.
Don’t outsource any project that’s at the core of your business. If the work you’re contracting someone to do affects the business you are, you’re better off hiring in-house. No outsourced work should compromise the lifeblood of your brand in any way.
Hiring Interns for your Business
Hiring an intern is a great option for startups and small businesses. They’re cheap, teachable, and, if they’re in college, are likely to sign on for a full-time job after they graduate. If they’re not so great, it’s easy to set an internship period and move on after they’re done.
An intern has a freshness that seasoned professionals don’t have. Often, they’re curious and willing to take on work that you see as tedious or that you simply don’t have time for.Interns have a lot of benefits. They can help you out while expanding their skill set, and they give you an opportunity to mentor someone who is less experienced than you.
But there are many times when internships are not appropriate. If you want an intern for “free labor,” then think again. Interns are usually temporary, so if you’re going to be frustrated that you’ve taught an intern a lot only to see them move on, then this is not a fit for you. If you want an intern to do all the most boring tasks and can’t foresee that you’ll be able to truly teach them anything, then consider finding a freelancer or part-time worker to help.
When to Hire Interns
When should you hire an intern? Tough question. There’s no magic time that’s right. Interns aren’t as independent so you may need lots of time to manage them. On the other hand, if they’re sharp, they can get going on a role if you give them responsibilities and help them along.
Do hire an intern if:
- You need help with certain tasks that would be learning opportunities for someone who is inexperienced.
- You don’t have enough work to give a full-time employee, but you have a bit too much for a freelancer.
- The work is easy enough so that it can be picked up quickly, but not so easy that it would be incredibly boring.
Don’t hire an intern if:
- You don’t have the time or expertise to teach them and help them as they go.
- You’re unsure if you’ll be able to give them enough work for the hours you want to hire them.
- You don’t have any funds to pay them or are unwilling to help them get college credit.
How to Hire Interns
The process for hiring interns is a bit different than hiring full-time employees or freelancers, simply because they’re often still in school. They frequent different types of job boards than seasoned professionals and have different types of goals.
First, write a job description. Make sure the description is realistic for someone who is relatively inexperienced. Consider whether you will pay the intern—and how much. If you decide you cannot afford to pay the intern, then make sure you fit the requirements to offer college credit.
To find the best candidates, start by visiting or contacting your local college and universities. These schools almost always have intern programs. They’ll get your internship in front of students, and they’ll often assist you in finding someone that works.
There are also websites that can help you out. InternQueen and InternMatch are two of the most well known.
Hire the Right Interns
Once you’ve decided you want to hire an intern, you’ll be concerned with finding the right one. Follow the same steps as you would in hiring a full-time employee, checking for culture fit and making sure they’ll be able to do what you need, but keep in mind that the intern won’t have the same kind of experience, and may have less developed views about what they want in a job. Interns often come from collegiate settings where the focus and priorities are much different than at a small business or startup.