On Freelance Hiring

The Business of UX

Building and managing a UX agency

A column by Keith LaFerriere
August 23, 2010

Meet Jim. He’s an information architect who has worked on award-winning designs and knows a thing or two about how to correctly identify the subtle nuances that make a purchase-path decision a no-brainer.

Meet Jane. She’s an information architect who has worked on award-winning designs and knows a thing or two about how to correctly identify the subtle nuances that make a purchase-path decision a no-brainer.

Which one is the freelancer?


Hiring freelance help is one of the many benefits—and sometimes one of the many pitfalls—we encounter in our industry. From copywriters to creatives, from user experience to usability testing professionals, we have myriad options when it comes to getting talent in the door on a specific project. And, as the entrepreneurial bug bites more and more of the talent pool, it’s getting harder to find full-time help to fill roles on a project roster or company team.

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So, how can we evaluate the pros and cons of using freelancers based on more than just perfect pricing? Can you find a pattern that helps your company to grow organically without breaking the bank? What if a freelancer isn’t getting the job done? How about the intangible benefits you receive when hiring freelance help? How can you make hiring freelancers work for you?

Get the Scope Right

When you’re not used to having a full-time resource to handle certain tasks, scoping projects can be a challenge. Often, even once you’ve done the proper planning and scoping, there are still some client impacts you have to take into consideration. For example, a 20-week Web site redesign project may require only two weeks for usability testing, but your client’s review and response process could take up to a week or more. You might think that if you stretch the project out, your usability testing resource will be able to pause and restart at will. Most often, that’s just not the case.

As a matter of fact, you need to understand your freelancers to scope properly.

As soon as you begin your scoping effort, you should be on the phone with potential freelance resources who represent an array of opportunities.

Factors to Consider

A proper scoping effort might take the following factors pertaining to freelancers into consideration:

  • your best use of internal resources (Can your full-time resources do it? Or, do you need a freelancer?)
  • an awareness of your profit margin
  • the need for maintenance or iterative follow-on work
  • team chemistry
  • client personality
  • internal resources’ vacations, holidays, and other things that affect timing
  • payment distribution
  • the timing of client feedback

But wait, there’s more.

What if your client doesn’t know why you need to bring on specific talent? What if they fall in love with the temporary hire of their dreams? Worse yet, what if you know you can’t get the job done unless you get some help, and the client vehemently declines your adding any new team members, especially if it happens in the middle of a project? There are a few things you can do to defend against these situations.

  • Get a freelancer’s resume and work samples in front of your client. Well before you need to introduce the subject of needing or hiring a freelancer, get his or her resume and work samples ready. This information helps illustrate why you’ve chosen a particular resource, as well as your plan for the project. It also shows you already have a good solution to the problem and are thinking about your client’s best interests.
  • Show your client a high-level Gantt chart. The Gantt chart or project plan you’ve prepared can help you explain when and for how long you’ll need a resource. It shows your current plan—you can withhold dates for now—and which milestones are to be completed by both internal and external resources.
  • Hire a hidden consultant. Let’s face it. You may need to hire a resource, even if that means you must use some of the hours you had set aside for an internal resource or eat the cost of a freelancer. Things happen, and sometimes it’s either sink or swim. You should always be sure to have a network of resources who are available to you when you need them.

Similar, Yet Different

Freelancers have mouths to feed. They have children and pets to care for. They take vacations. They must repay student loans, make mortgage and credit card payments, and pay for transit passes. In other words, they have all of the same expenses you do. (Well, almost.) They probably have some expenses your internal resources don’t have, since they’re running their own business, too.

What freelancers don’t typically have is an investment in your company’s brand, the intellectual property about your products and processes your internal resources have, or the team chemistry that keeps your agency going at three o’clock in the morning when the pressure is on—though with a pizza and maybe a groan.

While you may just always hire your friend or your favorite front-end buddy, you should also be aware of your own economic needs. It’s okay to shop around and make sure you’re still getting the right value for your money. It would be silly not to at least find out what the competitive rates are. Again, it’s not that you have to hire someone you don’t know; you just need to be aware of your options.

Mark It Up

It’s always necessary to chart your expenses to see your profit and loss on any project or potential work. When doing a budget for your client, make sure to work within a range of hours to protect yourself and your resources.

This doesn’t mean you’ll immediately ask for more money if a project looks like it might slip or that you’d overcharge your client if it turns out there’s less work than you originally thought. Instead, preparing your project plan will allow you to settle into a comfortable schedule that allows the time you need for new business development and handling other client matters.

For internal employees, your time and scope should include approximately a 20% buffer of time for client feedback and business development.

For external resources or freelancers, make sure they have the additional time necessary when they aren’t billing to the project, so you can stay on track and don’t lose their services during lulls in the project lifecycle.

Pay It Forward

Whenever I’ve had the chance to work with a stellar freelancer, I’ve given them credit for the work they’ve done. In almost every situation, a freelancer is looking to do the best job possible for you—both to ensure repeat project work or more lucrative, word-of-mouth referrals. 

EVP, CCO, at Verndale

Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Keith LaFerriereKeith leads User Experience at Arnold Worldwide, one of the most award-winning advertising agencies in the USA. His passion and persistence in advocating for user-centered design—whether offline or online—enables the achievement of both user experience and ad campaign goals. For over sixteen years, Keith has made interactive environments and complex Web applications easier to use, working for clients such as Carnival, Harvard University, IDC, DHL, Ocean Spray, Huntington Bank, Panasonic, The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, and many more.  Read More

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