By Mike McNulty

If you’re running a business and the workload is adding up, hiring freelancers can help you delegate tasks – without adding the costly overhead of full-time employees. Done correctly, this can result in a considerable savings of both time and money. Done incorrectly, it can be a drain on your resources. So how can you avoid the pitfalls and master the process of hiring freelancers?

Select a Freelancing Site

First thing: Open an account with an established and reputable freelancing site – like Elance, TextBroker or RentACoder. The types of jobs you want to outsource will influence the freelancing site you choose.  If you’re looking for programmers, you’ll likely want to go with a techie-specific site like RentaCoder or ScriptLance. If your projects are the sort that can be executed by someone with general office experience, then Elance or oDesk would be a better fit. The main thing: You want a freelance site that’s well established, so they’ll have a large pool of available talent. A trustworthy reputation also increases the likelihood that you’ll get the work you paid for.

What the best freelancer site? Fit Small Business compared the most popular freelance sites  on price, ease of use, selection of freelancers, and dispute resolution. They gave Elance their highest rating.

Chunk Down the Task, and Post the First Chunk
Whatever it is you want done by the freelancer, break it down into smaller chunks. As we pointed out in more detail, this is where the real secret of finding a good freelancer lies. Too many first-time users of freelancing services hand the whole project over to a single freelancer and hope for the best. If you break the task down into chunks, you can test the first chunk out with one or more freelancers simultaneously. It’s a little bit more work in the beginning – but when you move forward, you’ll know you have a good freelancer.

Select the best Freelancer(s) You Can

Go through the proposals of the freelancers in response to your request. Throw out the ones that obviously have no clue about what you’re asking for. Also eliminate those who don’t possess the desired tools (such as a software package) required for the job. Once you’ve winnowed the field down to 2-4 options, give them each the same (first) chunk of the task to work on. Let them know that if the work is completed to your satisfaction, there is the potential for more work on the same project.

Evaluate and Repeat

Once your freelancers turn in their work, determine which one is the best fit for your project and work style, and hire the individual to complete the rest of the project. Or, if you had a miss the first time, realize that your investment was a small one (because it was just the first small chunk) and thank your lucky stars you didn’t agree to pay the person to do the whole project. Repeat the process of testing out a new freelancer until you find the one you want to work with long term. Then move on to your next project.

Hopefully, over time, you’ll build up a nice stable of freelancers so you have good people to turn to when the projects pile up.

Mike McNulty is a staff writer for Fit Small Business. Previously, Mike was the co-founder of the popular website, Opposing Views. @FitSmallBiz