Just Tell Me What You Do!

I’ve been looking into hiring a contractor to do some work on our basement. I’ve never hired a contractor before; I know I need to look for someone with insurance and certain accreditations, but beyond that I’m a little clueless. There’s a site that lists about 100 qualified contractors in my area; so I came up with a (very unscientific) filtering system to start sorting through them. And I started thinking about how that’d apply to creative freelancers.

I’ve put out a few feelers to independent contractors, and have had a few kind of crummy experiences with people not being very professional. So my new system includes the following three ‘rules’ for deciding if I should even look into hiring someone. The first two have actually weeded out a lot of prospects:

1) If they don’t have a website, I’m not interested.
2) If their email address ends with ‘sympatico’, ‘rogers’, ‘aol’, etc,  I’m not interested.

The third ‘rule’ is what started me thinking about creatives:

3) They have to use the word ‘basement’ somewhere on their site.


I feel a little ashamed about this, like I should just do more research into….I don’t know what. But I’m hiring someone to work on my basement. I want to know that they’ve worked on basements before, that it’s something they do regularly, and they know what they’re doing when it comes to this kind of project. A number of sites have a page called something like ‘services’ or ‘what we offer.’ If it doesn’t explicitly say ‘basement’, I’m out. I have a lot of emails to send, and I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. When I click on a link that says ‘services,’ I’d like to see a list of services. Many sites instead have an ambiguous paragraph about “making my design dreams come true”, and never actually say what it is they do. I’ve never done this before, and I want specifics.

Some of us are lucky enough to work in situations where we have repeat clients with whom we build long-term business relationships with. They learn how we work, what our process is, and we learn what they want, and how they like things done. But a lot of us work with people who’ve never hired anyone like us before; that small business that’s hiring you to design their first logo, the writer hiring you to photograph their head-shot, the couple hiring you to silk-screen custom tote bags for their wedding….. And I would imagine that their service-shopping experience may be a little like mine. There are a lot of service providers out there, and potential clients want to see that you do what they need. And they want you to tell them what it is you do.

Something like “…is a Vancouver-based photographer who specializes in creative family portraits” is much more specific than “…is a dreamer who would love to help capture your special moments.”

But here’s where I’m torn. The smarty-pants in me assumes that if a contractor can build a two story cabin in the woods, she can install a few Ikea cupboards in my basement. I understand that by keeping a description somewhat vague you may be more appealing to a broader audience because you may be able to do anything. So maybe you don’t need to list every single thing you do. But the panicky homeowner in me wants someone to hold my hand and tell me not to worry because they do this kind of thing all the time. I don’t necessarily need someone to make my design dreams come true; I need someone who will respond promptly to my emails, show up on time, and stay on budget because they know what they’re doing.

I’d love to hear from you; do you prefer to see specifics, or get a more general sense of someone’s work? Or do you, as a service provider, market yourself in one way or the other?


image source