How to hire a freelancer / contributor in 30 minutes, with 1 email and 10 sentences

This week, I decided to turn down a freelance job. I was not happy with the way the work was presented to me, and with the information I was getting from the company. When I thought about the reasons for saying "no" to this project, I realised that there is a bright side to this story.

In the industries I work for, and in many others, the jobs and offers are coming back on the market after Covid. This means that companies frequently need contributors at short notice. Starting a successful vendor-freelancer relationship instantly is difficult, but it can be done.

It's possible to have a conversation with freelancers which ends in a "yes" in record time. I've been on both sides of such exchanges; I remember hiring people in the time it took my tea to steep, and being hired on the spot - and not regretting or being confused by either. The particulars will vary, but I wanted to take some time to list several techniques which will increase the chances of this happening.

Here we go, then: my (subjective) guide to freelance hiring/getting hired, in 30 minutes, 10 sentences and 1 e-mail.

  1. Bottom line up front. Not all military ideas are terrible. BLUF is a way of formatting key messages which makes sure that one of the first sentences of your e-mail is a summary of the most important information. The project manager could write something like, " for the next 10 working days, we would like you to do regression testing on 5 products, for a total of 400 screens, logging all differences in a spreadsheet provided." The rest of the message can take care of the details: after reading this, I'll instantly know whether the job is something I want in my life now.
  2. "If..." and "if not..." with clear next steps. If you want your freelancer to start today, then anything you can do to shorten the e-mail chain will help you both. If you've done a good job with your message, many freelancers will straight away be able to say, "yes please, what do I do next?", so be ready for this. My message could say something like, "if the dates and rates are acceptable, please click the link below to fill out and sign an NDA, and I'll be in touch with the contract and full brief. If you're not available at this time, or if you have further questions, please let me know via email." Now it's clear what the next steps are.
  3. Get your rates and schedules in order. Freelancers are busy, but their workweeks are surprisingly stretchy for the right kind of task! If we think we can manage it, we'll always ask for more information. So even when a freelancer already has a few things going on, they may be persuaded to work on your project. Here's what you'll need, though: clearly defined schedules and reasonable rates. If you want us to start instantly, then pay us more generously. There's no getting around that. This information goes in the email, too: we'll always ask about these, so save yourself the hassle and give us these details so a "yes" or "no" can be clear from the start.
  4. Have all the steps laid out. Here's why I ultimately said no to this week's project: the initial email I received didn't mention money, and in response to my question about rates, I was asked to look through the briefs and estimate the rate + workload myself. This would normally be acceptable (only just), but we were supposed to start on the same day. I was way too busy to do the project manager's job for them. If you want the contributor to start today, have them start on the actual job - don't ask them to brief and project-manage the approach.
  5. Lay out the steps as if you were writing news. You're probably writing the same message to lots of freelancers - and they are probably expecting the same details from most jobs they look at. If you're after a qiuck hire, simple works. Cover the "Wh-" questions in your message, as clearly as you can. "Our client is (X) and the product you'll be working on is (Y). The customers for the product are (X) in the (Y) markets. The job involves (A, B, and C) and should take about (Z) hours per week. You'll be expected to (D, E, and F)." This is your copy-and-paste goodness, which you can use for every email you send about this contract. Keep this simple, get this right.
  6. Send a brief sample, *but not the whole brief.* Are you looking for someone to start tomorrow? Make sure they get the right idea about the job - but don't give them the whole induction spiel just yet. If it's understood that this is a fast-moving process, then freelancers will expect to get the key facts straight - and they'll know to ask for more information or feedback later. Don't slow the process down by sending everything all at once; distil the brief. I know it looks like too much work at this stage. Trust me: for a rush job, a well-written one-pager will get you more good replies than a 5 megabyte almanac. And sooner, too.
  7. Explain any potential red flags. "Okay," a freelancer thinks to themselves, "so you need a proofreader for seven ebooks to start work this week...what happened to the previous guy you had lined up? You had a guy lined up, right?" I trust there's an honest explanation you can share with us. Ask yourself: if you were to be hired on the spot for this project, what doubts would you have? Then, share what you can. Maybe in such cases, it could be as simple as "our previous proofreader turned down this job as it now overlaps with her vacation."
  8. No surprises. It's tempting to try and move the goalposts on fast-paced projects. Once you have us on board, the pressures from all sides mean that you'll try to get us to do more than what was briefed, or sooner, or to a different schedule. Here's the thing, though: a freelancer who feels they're tricked is a freelancer you'll need to replace next. Do right by us, and we'll come back to work for you. It's a trade-off between saving a tiny bit of hassle now (at our expense) and saving more hassle later (with us on board again). What's it going to be?
  9. Have a video demo/call ready. This one helped me brief and hire authors just as we were all on our way to our respective weekends: always be ready to jump on a call and explain how things work via a screen-share or a video call. Better yet, record yourself going through the key bits of the job, and share the recording with anyone who asks for more details. Make it clear in your first email, saying something like, "I'm happy to do a 10-minute Teams call at any time today to go through the work and show you the system, or to share a video demo with you." Many freelancers will be happy to just read through the brief and work it out for themselves - but if they want to see it in action, or ask questions, then they'll happily take you up on the offer. This often means we're halfway committed, too.
  10. Ask for referrals. Every freelancer I know is connected to many others. And we understand that hiring in a hurry means you'll be asking everyone you know, too. So it's OK to tap into all these connections, and be open about what you want to happen. Write something like, "(X,) I'm emailing many of my connections about this project today and looking to find someone soon. If you're not available, I would appreciate if you could pass this on to anyone who might be suitable. Feel free to include my whole message, the attachments, and contact details, and copy me in."

There you have it: 30 minutes, 10 sentences, and 1 e-mail later, your rush hire moves from the "Mission Impossible" category to the "Sign on the dotted line" folder. Wishing you many successful projects, whether you're a freelancer, or a project manager!

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