When to fire that freelancer you hired

Joseph Liu is a career consultant, keynote speaker, columnist, and host of the Career Relaunch podcast. He helps professionals relaunch their careers by more powerfully marketing their personal brands. His work is informed by 10 years of global, client-side marketing experience in the US & UK managing brands including Glad, Liquid-Plumr, Gü Puds, and Häagen-Dazs, his involvement with four major brand relaunches, and 500+ hours of professional career coaching. He now applies principles used to build & relaunch consumer brands to help professionals and business owners build & relaunch their personal brands. He's been a speaker at TEDx and MarketingWeek Live, and served as a judge for The Drum’s Social Buzz Awards.

Earlier this week, I decided to cancel a project with a freelancerhalfway through, wasting nearly two months of work.

I had hired her to help me create a video animation to accompany a resource for career changers. The videos she submitted for final review was full of errors, incomplete edits, and illogical visuals. She also hadn't been able to handle basic amends I had requested in prior creative rounds, and my doubts slowly built up, but I let things drag on anyway.

One of the great aspects of being a small business owner is that you have the opportunity to work with an array of talented freelancers from around the world.

Platforms like UpWork, 99Designs, and Fiverr have completely democratized the freelancer marketplace, and a world of talent is literally at your fingertips right now. I’ve had a great privilege of working with some incredibly talented freelancers from around the world. However, I’ve also crossed paths with some incredibly unprofessional ones too.

Having spent the past 12 years as a blue-chip brand marketer then small business owner managing projects with hundreds of creatives, agencies, and freelancers, often giving talks on the topic of client/agency relationships at various marketing conferences. I pride myself in being able to effectively vet and manage creative suppliers.

However, in this case, what I perceived to be a strength—working hard to create positive relationships with the freelancers I hire—ended up being my biggest weaknesses. I often struggle to call it quits with a freelancer even when the work is clearly not going in the right direction and things are beyond repair. I've been fortunate enough to have only had to resort to this three times in my career.

Several years ago, I had a manager tell me I needed to be tougher on the agencies I work with, that being too friendly and collaborative can sometimes be my downfall. I obviously didn’t learn my lesson.

I was reminded of this earlier this week. With this particular freelancer, during our first meeting, she showed up over an hour late. I should have seen this as a clear lack of professionalism. Yet I continued working with her anyway.

Then, she missed the deadline, and was completely out of touch during a critical project milestone. I should have seen this as a sign of poor client & project management skills to come. Yet I continued working with her anyway.

Two weeks later, she provided me with a draft video incomplete, and full of errors. It became clear she lacked the skills to complete the edits I had requested. I should have realized she would be incapable of doing the quality work I required. And I should have cut it off then. Yet I continued working with her anyway.

After nearly two months of this, I finally cancelled her contract. I should have ended this contract earlier—before all the unnecessary back-and-forth emails, time consuming rounds of feedback, and headaches on both her part and mine. This project has been an enormous waste of time.

I blame myself for this. For not vetting her as fully as I should have. Then, for not cutting the cord earlier. As a client, it’s my responsibility to end projects when things just aren’t working.

Ending this contract now means I’ll have to start all over again with another freelancer to complete this work because the video she gave me was full of errors. It means the two months were for nothing. It means the money I paid her to date we’re all for nothing. And in terms of that animation? Well, I have nothing.

All of this reminds me just how hard it is to walk away sometimes even when things aren’t going well. Sometimes, you just have to stop and cut your losses. Easier said than done sometimes.

So while this is fresh in my mind, I wanted to share with you 10 warning signs you should watch for when working with your freelancer or agency. Consider calling it quits if they:

  1. Treat your project like an afterthought in the scope of their workload
  2. Don't have the capability or capacity to provide the quality of work you’re seeking
  3. Don't proactively stay on top of communications
  4. Ignore or miss deadlines
  5. Develop a disrespectful or dismissive attitude
  6. Act unprofessionally
  7. Disrespect your time
  8. Make your life harder, not easier
  9. Constantly makes excuses for incomplete work
  10. Repeatedly delivers sloppy work

Firing an agency or ending a contract early is not fun. Everyone ends up being unhappy, sometimes feelings are hurt, and sometimes, there’s even bad blood. However, if you truly respect your time and theirs, you will bring yourself to cut your losses when things not working. Trust me, it will save you a lot of unnecessary headache, money, hassle, and delays.

I’m already making great progress over the past 48 hours with the new animator I hired. I should have made the switch weeks ago.

Have you had an issue with the freelancer or agency you’ve worked with recently? How do you decide when to walk away? I'd love to hear your thoughts below.

Joseph Liu helps professionals & small business owners relaunch their careers with resources to help them navigate career change and more powerfully market their personal brands at josephpliu.com. He's also the host of the Career Relaunch podcast, featuring inspiring stories of career change.

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