Disclaimer: These are not hard and fast rules or reasons to discount someone. These are red flags or indicators that show that the person may not be as serious or as experienced as you are looking for. For someone who is just starting out and is looking for professionals (meaning it’s their full time job) to hire to do something, these are strong indicators to help you make good decisions. In my experience, people who don’t have any of these things do work on the side and are not typically experts in their field or want to be perceived as such. 

When you’re a small/solo creative business, nothing hurts more than throwing away money. I recently had an experience where I hired someone for a service and almost immediately regretted it. They charged less than $50, but when I received their work, I realized right away that this person was not the right fit for me. But they had already completed the job and I had no choice but to pay them. I know how to vet creative professionals for hire, but I seriously dropped the ball.

There are things I know to look for when working with another creative professional, specifically online. But I was so impatient to move forward with my project, I didn’t vet this person nearly as well as I should have. There were many red flags that I ignored at the beginning of the process.

To help you avoid getting burned, here are 4 strong ways to vet another creative professional that you meet online.


1. When vetting creative professionals, look at how they present themselves

The way we present ourselves and our businesses to others says a lot about us. It sounds shallow, but appearances matter. They indicate how we want to be perceived and how much work we’ve put into our brand. These 4 areas are my main indicators that give me an idea of how serious and established a business is.

E-Mail Address

I used to hate hearing it, but it’s hard to take someone with an @gmail.com e-mail account seriously. It indicates that they aren’t serious about their business, that what they do is maybe a side gig, or that they have not grown enough to invest the time and money in a domain-based e-mail. If you are looking for a freelancer for a quick job, this may not be a problem.

E-Mail Structure

While I hated learning about how to write letters in school, it’s incredibly important to me now. A good business email should consist of a greeting, a clear and mistake-free message that anticipates the other person’s needs, a prompt to a next step, and a closing.

Poor Example

hey I heard on Facebok that you were looking for a graphic designer? I am available if you want help.

Good Example

Hello Allie, 

I saw your Facebook post requesting a graphic designer for your project. I would love to work with you on this! 

I’ve been working as a graphic designer for 4 years and I specialize in social media graphics and ads. Here is a link to my portfolio so you can see the kind of work I’ve done before and get a feel for my style. 

Please let me know if you’d like to get on a call to chat about what you need! I’m available every day this week from noon to 3pm EST.



It’s also hard for me to take a business email seriously if it does not include a signature of any kind. Setting up an email signature is simple and you don’t have to get too fancy with it! It should consist of a name, business name, and at least one mode of alternate communication (phone, email, social media, etc.)

Email vs. Social media

Some people don’t mind it and even prefer it. But I just don’t like doing business or talking about working together on social media. Making connections there is great, but I avoid Facebook Messenger once the conversation really gets going. I will immediately move the conversation to email. Why?

E-mails are easier to manage. All conversations stay in one place. Also, it allows me to vet using the above point – e-mail structure and signature. Those things are much harder or impossible to use in Facebook or Twitter messages. There is also a degree of professionalism that is accomplished by e-mailing that is harder to maintain over social media, which is a much more casual setting.


2. Look at their previous work

The person you’re speaking to should offer to show you their portfolio of work, especially if the job has to do with visuals. Ask to see work similar to what you’re asking them to do, either created with a similar program or targeting a similar audience. If they don’t and you ask for it and they can’t supply it, consider moving on to the next person.

Hiring someone is an investment. You are investing money in their potential to deliver what it is you actually want. You can save yourself a lot of headache by making sure what they’ve done in the past is up to your standards. (Bonus points if their portfolio is well thought out and creative.)


3. Ask if they’ve worked with companies like yours

Think about it. If you’re a lawyer who needs a website, and the person you’re hiring has only ever worked on wedding boutique sites, it may be harder for you to connect and communicate what you want. However, if you find someone who exclusively does lawyer websites, they will know what you need and what the best practices are for that market.

What I realized too late in regards to my last hire was that the person I hired had no familiarity with and did no research on my market. She made suggestions that were completely wrong for the people I was trying to connect with. A lot of what she had to say was great, but I could tell I should have worked with someone who had more experience with the particular industry.

I worked with someone once who, after I had to fire them, boasted about working for Fortune 500 companies. They didn’t have contracts and used the Friends/Family setting on PayPal to get paid, so I doubted the validity of that statement. However, if I had asked up front what type of companies they work with, I might have had a better idea how to deal with them throughout the project. If they said at the beginning that they work with large, wealthy companies but don’t have contracts, that would have been a very helpful red flag.


4. Talk over the phone (or in person if possible)

This step was hard for me to include. I hate talking on the phone; it always makes me feel anxious because I express myself much better in writing. However, every time I’ve spoken to someone over the phone, I’ve been able to get a much more accurate feel for them.

Here are some red flags to look out for on a phone call:

  • That first “Hello?” is lackluster and tired
  • Lots of awkward silences
  • Monosyllabic answers without supporting details/evidence
  • There is noise in the background or you can tell they are doing something else simultaneously
  • They have no questions for you about the position or your company
  • They agree with everything you say without adding new ideas or opinons

The best calls are when the person has energy and enthusiasm up front, they have a lot to say/ask, you can tell they are completely focused on you and the conversation, and they ask a ton of questions. I recently interviewed someone I ended up firing. When I asked them to tell me their biggest client pet peeves, I told them mine as an example. They told me they had the same pet peeves and offered no original or unique perspective. You want an independent thinker who can bring new experiences to the table, not a people-pleaser.


Just remember at every turn that you are hiring a creative professional. They should communicate creativity and professionalism to you at every interaction. If you’re just looking for someone to complete a task, then that’s all you need. But if you’re looking to really build a relationship, be thoughtful about who you choose and why.


Do you have any more tips for vetting creative professionals online? Leave them in the comments!

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