Hiring a contractor: Writing a job description

Find the perfect candidate

There are incredibly talented contractors and freelancers out there, ready to help your small business grow quickly without taking on the costs of full-time employees— but to work with those individuals, you need to have a good idea of exactly what you’re looking for. Writing out a job or project description might seem like extra work when you just want someone to step in and handle a short-term project, but detailing your wish list can help you land exactly the right person for the task at hand.

Focus on the end results first

Writing a job description for a full-time employee is a very different process than writing a project description for a contractor who can get your project done and then move on. When working with a contractor, you need to start by considering your desired end results.

Unless you’re an expert in the field you’re looking to hire help for, the odds are that you won’t always be familiar with the process necessary to complete a given project — and that’s not a problem, because you’re hiring an expert to help you. But you shouldn’t dive into planning every single step in your project without that expert advice.

As long as you can tell a prospective contractor where you want to wind up, he or she can help you figure out the best route to get there.

Pinpoint a price point

Also consider what price point makes sense for your business. It’s not necessary to publicize your budget in the project description — but money is going to be one of the first topics an experienced contractor will want to discuss with you. Depending on the type of help you’re looking for, including a general price point might help limit the people who respond to those who you’re likely to work with.

Consider your project workflow

In addition to telling your contractors what you want from them, you do have some leeway in telling them how you want them to do it. You can negotiate due dates, how a contractor communicates with you, and what project milestones you expect them to report on. You can’t tell a contractor when and where to work (doing that can convince the IRS to reclassify a contractor as an employee and demand back-dated payroll taxes. Yikes.).

Since you might not be able to build the same sort of long-term relationship with a contractor that you could establish with an employee, it’s best to write out your workflow expectations in advance. You need to make sure that you’re comfortable working with a given contractor—and these sorts of factors can help improve your comfort. (But don’t be surprised if contractors want to negotiate these points.)

There’s no such thing as a unicorn, but you can still be amazed

It’s not uncommon to see full-time job listings that outline every skill set under the sun: perhaps for a Web designer who can also develop apps and write copy—all in the body of someone fresh out of college (who, therefore, won’t cost too much.) But you’re almost certainly not going to find that dream employee — and you definitely can’t find someone who can do all those things on a contract basis.

When you’re putting together your project description, don’t ask for a unicorn.

However, when you’re working with contractors, you still have the opportunity to be truly amazed at the work they do. Most freelancers and contractors specialize in a given field and learn skills that let them handle your project both faster and with a little more flare than a jack-of-all-trades.

Publish your description where it will do the most good

Especially if you’re working with a contractor for the first time, you want to be sure you can find someone who can really help you. That’s why getting your project description in front of the right people is just as important as writing it in the first place.

A good first step is talking to your own network. Ask the freelancers you know if they can send the description to freelancers they know. Do the same thing with entrepreneurs and managers who have hired help with the same type of project you’re looking to complete.

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