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  • Writer's pictureNicole Papaioannou Lugara

How to Get the Best Output from A Freelance Instructional Designer

When COVID hit, instructional design became a skill in high demand. Suddenly, everyone needed to quickly pivot. They needed training to get folks online. They needed training to help employees navigate rapidly changing mandates that affected policy and procedures. They needed to convert important face to face training to online training. They needed to support people as they returned to the office. They needed to find new streams of income with online educational programs, like coaching and digital courses.

Of course, not everyone had internal training teams to help them develop learning solutions and even those that had internal training teams found themselves overwhelmed by the sheer amount of learning projects that needed to be churned out.

And thus we have... the freelance instructional design boom.

The challenge: many people looking for freelance instructional design talent have never worked with an instructional designer before. This lack of knowledge can lead to poor hires, poor workflow, and poor output.

If you're one of these people finding yourself in a position to need instructional design help for the first time, or maybe you need the help but you had a poor first experience with hiring a freelance ID, this article is for you.

The Four Keys to Success

There are four key components that I'm going to discuss that can lead you to a successful working relationship with your freelance instructional designer. Read on to learn more!

hiring for performance, clearly communicating expectations, having reasonable payment expectations, preparing your resources

Hiring for Performance

You need to make sure that you are hiring someone who can support your needs. That's the bottom line. But your needs shouldn't be a laundry list of immeasurable skills (e.g., 6-20 years of experience).

Instead, you should be focused on performance goals, like:

  • Design a learning solutions that empowers our in-house restaurant staff to provide excellent customer service while balancing the need for personal safety when dealing with customers who are irate about recent policy changes (e.g., mask-wearing while walking to tables)

  • Convert twenty 60-minute face-to-face instructor led training sessions into virtual instructor led training

  • Write scripts for explainer videos that will leverage 2D animation and screencasting to help clients navigate our new online portal

The field of instructional design is new(ish) and also very interdisciplinary. Instructional designers, learning experience designers, and learning designers may specialize in different things. Some might be solution architects while others are visual design wizards or UX mavericks. Some might love working with technical content, while others embrace K12. Taking the time to identify your key needs will help you make sure you're selecting someone who has the right blend of skills to get your specific project done.

For some great interview questions you can ask an ID, check out this short Tips in 10 or Less episode on hiring IDs.

Clearly Communicating Expectations

Unless you've gone ahead and hired a Freelance Mind Reader, you must make it a point to share your vision and needs with your outsourced help. While they should have expertise in their area, they won't have expertise in the institutional knowledge of your business. They won't know how you like to work. They won't know if you had this very specific idea of what something should look like based on an example you saw of something Apple did. You'll need to communicate these things directly.

When I work with a new client, it's always helpful to me to know:

  • What larger business goals the learning project is supporting

  • A bit about the learner demographics

  • Why you're outsourcing the project

  • What you would love people to be able to do when they've completed the learning experience

  • Why you think they haven't gotten there yet

  • Any sources of inspiration you'd love me to pull from

  • How you like to communicate

  • What resources will be available to me (e.g., stock libraries, subject matter experts, manuals, etc)

  • Your workflow or if you'd like me to manage the project

  • What you would consider project success

  • Your desired deadline and the absolute drop dead deadline

A great freelancer will have strategies for getting key information about the project from you, but it's a good idea to think about how you want to respond in advance, especially that question about project success.

Reasonable Payment Expectations

Reasonable payment means two things:

  • Fair market rate for the work

  • Paid on time and in a reasonable time frame

Each of these deserve their own explanation.

Fair Market Rate

Expect to pay freelancers based on the value they add, particularly if you're working on a project basis instead, which is a bit different than long-term contractors.

$10 - $20 USD is NOT fair market value for an experienced instructional designer. It's barely fair market value for an intern.

You should expect to pay a minimum of $35 per hour for an early career ID ranging up to $250 per hour, depending on the level of expertise, value add, complexity of the project, and turnaround time.

Paid on Time & in a Reasonable Time Frame

Freelancers are microbusinesses. They cannot survive if they are not paid in a timely fashion.

People who freelance as their primary source of income are living off their wages. It's not "bonus money" for them. Most of them are also trying to find ways to make the most of their labor hours, since they're typically flying solo.

It really hits them hard when you offer terms like Net 45. That means they're working on good faith for over a month and a half before they get paid. A mid-size business with a line of credit might not be majorly impacted, but for a freelancer, that can mean having to take out loans for rent or cut back on necessities.

I had a colleague who told me they were once stiffed for $16,000?! It nearly bankrupted them.

If you have the means, the fairest way to conduct business with a freelancer is to pay a retainer/deposit up front for at least a portion of the project. You should expect to make payments upon delivery. Net 15 would be the maximum that I believe is reasonable for most freelance instructional design jobs.

Of course, you can always break payment into milestones to make it easier for both of you.

Preparing Your Resources

Instructional design is a collaborative process that typically involves not only the instructional designer, but stakeholders, subject matter experts, and learner representatives. It can also be a multimedia-heavy process, depending on the output.

Clients who have never worked with an ID before almost always underestimate the learning production cycle, especially when it comes to online courses.

Clients tend to be the biggest hold up on projects. Subject matter experts and stakeholders who are busy with full-time jobs can become bottlenecks. Make sure you are prepared to give your people the hours they need to work with the ID in order to complete projects in a timely manner.

Additionally, have your source material ready to go. If the ID needs to read SOPs, manuals, your mission statement, LMS data, stock photos... whatever... preparing it ahead of time will set them off on the right track and save you time.

The Big Picture

Getting all your ducks in a row before you go out looking for and paying for talent can help you create an effective and efficient working relationship with a freelancer who can provide you quality work.

So where do you find these people?

Aside from my favorite option-- here at Your Instructional Designer-- I highly recommend LinkedIn or the Instructional Design Jobs board on Facebook. There is lots of talent out there waiting for you!


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