The Top 6 Red Flags to Look for When Hiring Freelancers

Hiring skilled freelancers can be an excellent way for startups to get the necessary skills without breaking the bank. Free from paying benefits or holidays and able to work remotely, requiring no office space equipment, freelance talent is an ideal way to scale your business and generate cash flow quickly. Moreover, finding freelancers to work on specific tasks gives startups the flexibility to manage their resource allocation more easily than full-time hires.

However, there are potential risks in accessing the gig economy to hire freelancers, mainly if you don’t spot one of the red flags that could save you money. It can be a right pain-in-the-you-know-what to find that after finding ‘the perfect candidate’ on one of your job postings, they turn out to be a startup’s specific needs a few ways to spot quality freelancers from fraudulent operators and ensure that you are getting the right fit for your talented team.

In this blog, we will look at the six most common red flags to watch out for when hiring freelancers and what options you can take to satisfy your hiring needs without heartbreak and wasted time.

1. Lack of experience or portfolio

Angry man writing on a laptop

If they can do it, they should be able to prove it. It’s that simple.

Past experience is the primary indicator that you’re on the right track when accessing top talent. Unless you are willing to let a complete novice flesh out their portfolio on your dime, asking for examples of their work is a no-brainer.

It goes without saying that for most creative and technical tasks, a freelancer needs to have the necessary skills to complete the job. A comprehensive portfolio should be sufficient to assess whether these skills are present.

Startups are often financed through bootstrapping, so founders need freelance talent to fill a skill gap. If, for whatever reason, the freelancer cannot complete the project to a high standard, the startup may need to find someone else to fix the work, which can be expensive and time-consuming.

When you have multiple clients on the go and need someone to alleviate your workload, checking portfolios of potential employees is essential.

2. Poor communication skills

Fcrustrated woman on a laptop

Regular feedback is crucial in a remote working relationship and is imperative when working with freelancers. Poor communication can cause delays, misunderstandings and often results in the production of work that doesn’t meet the original requirements.

The best way to avoid any communication mishaps is to conduct a short face-to-face interview to assess these skills firsthand.

Ask your potential freelancers how they have communicated with clients in the past. Ask them how often they like to communicate. Additionally, find out what they want to do when unsure of something in a brief. Their responses will likely give you a good feeling as to whether they will be appropriate for the job.

It is possible that you could hire a freelancer that is not in your timezone. In this case, finding a time that suits both parties for a regular catch-up is essential. If you can’t find a suitable time slot, move on to the next candidate. There are plenty out there!

3. Inability to meet deadlines

man checks watch after missing a deadline

Meeting deadlines is crucial for a startup’s success. If a freelancer is unable to meet deadlines, it can cause delays in the project and may even result in missed opportunities.

For example, if a startup is working with content writers and WordPress experts on a website launch but needs more time to complete the task, despite claims to the contrary, it can result in missed sales and unhappy clients at your end.

Talented freelancers can communicate the average time required to complete most projects and follow through with any guarantees.

To assess a freelancer’s ability to meet deadlines during the hiring process, it’s essential to ask for references and discuss specific project deadlines and timelines. Another good idea is to track progress regularly so you are not scrambling around at the 11th hour.

4. Over-promising and under-delivering

tired-looking woman on a computer

One of the biggest red flags when hiring unqualified freelancers is that they will sell you the world but leave you feeling decidedly underwhelmed. Freelancing is competitive, so to get your business, they may inflate their own skillset to secure your contract.

The issues arise only when you have completed the onboarding and started the work. Firstly, they ask you to repeat instructions. Next, they misinterpret tasks and go off on a tangent in the wrong direction. All of these little errors start you wondering: “Does this person know what they are doing.”

You really don’t have time to redo the work they have done, do you?

The best way to avoid over-promising and under-delivering is to assess their portfolio and references and ascertain if what they tell you holds any water. For every project you post on a job board, you will have at least a few freelancers claiming to know things they don’t. Your job is to find the right freelancers who can walk the talk.

5. Poor client reviews or references

Man ticking a bad review box

We have already mentioned that references and reviews are significant indicators when hiring people for your startup. When you post jobs on a freelance marketplace, only progress further with a candidate when they have testimonials that speak positively of their work.

If a freelancer has a patchy record, the likelihood of things working out for you is pretty slim. Even if their bid is lower, it is not worth it in the long run. It is far better to keep looking for suitable candidates with glowing references and a portfolio of quality work—even if they are in high demand or cost a little more.

There is a lot to be said for trusting your gut instinct as well. While this is not an exact science, your intuition will likely tell you whether what you’re doing makes good business sense. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s better to err on the side of caution and look for another freelancer who may better fit your team and the project.

6. Constantly raising fees

Arrow with upwards trajectory

When working with freelancers, it’s crucial to establish clear expectations and negotiate rates and payment terms from the outset. Whether you are looking to bring someone on for a fixed price, an hourly rate, or a retainer, the agreed-upon fee is final.

If a freelancer is constantly raising their fees or making unexpected changes to the payment terms, it can be a red flag that they may not be a reliable long-term business partner.

While it’s understandable that freelancers may need to adjust their rates occasionally to reflect changes in their skills or market demand, frequent and unexpected pay changes can be disruptive to a startup’s budget and workflow.

Make the hiring process painless

Man trying to post a job while holing a sign that says 'join our team'

To secure the hiring of talented freelancers, startups gain access to crucial skills they need without breaking the bank. Many founders are utilizing freelancers’ skills to help them scale faster and churn through client work with greater efficiency. However, as mentioned, there are potential risks in hiring the wrong freelancer.

The truth is that startup founders are not HR professionals, and many of these red flags can go unnoticed by the untrained eye. The internet is awash with horror stories of startups failing to identify rogue freelancers trying to secure their next payday without caring about how it may affect their clients.

That is why it is a great idea to use an outsourcing platform that goes the extra mile by vetting and testing potential candidates for you. Hiring freelancers is much easier when you have a trusted partner taking care of the nitty gritty, so all you need to do is onboard them and set the work.

Quickly Hire: Making hiring freelancers easier

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Quickly Hire has a network of fabulous professionals who make startup founders’ lives much easier by taking care of your hiring needs. Quickly Hire also handles payroll and compliance issues, which can be a massive headache if the freelancer lives outside your jurisdiction.

So if you have projects that need taking care of yesterday, contact the team, and we will find you exactly what you are looking for!


  • Alex McInnes

    Alex is Quickly Hire's content strategist and digital marketer. He's a New Zealand-born, Thailand-residing copywriter extraordinaire. Dad to two beautiful girls, Alex loves playing rugby, reading, and running with his soi dog, Effie.

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