Hiring a Freelance Web Designer? You Need to Follow This Checklist

Vicky Shoub
June 5, 2019
8 minute read

If you’re looking to hire a freelance web designer, you have your work cut out for you. Not only is there a dearth of quality talent, understanding what kind of web designer works best for your needs can also be a challenge.

Thankfully, there’s help at hand. In this detailed guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about freelance web designers, how to evaluate them, and where to find the best talent.

Read on to find the best freelance web designer for your projects.

Understand Your Own Requirements

One of the first things you need to establish are your own requirements. Design is a broad field and it’s deceptively easy to say you need one thing only to realize that you actually need another.

An experienced freelance web designer can help you figure this out if it comes down to it, but it doesn’t hurt to do your due diligence beforehand. It can erase a lot of the stress in the hiring process, save you valuable time and avoid irrelevant applications.

Start with the job itself. Ignore additional hiring requirements like budget, schedule, and the work conditions surrounding the gig. We’ll get to those later.

What exactly do you need? Do you need a web designer, a graphic designer, or a UI/UX designer? Do you need to build just a website, or do you need people to create marketing material as well?

Keep in mind that a lot of design-related job terms are used interchangeably. “Web designer” and “Front-end developer”, for instance, are sometimes used for the same roles, even though front-end developers tend to focus more on coding than design.

Here are some questions to help you get a better handle on your own requirements:

  • Do you want someone who is an expert in mobile-friendly design? If yes, look for designers who have prior experience in mobile design.
  • Do you need the CSS of your app or website updated, redone, or built from the ground up? If yes, look for designers with some development experience since CSS is technically a programming field.
  • Are there any specific frameworks or languages that you absolutely need the designer to know, such as Bootstrap, AngularJS, or ReactJS? If yes, you’ll want a designer with front-end development experience (since these are all front-end frameworks)
  • Will the designer need to utilize languages outside of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript? In that case, you’ll want a developer, not just a web designer.
  • Does your project require heavy graphics assets or are you looking for a low-resource design reliant on native CSS/JS features? In case of the former, you’ll want someone with graphic design experience.
  • Do you need wireframes, userflows, and usability research? If yes, you’ll want a UI/UX designer instead of just a web designer.

Use the flowchart below to understand your requirements.

Determine the Basic Terms of the Job

Now that you’ve covered the specifics of the job itself, you need to understand what you can offer the potential freelancer you hire. This is important: a professional freelancer won’t accept less than what they’re worth, and the adage of “You get what you pay for” really does ring true.

Accurate information regarding compensation and workload is essential. As with the specifics of the job itself, it saves you time when reviewing applications and in future negotiations.

Before you can analyze any applicants, answer the following:

  • What is your budget? Are you offering a monthly salary or an hourly rate?
  • How much of a workload are you hiring for? Will this freelancer be working full-time hours for you? Will there be weeks of downtime?
  • Will the freelancer receive any benefits and perks?
  • If you are hiring an in-house contractor, what can they expect in the work environment? Will they have their own office? Who will they be working with?
  • Do you expect the freelancer to be on-call while working for you? Do you expect them to focus on only your project?

Do keep in mind that your liabilities will change depending on the circumstances of the freelancer’s employment. If the freelancer is employed for a certain number of hours, he/she might qualify as an employee instead of an independent contractor. This would make you liable for withholding taxes, Medicare, and Social Security.

The law isn’t particularly clear on the difference between employees and contractors. This website offers some clarity, but if you’re hiring a full-time freelancer, we suggest consulting with a lawyer for advice.

Checklist for Freelance Web Designers

At this stage, you should have a clear, robust, and professional-sounding job ad written up. It should include specifics about the exact kind of work you’re hiring for, and it should tell readers how much you’re offering in terms of compensation, benefits, and hours.

The next step is the hardest: reading, analyzing, and investigating the applications.

You can do a lot of pre-emptive legwork towards this goal. You can include instructions in the job ad that the freelance web designer should follow. The benefits of this are two-fold:

  • You can automatically bin the applications that didn’t listen to your instructions
  • You gather information that you were going to ask for anyways

As you go down our checklist, determine what you can add to your job ad to move things along. We’ll point out some good options below.

Job-Related Information

Checking the job-related information is absolutely essential. Unless you’re specifically looking for a beginner, you’re going to want to know you’re working with someone who has established themselves enough to be relevant for the job.

Make sure you cover the following bases:

  1. Do they have a portfolio? Can they show you any work that they’ve done in the past that’s connected to the job you’re offering?
  2. What do they offer during the hand-off? Will they give you process mockups? Raw files? Several formats?
  3. Connected to the point above, will you be able to make your own changes to the work or will you be reliant on them for future updates?
  4. Will the web designer work only for you, or will they juggle other projects at the same time?
  5. Can they take on more work if you suddenly need extra labor?
  6. Are their work hours compatible with yours? Do they live in the same time zone as you?
  7. Do they use your preferred method of communication? For example, do they use Skype? Other choices include Slack, Discord, HipChat, Basecamp, and more.
  8. How do they accept payment? Are they limited to services like PayPal, or can they also accept bank/wire transfers? Are they amenable to cryptocurrencies?
  9. Lastly, what payment model are they most comfortable with? This can vary widely, and can include initial deposits, milestone payments, or no pay at all until after delivery. They can charge by the project, by the hour, or by a monthly retainer.

Download the image below to have this checklist handy when you’re evaluating applications:

Freelance web designers are likely to offer some of those points by themselves without any prompting from you. For example, most will freely offer their portfolio and their pay method expectations.

