Once you have one or two freelancers that are short-listed, it’s time to offer a paid trial project. One of the best things about hiring a freelancer is the fact that you can always ask them to work on a trial project which will give you a chance to see how they work, what they’re like with deadlines, the quality of their work and how well you can both work together.

A trial project has been deemed as one of the most effective ways to feel entirely comfortable with your hiring decision and is the best way to reduce making a bad hire.

Difference Between Testing a Full-Time Employee vs. a Freelancer

Unlike a full-time hire where a wrong hiring decision can feel irreversible and have expensive repercussions, the ability to try before you buy is one of the many benefits of working with a freelancer. For full-time employees, there usually are different ways you can run a trial period, either by hiring them on probation, conducting pre-employment tests, or putting them to work on one project.

Pre-employment tests (such as job knowledge tests, integrity tests, personality tests or cognitive ability tests) have always been surrounded by controversy. Some companies believe that they’re a great way to test whether or not the candidate is a right fit, while other companies think that the tests could be wildly inaccurate.

For freelancers, it’s different. Instead of a probation period or a pre-employment test, you directly put them on a task that you need and wait for them to submit so you can assess whether or not they’re the right candidate.

You will most probably have two or three candidates sending you in their trial samples, which will give you an idea which freelancer you should hire in the end.

Why We Suggest Trial Projects for Testing Marketing Specialists

Many clients believe that a trial project is a waste of time and think that, since they’ve already interviewed and reviewed the candidate, it’s enough to decide whether or not this candidate is a good fit. While this may be true for freelance writers, for example, it is entirely different for marketing specialists.

  • Valuable insights
    A trial project is a fast and low-risk way to gain valuable insights into how the freelancer works, how well both of you communicate together, what tools they use, how they deal with deadlines, and how innovative and effective their ways are.
  • Double-checking the candidate
    You’ll also be double-checking a candidate before mistakenly jumping into a long-term business relationship.
  • Helps you solve bottleneck problems
    A trial project supposedly targets bottleneck problems or figuring out what they currently are for your business. So let’s say your freelancer has done a terrible job, you would at least have gotten an insight into how and why to tackle your project tasks and what you need to improve from your side.
  • Sheds light on what you need to improve
    If you’re also new to hiring freelancers, it will take you some time to get used to it all. It will take you some time to perfect a project brief and choose the right candidate. By having a test project, you’ll mostly be testing yourself as well and learning along the way. Maybe you set up the wrong milestones, didn’t communicate what you wanted clearly, had unrealistic requirements, etc. All of these will help you understand how you can improve as well.
  • Speed
    Trial projects are generally very low-risk, easily reversible decisions. That makes them even more attractive. Instead of spending two days going back and forth between your short-listed candidates, spend those two days giving them both tasks, getting results and making a speedy decision.
  • In the end, it’s the most informed decision you’ll make
    Due to the valuable data points, you’ll get and the accurate view of the freelancer’s abilities to do their work, you’ll be making the most informed decision there is. You won’t need to worry along the way about whether or not you made the right choice.

5 Tips on Conducting a Successful Trial Project

These five tips can help you get started with a trial project.

  • Prepare problems to solve
    Instead of including one large task for the freelance, prepare a series of problems for them to solve. This will give you an idea about how able they are to handle different types of issues and challenges, instead of cornering them into one type of problem.
  • Quick turnaround
    Trial projects should not take a long time to submit. The optimal turnaround time should be 72 hours, and the task should not take the freelancer more than five hours to do (you don’t want them to ignore you entirely and focus on other clients). Any shorter than this and you won’t get valuable insights, but any longer and they will ignore you.
  • Budget
    As for the budget, as a rule of thumb the trial project should be budgeted at approx. $1000 to keep them lean.
  • Well-defined tasks
    Make sure that the tasks you end up giving the freelancer are well-defined, well-thought out and reasonable. You’ll be saving yourself much time if you have a guideline they can follow, or all the information they might need so you don’t keep going back and forth with questions and revisions (on a trial project!)
  • Don’t worry about not liking the freelancer’s work
    Don’t feel sorry for hurting their feelings if you don’t like their work. Most freelancers are used to it and are relatively experienced when it comes to onboarding, handing over documents, or sending in revisions.

After you’ve decided that you want to do a test run with a Freelancer, the next step is setting up your Trial Project.

You don’t need to build the process of setting up a trial project from scratch. Use this predefined workflow to create your first trial project for a freelancer.

The Process of Trial Projects

  • Choose the right trial project and define the scope

The first step of preparing a trial project is finding out what you’ll be sending them. You will need to find something that is remarkably similar to your ongoing project, or even a part of it. This is the only way you’ll get to see whether the freelancer is a good fit for your business or not. For example, if you need a content marketer to write an ebook, ask them to submit the first chapter.

Generally, have your project broken into milestones and clearly state that the first milestone is the trial.

If you don’t want to set a separate task as a trial project, prepare milestones for your already existing project and ask the freelancer to work on the first milestone as a trial project.

  • Define upfront what success means

You need to be setting clear expectations from the start. Let them know how you operate and how you measure success. This allows you to evaluate some skills including ownership and mastery of their projects. Make sure you communicate your goals.

  • Define if you pay on a fixed or hourly basis

You can choose one of two pricing structures – either fixed-priced or hourly. Fixed price is usually easier to set and is easily negotiable. However, an hourly contract will give you valuable information about how long the project takes in case you have underestimated or overestimated it.

  • Evaluate results

That will be the hard part. You need criteria to evaluate your freelancers on, and if you end up with three excellent trial project submissions, you will need to focus on:

What were the results?

How well did they meet the expectations?

How well did they communicate throughout their entire process?

Who did you feel was the most motivated to work on this?

How well did both of you work together?

How well versed on the topic are they?

Trial Project Examples

There are plenty of ways you can send in a trial project to your marketing specialist. Firstly, you can ask them to work on part of a larger project, so you get to check the quality of their work first-hand. For example, a new copywriter could write a test article for your blog.

You can also give them a task unrelated to the project so you can get a gist of how they work in general (that would also be ideal if you don’t want to share information about your project just yet.) For example,

You could also send them a list of questions they need to answer that would determine whether or not they’re the right fit.

Finally, you can always ask them to evaluate your current project status (for example, your current website, eBook, Facebook ads, email sequence etc.), and send in a brief about what they think needs to be changed. This could be in the form of Please write down suggestions on what you think needs to be changed. or Please let me know 3-5 metrics I should track, how I can track them and why?

Download the Complete Guide to Hiring Top Marketing Freelancers here!