Hiring a consultant or freelancer can help you move projects forward in your business, but finding that perfect match isn't easy.
Like full-time employees, no two consultants or freelancers are the same. Each comes with a level of expertise, personality, communication style, workflow and fee structure that makes them uniquely valuable. Keeping these things in mind when hiring a consultant or freelancer can help ensure the person you're bringing on is the right fit.
I learned this the hard way the first time I went through a company rebrand. I was looking for a content writer and had two proposals. One was for a freelance writer who had just started branching out; the other was from a senior content strategist named Stephanie.
Stephanie's rate was almost double the other consultant's quote, so I went with the less expensive resource—a decision I quickly regretted. After all the revisions, redos and phone calls, the less expensive consultant ended up costing me more than Stephanie's original proposal. I eventually pulled Stephanie in a year later to help me touch up the copy and re-evaluate our approach.
The experience changed the way I approached hiring consultants and freelancers for my own projects and at my consulting agency Kayson. Here's what I look for now:
Strategy, Tactics or Both?
Most consultants and freelancers generally fit into one of three categories: strategists, tacticians or both.
Strategists are experts at connecting the dots, and most helpful when you're not sure what you need, your needs cross over multiple aspects of your business or when you need help creating a plan. For example, if you're looking for ways to increase your market share, a strategist can review your existing goals, products, services and market, and create a plan that helps you expand. They're big-picture thinkers. Because of this, they also tend to be more expensive.
Tacticians, on the other hand, are best suited to execute on a task that is part of a bigger strategy. For example, a strategist may find that you can expand your reach with content marketing and suggest a blog and newsletter. The strategist would tell you what to do, where to put the content and how often. But a tactical person—in this example, a copywriter—would create the content.
In some cases, you may find a strategist, like Stephanie, who can also execute on their plans. At the very least, strategists should be able to point you to someone who can.
Levels of Experience
Just like full-time employees, consultants and freelancers work at senior, mid and junior levels.
Senior-level consultants are the most experienced with 10+ years of experience in their field and can provide more overarching support. Mid-level consultants tend to have seven or more years, and junior-level consultants have three-plus years of experience.
In my case, hiring the less experienced resource for my project required more time on my end, both on managing the engagement and overseeing the quality of the deliverables. When you're busy or lack the expertise, this isn't ideal.
Before you decide what level of resource you need, think through your expectations and how much time you have to be involved. The more time/experience you have in the area, the more appealing a junior resource may be. The less time and experience you have, you may find it more beneficial to work with someone more senior.
Personality and Communication Style
Before you bring a consultant or freelancer on board, make sure your energy and working styles align. Will they be a good cultural fit?
If your office is designed around collaboration, you'll probably want a consultant who's comfortable working in team environments. You can tell by how they manage the proposal process, their structure and how they respond during interviews.
In the case of Stephanie, I found her working style totally aligned with our remote and highly collaborative team. She's able to get what she needs from us in any setting (phone, in-person whiteboard sessions and Slack), which has been incredibly helpful in moving things forward without interrupting our team's flow.
Communication is important. You need to be able to communicate effectively with any consultant or freelancer you hire—especially if you're paying them an hourly rate. The proposal process offers a good glimpse at their style. If you notice things aren't clicking, it may be a good indication that it's not a good fit. Try giving them specific tasks and see how they respond to determine if their communication style is a match for you.
It's easy to home in on the fees, but as I mentioned above, no two consultants or freelancers are the same. When you're evaluating multiple proposals, cost is a factor, but it shouldn't be the only one.
Finding that perfect person may require you to look beyond the numbers. But it's worth it in the long run. After three years, Stephanie remains a key resource on my team.
Read more articles on hiring & HR.