Did you know there are roughly 4.63 million freelancers in the UK? Many of these flexible workers ply their trade in digital marketing or related industries, and they tend to charge significantly lower rates than digital agencies providing comparable services.

Working with freelancers is clearly an option worth considering, but just like working with full-time employees and agencies, it comes with specific risks and requirements attached. We’ve written this article, bearing these particular needs in mind, to help you hire the right people in the right way. We’ll start with some generic advice on hiring digital freelancers, before moving on to more specific guidance on hiring freelance graphic designers, web developers and virtual assistants.

Setting candidate criteria

The first step in the hiring process is to flesh out your idea of who you’re looking for. Answer the following questions to set the criteria that will help you make a suitable hire:

  • What level of experience is appropriate to the work?
  • Which skills and technological proficiencies are required? (e.g. familiar with InDesign; experience of running PPC campaigns on AdWords)
  • How will the candidate prove their capability? (Portfolio/CV/proposal)
  • Is the work in-office or remote?
  • What’s your budget? (Day rate/hourly/project) Consult peers and online sources to get an idea of typical rates in the freelancer’s specialist field
  • Add any other criteria which will be crucial to a candidate’s suitability

Getting these points written down at the outset will help you to conduct a focused hiring process by minimising time wastage on incompatible candidates.

Where to find digital freelancers

Digital freelancers can be found in a vast array of online places, and you’ll almost certainly encounter them on your travels in the physical world too. Let’s break down a few of the best options for scouting freelance talent:

Referrals from peers

If you represent a digital company, there’s a very good chance that one of the companies or people you’ve worked with will know a freelancer who suits your requirements. This is especially likely to be true of contacts whose business uses similar digital channels to your own.

Seeking referrals from peers could be a simple case of posting a LinkedIn status asking for recommendations. While this may not be the most sophisticated approach to hiring, it’s undoubtedly one of the easiest ways to shortlist some freelancers.

Here (above) is a typical example of a LinkedIn user requesting freelancer recommendations. Not only do posts like these reach the poster’s connections; they may also be found by freelancers searching for work. This means you might get some additional direct approaches from freelancers, alongside the recommendations you receive from peers.

Open callouts for recommendations can work perfectly well, but if you’re in need of very specific skills, you might benefit from a more targeted approach, based around keeping track of freelance work that’s being carried out for your contacts. If you see something that impresses you, you can message the contact directly to request the freelancer’s contact details, e.g. “Dear Barry, we love your new explainer video! We were actually looking to get something similar made ourselves, and wondered if you’d be so kind as to pass on the animator’s details?”

Further, we think it’s an excellent practice to enquire after the contractor’s contact details whenever you encounter high-quality freelance work which has been produced for one of your contacts – even when you have no immediate need to commission a freelancer. Doing this regularly and building up a database of contacts will give you a valuable head-start whenever a new requirement arises.

Freelancer portal websites

For shorter-term projects or to make initial contact with a freelancer for longer-term collaboration, using a “freelancer portal” type website will often prove a smart bet.

Websites like PeoplePerHour.comUpwork and Guru act as intermediaries between freelancers-seeking-clients and clients-seeking-freelancers. These sites are often used by vast numbers of freelancers, and in our personal experience can produce excellent results. We hired our excellent VA, Rachel via Upwork in 2017.

There are some drawbacks. These sites usually take a cut of the freelancer’s fee, which may mean your budget doesn’t go quite as far as usual. A lot of freelancers and clients get around this in the long-term by transitioning to a relationship that’s independent of the portal, after the initial work is complete. It’s always advisable to check a portal’s terms of use to ensure you can do this without getting banned.

Post opportunities on freelancers’ social channels

Whatever the type of freelancer you’re looking for, you can be certain there are Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags and various other social communities dedicated to their specialism. These are generally excellent places to post opportunities: free-to-use, commission-free and in most cases populated with committed professionals.

An easy way to find appropriate groups or hashtags is to do a web-search along the lines of:

Best Facebook groups for freelance journalists
Best Twitter hashtags for freelance designers
Best social media groups for freelance web designers

These searches should bring up articles linking to relevant groups/hashtags/communities. Browse a few of the options and identify one where other people like yourself are posting freelance work opportunities. Go there and post your own callout (or if it’s a closed group, ask the admin if you can join in order to post it).

Freelance communities usually welcome work opportunities. However, you should take care to pick up on any rules or conventions each community has regarding job posts. For example, some prefer posts to include an indication of the project fee/rate of pay.


If you’re happy to take on a more thorough (and time-consuming) approach to finding a freelancer, you might consider doing independent research into the available talent.

Visit web design blogs, read newspapers, or search wherever else the right type of specialist can be found. If you can find the names of the freelancers whose work catches your eye, you should be able to track down further contact details via LinkedIn, Twitter, or their website (presuming they have one).

This approach typically gets your relationship with the freelancer off to a great start, as from their perspective, receiving an offer of work out of the blue is a big compliment and confidence booster.

Getting in touch with your shortlisted freelancers

By this point, using one or more of the methods we’ve discussed, you will hopefully have drawn up a promising shortlist of freelancers. If you’ve posted work opportunities publicly, some may already have contacted you.