Still, it may be a good idea to state plainly in your ad that applicants should provide their portfolio, especially if you need to know whether they can fulfil unique expectations.

Take a moment here to think about what’s necessary and what you’re flexible on. If you absolutely need the designer to use Slack while working with you, there is no need to ask what their preferred method of communication is. Instead, simply inform them that it’s a requirement (and it’s a good idea to put this in the ad, to save everyone some time).

Also recognize that certain conditions come with increased expectations in regards to pay. If you want your eventual freelance web designer to leave their schedule open for you, or focus solely on your project, you may need to offer more compensation. This will especially ring true if your project isn’t extensive and doesn’t account for at least 120 hours of labor a month.

Communication and Presence

How a freelancer communicates, privately and publicly, can make or break an application.

Consider the following when evaluating candidates:

  1. Has the web designer worked as a freelancer before? If so, how do they typically manage projects and clients?
  2. Are they willing to speak on the phone? Through instant messaging? How about in-person meetings (if hiring locally)?
  3. Do they have any public social media accounts? How do they behave towards others?
  4. Does the freelancer have a blog? Does it talk about web design or something related to the industry? Is the content insightful and encouraging?
  5. How do they handle collaboration? Do they prefer to work as a “lone wolf” or are they comfortable in group environments?
  6. How diverse is their experience in working with companies of different sizes? Do they tend to work with individuals? Have they worked for businesses with dozens, or hundreds of employees?

More generally, observe how they behave during negotiations and anywhere you can find public interactions (such as their Twitter feed). Don’t exert too much bandwidth in turning over stones, but do at least a little due diligence in making sure you’re hiring someone who fits into the culture of your organization.

How clear are they in their explanations? Are they easy to understand or do you find yourself frequently asking questions?

How quickly do they answer your queries? Are they replying to your emails and messages late at night or during standard business hours? Do they respond on the same day, the next day, or possibly even several days later?

While a freelance web designer may sound like a perfect fit on paper, it is important that they be compatible with your culture and the individual personality of their direct managers. A fantastic web designer becomes a bad web designer if you can’t talk to them, or if you have cause to distrust them.

Pay special attention to their answer on previous freelance experience if you are hiring someone to work in-house. A web designer who has worked in their home office for as long as they’ve been in the industry may not know how to integrate into an office setting with coworkers and departmental hierarchies.

Culture fit, as cliché as it sounds, really is important. The questions above will go a long way towards uncovering if there are any deal breakers on a personal level.

Technical Skills

Checking a freelance web designer’s technical skills can be a challenge. If you aren’t familiar with the terminology yourself, you may not be able to determine if skills are strictly mediocre or wildly impressive.

If you have someone in your organization who is knowledgeable on the topic, it would be a good idea to have them close by as a consulting resource.

Regardless, there are a few things you should keep an eye out for.

  1. What programming languages do they know besides HTML, CSS, and JavaScript?
  2. Are they familiar with any web development frameworks (such as Bootstrap)? Do they consider themselves specialists in any?
  3. Are they comfortable working with leading Content Management Software (CMS) packages? WordPress should be considered a minimum, but do they have familiarity with other providers like Squarespace, Joomla/Drupal, and Ghost?
  4. Does the web designer possess any experience in frontend development? Are they familiar with the varying JavaScript frameworks like ReactJS, AngularJS, and Vue.js?
  5. Do they understand mobile-friendly design, and are they capable of building designs with responsiveness as a focus?
  6. What are their preferred design software tools? Are they familiar with the ones you use?
  7. If they provide mockups, what software do they use?
  8. How comfortable are they using your project management software? Familiarity with a popular industry software like Workamajig can dramatically improve their productivity.

Here’s a handy graphic of the above:

The last two questions are clear that you should ask the freelancer about the tools they use. There are a couple industry standards to remember:

  • Industry preference for design tools include Photoshop, Illustrator, and Sketch.
  • Industry preference for mockup tools include Balsamiq and InVision.

What this means is that you’ll run into a significant population of freelancers who use these programs. These programs are the industry standard, so it’s safe to assume that whoever you’re hiring is familiar with at least one of them.

Also consider this question: Does it matter if the web designer knows more than what’s absolutely necessary?

It may be tempting to say ‘no’. After all, if you only need someone to whip up an HTML/CSS design with minimal JavaScript and no responsive design, it shouldn’t matter if they know PHP or Python.

Don’t let this lead you astray. There is a very clear benefit to working with a web designer who knows more than what they need to. First, it makes them better at what they do. Knowing the fundamentals of responsive design can improve code quality by a fairly decent margin, and understanding more coding languages can help them work better with your developers.

Second, more knowledge could transform what they offer you. It may end up being the case that they know a better way to accomplish what you need done, and this better way could very well require a skill you didn’t say they needed.

So keep in mind here that while it is paramount you work with a web designer who is talented in the skills you know you specifically need them to have, it can be advantageous to work with a web designer that is experienced in other skills as well. The proverbial “T-shaped” designer, that is.

Find the Best Freelance Web Designers

Hiring a freelance web designer is a time-consuming, resource-intensive process. Make the process easier by following this checklist. And by posting your job on the right platform.

Consider using an agency-focused platform like Workamajig to make your freelance web designer hunt easier and faster. Get access to the top 1% of designers by posting your job – it only takes 2 minutes to get started.

Related Posts

Run Better Projects Sign up for our free project management resources.

Get all our templates, tips, and fresh content so you can run effective, profitable, low-stress projects in your agency or team.