The most experienced freelancer hiring teams learned long ago that “a trial is worth a thousand interviews”.

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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.

Advisable’s recruitment team have summarised freelancer hiring best practices based on Advisable’s own and our clients’ experience assessing, hiring and onboarding thousands of freelancers.

This article focuses on the art of the freelancer trial project.

What is a trial project?

A trial project is a short (~10 hours), paid (up to ~$1,000) standalone project with a clearly defined, valuable objective (that is worth something in its own right irrespective of whether the overall project goes ahead).

Why do you do freelancer trial projects?

As long as you have conducted an adequate freelancer interview then a trial project is a fast, low-risk way to gain valuable learnings that enable you to both increase the likelihood of achieving and make rapid progress towards your project goal.

  1. Speed: because it is a low risk (~$1,000 for valuable output, almost guaranteed if the trial is well defined), easily reversible decision (deciding to not proceed beyond the trial is entirely reasonable) the decision can be made far more quickly than the time consuming, painstaking deliberation needed over a full-time hire or even over hiring a freelancer for the overall project.
  2. Learning: the best trial projects are defined in a way that allows you to get an accurate view of the freelancer’s abilities and what it would be like to work together – far more data than could be gleaned from any number of interviews.
  3. Informed decision making: the extra data points gathered from working together enable a far more informed decision about whether to hire a freelancer for the overall project, vastly increasing the odds of the project’s success.
  4. Valuable: if the trial has been defined correctly then, even if you decide not to continue working with that freelancer for the overall project, the output can be reused and is valuable in its own right.

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How do you define a trial project?

The best trial projects have a clearly defined outcome and budget:

Outcome of Trial Project: what would be a good result from a trial project that is both quickly (~10 hours) attainable and clearly valuable (this should be valuable and attractive as a standalone project)?

  • “For your project optimising your Adwords account, a trial project to audit the account/optimise a particular campaign might be a good goal?”

Trial Project Budget: a budget for an initial trial project that is quickly and easily decided on and paid (i.e. an amount that can be paid on credit card without requiring approval e.g. $1k) with clear start and end dates

Any other advice for less experienced freelance hirers?

Some experienced hiring managers offer the following advice on arranging a trial project:

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff

“The most important area to focus on is ensuring that the trial project is well defined – if you’ve been introduced to the freelancer via Advisable and have interviewed them correctly then you can most likely rest assured that they are of sufficient quality, you just need to point them in the right direction!”

  1. A failed trial is not a failure

“Many people less used to working with freelancers worry that the benefit of the trial output will be lost if they don’t continue with that freelancer. I think handover “cost” is actually relatively minimal: experienced freelancers are used to onboarding very quickly, documenting their work and preparing handover docs”

  1. And a final note from our own recruitment manager:

“If you’re unsure about using a freelancer instead of a FT hire, my advice (biased, but sincere) would be to simply try using a freelancer:

  • Find a proven freelancer who matches ~80% of what your looking for -> Advisable will do this for you
  • Define an initial standalone trial project e.g. in this case maybe a project to do a <10 hour content and inbound marketing audit and propose a detailed strategy will likely cost <€1,000 all in -> Advisable will work with the freelancer to define and propose a trial project
  • Speak to the freelancer to refine the scope of the trial project and assess their compatibility to work together
  • Get started ASAP

This quick, experimental decision making is a bit of a mindset shift vs. the more cautious approach of hiring for a full-time role, but it has been repeatedly proven to get results by our most successful clients”