Once you’re happy with your shortlist of freelancers, you can start contacting them individually to ensure they meet your criteria.

Your initial email should be short and sweet, introducing yourself, your company and the possibility of working together. If their response is positive, you can then use your second email to outline the project in greater depth and request a quote.

We’re not going to tell you how exactly to write your initial email to shortlisted freelancers – but we will highlight a couple of useful points:

  • Try to get a good deal – sensitively. The rate you agree with the freelancer at this stage could potentially influence the cost of working with them for a period of months or even years. Ask for their “best price” when requesting a quote, using the most sensitive terms you can. You realise the value of their work, but you’re under pressure to get a good deal. It’s usually best to ask for a quote rather than to state a project, for the simple reason that the price they quote may be lower. You can always revert to offering a fee towards the higher end of your budget if they quote for too much.
  • Refer to their previous work. If you have enjoyed the freelancer’s previous work, tell them which examples you were particularly impressed by. This will encourage them to produce similar work for you.

When hiring new freelancers, it is generally advisable to commission an introductory/sample piece of work before commissioning a long-term project or agreeing to a long-term supply agreement. This will help you to confirm the quality of the freelancer’s work. They should, of course, be paid in full for this initial work.

If hiring for a longer-term project, it would be reasonable to request a detailed proposal at the outset in lieu of an introductory/test task.

Confirming the hire

Having heard back from your shortlisted freelancers, you should now have all the information you need to decide who to hire or set a trial task for.

As soon as you are secure in your decision, you can email the successful candidate to initiate the working relationship (you should also inform the unsuccessful candidates that they’ve not been chosen on this occasion).

Use your best judgement to decide how formal the confirmation needs to be, as each freelancer will have their own expectations and ways of communicating. Whatever tone you decide to use, it’s important to bear the following points in mind:

  • Clarity – be exact about the work offered, the fee agreed, a deadline for submission and other expectations.
  • Legal considerations – depending on the nature of your business and the freelance work you are commissioning, it may be advisable to offer confirmation on condition of the freelancer signing a contract and/or non-disclosure agreement (NDA). It’s especially advisable to create a contract for more complex or long-term collaborations.
  • Positivity – it has taken time and effort to find your freelancer, and you will hopefully be feeling excited at the prospect of working with them. Be sure to communicate your excitement and positivity, as any good feeling you can create surrounding the project will almost certainly have a beneficial effect on the work produced.

Specialised advice

We’re now going to finish off with some specialised advice on how to hire web developers, graphic designers and virtual assistants. Try adding these methods to the process we’ve outlined up until this point.

Web developer

Web development is an inherently creative, problem-solving-based discipline. If you can build the way you engage with freelance web developers around these defining characteristics, you may improve your chances of attracting some of the best brains in the field.

One very simple example of this can be found on The Guardian’s website, where a job ad for developers is “hidden” in the HTML as a comment. This pleasing Easter egg is an effective way of targeting the curious, engaged developers who are looking at the website’s source code. It’s a little in-joke from brand to developer.

Drone vision experts Iris Automations have taken a similar line of thought significantly further, by setting a seriously tricky coding challenge for prospective software engineers. If the applicant submits an impressive solution, they jump ahead in the application process. We think this is a particularly smart approach, as, on the one hand, it encourages keen problem-solvers to engage with the opportunity, while on the other, it weeds out unsuitable candidates who cannot come up with a solution.

Not every company has the in-house technical capabilities to set up such an elaborate hiring mechanism as Iris’, but we nonetheless recommend doing what you can to appeal to developers’ code-cracking instincts.

Graphic designer

Graphic designers are often impressively versatile, but in most cases, it will be possible to pick out stylistic traits in a designer that indicate their suitability for your brand and its audience. Regularly scouting for graphic designers with a style that fits with you is highly advisable, as it will help ensure you have a broad palette to pick from the next time you commission freelance graphic design work.

This may come across as slightly cheeky, but one of our favourite ways to do this is by using LinkedIn to follow talented graphic designers who are currently employed by businesses/agencies. It’s not uncommon for designers to flit between full-time employment and working freelance, so making that connection with the designer in advance places us in a great position to commission work if/when they make the switch.

Another effective way to secure the most talented freelancers’ time before anyone else gets their undivided attention is to attend art college graduate shows, where graphic design work is often on display.

If you use this approach to scouting freelance graphic designers, we would recommend starting each relationship by offering occasional or one-off commissions. The graduates you encounter will likely be new to life as a freelancer, and as such may have some teething problems with more complex projects.

Virtual assistant

In our experience, the best places to find a good VA are the freelancer hire portals we mentioned earlier in the article – particularly Upwork. There’s a good reason for this.

VA work is typically remote, digital and independent, which means you are unlikely to find virtual assistants in such a wide range of contexts as most other types of digital freelancer. For example, you would be unlikely to meet a VA at your client’s office, at a show or via a peer’s web content.

Freelancer hire portals aren’t for everyone, and there are some other good options out there – particularly Facebook groups like Virtual Assistant Jobs. Stick to these hotbeds of VA talent, and you’ll soon find the right person to facilitate your business’ growth.