Say you need to hire someone to design a new website, photograph your products, or manage your social media. Where would you first go? Usually, referrals are the first choice – you find fellow business owners and ask them for people to check out. What if those don’t pan out? The next step usually is to head straight to Google and cross your fingers for a good match.

Freelance marketplaces like Upwork and Fiver might be okay for small projects like editing that one photo you have or designing an event flyer but it’s a risk for larger projects. There’s a time and place for the freelance generalist – one who has a skill like graphic design but doesn’t specialize in any industry. They bring an outside perspective to the project and can pull from other industries’ work for inspiration.

But if you’re looking for someone to manage your social media or write a technical coffee blog post, these marketplaces are not for you. Not only do they pit freelancers against each other (submitting proposals and quotes, often without an initial consult), most of who you find on there with the skill you need won’t have the necessary industry knowledge. For example, you can hire any photographer out there for product shots or you can hire one who specializes in them. And to take this example further, a food photographer knows how to arrange and style photos while one with coffee industry knowledge (usually someone who has worked behind bar) will be able to anticipate shots (no pun intended) and direct people in a more authentic, natural manner. 

I think the marketplaces are okay if you’re just starting out as a freelancer and need a place to build up work. Or if you’re a business looking for a skill that doesn’t require special industry knowledge. But creative work is already often undervalued and “you get what you pay for” rings true here. 

But where else can you look? Don’t wait until you need someone to start the search. Find artists on Instagram, save their profiles, take note of who’s designing the company website you like, etc. The coffee industry has grown enough that there are creatives who specialize in it (hi!). 

If you’re looking for a social media consultant, I wrote a 3-part series on when to outsource and what to look for.