Business Blunders, Finding Fabulous Freelancers and Paying International Contractors

This post was written in collaboration with PagoFX but all opinions are my own.

I’d like to think I’m an intelligent person, or at least I thought I was. But when I started my business, I discovered lots of things I didn’t have a clue how to do.

I don’t mean important things like business planning, running numbers and meeting deadlines.

I mean the simple things that everyone makes look so easy but took me hours to figure out, even with a helping hand from everyone’s best friend, Google! Things like:

  • How to change a printer cartridge (and where to get one in the first place)
  • How to use call waiting on my iPhone (let’s be honest, I still drop most calls)
  • What to do when my laptop freezes (turn it off and on again apparently, not throw it out the window)

Over the last couple of years, those annoying little problems have turned into bigger things I genuinely know nothing about, like PR, sales or website maintenance.

I could, of course, go back to my old friend YouTube, but I was starting to get more and more frustrated having to teach myself new skills to take my business to the next level.

Deciding to outsource work for the first time

I think lots of business owners, just like me, handle everything themselves in the early stages of running their business. That might be because it gives us a way to keep control, because we aren’t sure where to find help, or because we just can’t afford to outsource yet.

But then comes the lightbulb moment. You realise that you’re spending more time trying to figure out how to make something look pretty on Canva than you’re actually investing in activities that bring in revenue.

That’s exactly what happened to me.

Well, what really happened was I made my biggest business blunder to date by installing a website plugin that brought my entire site down. Oops. It cost me a fortune in lost ad revenue and (failed) attempts to find a WordPress expert to fix the problem.

I finally saw that it was time to outsource some of the tasks that I had no expertise in, little passion for, and which put my business at risk of failing. And instead concentrate my efforts on steering my business to the next level.

So, I took the leap. I decided to start building a team of freelancers to help me, from writers, web developers and designers to technical WordPress support.

And (spoiler alert) I’ve never looked back.

How I built my freelancer network

I chose to avoid freelancer platforms like Upwork and Fiverr. I could see how I’d easily fall into a cycle of trying freelancer after freelancer until I found the right one, and with processing fees of 10%, they weren’t a good fit for me or my budget.

Instead, I opted to go with recommendations, reaching out to my network of bloggers and business owners, asking who they used and who they rated. That’s how I ended up working with wonderful freelancers based all over the world!

My top tips for outsourcing for the first time

When you outsource, you want to get the best results you can without wasting money. Here’s my advice if you’re working with freelancers for the first time:

Protect yourself before paying freelancers abroad

The right freelancer for you might not be based in your home country so, first things first, don’t engage any freelancer unless you feel totally comfortable about transferring money to them. Getting recommendations makes this safer.

Next, break your project down into specific tasks that need to be achieved before you make your payments. I call these ‘milestone payments’.

Once you’re totally satisfied that the work has been completed as agreed for the relevant milestone and you’ve checked it, it’s time to pay the freelancer’s invoice.

Don’t get hit by extortionate transfer charges

At first, I used to pay freelancers I worked with internationally from my business bank account (it just seemed like the easiest and obvious way to transfer money abroad). But when I saw my bank statements I realised I was paying £4.00 every time I made a payment (on top of my monthly bank charges) and it was really mounting up!

That’s when I discovered PagoFX by Santander, an international money transfer service that’s designed specifically for self-employed people, sole traders and soon for limited companies.

With PagoFX, I didn’t have to open a bank account to start sending money abroad, I just needed my debit card. Transfer charges for the eurozone are just 0.7% and 0.8% for the US and Poland, among their several destination countries. Way better than the alternatives! This way, paying a freelancer based in the US $100 costs me 80p rather than £4.00! You can also get a receipt for your payment through its website or mobile app. The service is also backed by global bank Santander, so I know my money is safe (you can see a full list of charges across different countries here).

Watch this quick video to learn how the PagoFX international money transfer service works. It explains it better than I can!

How to Pay International Freelancers

Use your own strengths and hire to your weaknesses

It’s tempting to start by outsourcing the task that takes you the longest or the one you can get done cheapest. But that isn’t always the best approach. Instead, look at your own strengths and weaknesses.

If you’re good at something, the chances are you won’t be happy with someone else’s work, so there’s no point in outsourcing it. Plus, you’ll still be bogged down with all those things that were causing the problem in the first place. The trick is to hire people with the expertise you don’t have. That’s how you’ll expand the value of your business.

Interview over video call

Meeting someone face-to-face through a video call means you can find out more about their experience, check out their personality and get a feel for how well you’d work together. It also means fewer emails going back and forwards, speeding up the process so you can get started!

Having said that, don’t rush in

Once you’ve interviewed someone, go away and think about your conversation. In both my business and my personal life, I always speak to at least three potential suppliers and get written quotes before agreeing to anything. Having a few different points of view gives me a handy yardstick I can use to measure cost and talent!

Start small

Don’t blow your budget by trying to outsource everything on day one. Take baby steps and build your team in a way that’s smart and that really works. Hire one freelancer at a time, preferably starting on small projects so you can check they’re the right person and get to know them before jumping headlong into the big projects.

Set a clear brief

No matter what the task, be clear on what you need your freelancer to achieve for the price you pay. If you don’t set a brief, the worst-case scenario sees them heading off in their own direction – well-intentioned, perhaps, but unaware of your business goals. Most good freelancers will thank you for a clear brief because it saves them headaches, too! Getting this right means you’re both clear on expectations and you get what you need.

Stay in touch

It’s good to talk! Staying connected with your freelancer is a sure-fire way to make sure you get what you expect, especially in the early days. Talk to them, make it clear that you’re around to answer questions and agree the best way to stay in touch (email, Zoom, WhatsApp, semaphore…). And if you don’t hear from them, have a question yourself or are worried for any reason, don’t be afraid to reach out to them.

Running a business is anything but straight-forward

By creating a freelancer network around you will help you dodge avoidable (and costly) mistakes, adding value to your business and easing your workload.

There are plenty of other benefits to working with freelancers, too. I love the honest advice they share with me, as well as being able to discuss the ups and downs of working alone! I value that extra, outside view of my business. Their expertise in their particular area is priceless and brings so much to my business. And you might even make the odd friend along the way.

We can’t be experts in everything, but with freelancers by our side, we can make up for the skills we don’t have ourselves.

This post was written in collaboration with PagoFX


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Anita Forrest
About Anita Forrest

Anita Forrest is a Chartered Accountant, spreadsheet geek, money nerd and creator of www.goselfemployed.co - the UK small business finance blog for the self-employed community. Here she shares simple, straight-forward guides to make self-employment topics like taxes, bookkeeping and banking easy to understand.