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Red Flags to Watch for When Hiring a Freelancer

Scott Gerber
Scott Gerber
May 13, 2019

When considering freelancers, these 12 things should give you pause.

Freelancers come in all shapes and sizes, with wildly different skill sets, levels of flexibility, price points, communication speeds and turnaround times.

Sometimes you get what you pay for, and sometimes you don’t. Over time, it is possible to build a reputable pool of freelancers that you trust and can work with easily.

Yet, finding freelancers when you don’t have any experience, or are looking for new talent, is difficult. Luckily, there are a few red flags to avoid when hiring freelancers, no matter their specialty, that can save you from hiring someone who may not fit your company for whatever reason. Below, members of YEC share the key red flags they look out for when reviewing freelancer profiles and resumes.

1. Unrealistically low rates

“Wise men say you get what you pay for. If the rates are too low, this should cause suspicion. There is a reason why their service is so cheap, and you won’t save any cash by hiring an underqualified person. You might even spend more money on fixing all the mess they’ve made. Always hire based on the value that a freelancer can bring to the table.” – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

2. Hourly rates

“Hourly rates versus rates based on deliverables are key red flags for me. Whether I’m hiring an attorney, a programmer or a contractor, I always make sure they charge me based on the final completed project. I stay clear of professionals who charge by the hour, as there is little accountability for their time and I find I often end up getting invoiced to death for incomplete work.” – Thomas Minieri, Minieri & Company

3. No pending jobs

“You might be hiring a talented freelancer to outsource to and [have] already reviewed their rating and work done. However, if they are as good as they say they are, they will always be in demand and already working on multiple projects. Being idle for a long time shows that people are not hiring them again or something is off.” – Eugene Gold, WOW Payments LLC

4. Fake 5-star reviews

“Unfortunately, when trying to find freelancers on Upwork or other sites – especially for such things as software development services – there is a huge problem with freelancers holding the work product (e.g., the software’s source code) over the client’s head until they receive a 5-star review from that client. This leads to unenthusiastic 5-star reviews that are obviously short and insincere.” – Keith Shields, Designli

5. Bad or no reviews

“Virtually every website that allows business owners to connect with freelancers has a review system. If I notice no reviews or even some negative reviews, it sets off a red flag for me. If there are multiple bad reviews that seem to point out the same problem, I’ll usually steer clear of that freelancer.” – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

6. Spelling errors

“If a freelancer hasn’t taken the time to comb through their profile for spelling and grammatical errors, then that’s a big red flag for me. It comes across as unprofessional and demonstrates that they’re quick to submit work before making sure it’s top quality. As a freelancer, that lack of attention to detail is concerning.” – Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms

7. Generic, copy-pasted profile

“If it seems like a freelancer’s resume or profile has been copied and pasted from somewhere or seems awfully generic, it probably is. A quality freelancer won’t let an unedited, unpolished profile deter them from receiving job offers, so if it seems like theirs matches that description, you can bet their work will turn out the same way.” –Chris Christoff, MonsterInsights

8. Cluttered portfolio

“Freelancers usually know that an empty portfolio on their profile doesn’t look good at all. To compensate, they may put everything they have ever done in their portfolio. However, a cluttered portfolio is a red flag, indicating a lack of focus [and] care and even insecurity. An organized, updated, relevant and specific portfolio suggests that the employee also possesses these same qualities.” – Shu Saito, Godai Soaps

9. A low repeat-hire rate

“I have spent more than $1 million on freelancers and have learned some valuable lessons. The key statistic I look for is repeat-hire rate. Some platforms display this percent in fine print, and [for] others, you need to dive deeper into who is leaving the reviews. Quality freelancers have customers that continue to offer work. Look for a repeat-hire rate more than 20%; anything lower is a red flag.” – Brian Greenberg, True Blue Life Insurance

10. Slow response

“One key red flag when it comes to reviewing a freelancer’s profile is how long they take to respond to your email. If you have to follow up for a response from them, it’s not a good sign at all. It may be that they’re not really interested or working for different clients and have hardly any time to reply to your email. I’d hire someone who’s keen on maintaining a high level of communication.” – Kyle Goguen, Pawstruck

11. Lack of references

“If the applicant does not have references or links to their prior work, it is a red flag. A quality freelancer should have references from the prior businesses they have worked with. Additionally, a good freelancer will typically show off their prior work in order to attract new employment opportunities. If neither are present, you should consider other applicants.” – Matthew Podolsky, Florida Law Advisers P.A.

12. Extravagant promises

“It is always a red flag if a freelancer portrays themselves as overly versatile. If they say they can do everything, it is a bad sign, as they may lack the specialized skill you require and are overselling themselves. Make sure you check their samples to contrast their promises with their work to see if there are any discrepancies. This will help you figure out who is authentic and who is not.” – Abeer Raza, TekRevol

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Scott Gerber
Scott Gerber
Scott Gerber is the founder of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Gerber is also a serial entrepreneur, regular TV commentator and author of the book Never Get a “Real” Job.