Building Effective Freelance Relationships
There are thousands, if not millions, of professionals who make their living via freelance, contract-based labor. And with the number of freelancer marketplaces on the Internet today combined with recent hiring shortages, it’s not hard to understand why so many companies – big and small – depend on freelance labor to supplement their workforce.
While freelancing itself isn’t new, the ease with which you can connect your business with skilled professionals is. While this new “one-click” ability to enlist freelance work has major advantages, ensuring that you are using freelancers efficiently still requires due diligence on your end. Simply put: freelance help isn’t free and unusable results are a waste of your time and money; not to mention that of the freelance contractor’s resources. As you consider the best way to incorporate freelancers into your workforce, use this guide to create a partnership that is beneficial for both your small business and the freelancer you contract.
Know What You Want to Achieve
Freelance workers generally create the best products when you know exactly what you hope to get out of your contract. Unlike partners and collaborators, freelancers expect direction and inspiration to come directly from you. No matter if your project is in design, copywriting, or any other area of business operations, your first step is to create a detailed description of exactly what you want your freelance worker to be responsible for. As you build out this description, include a bullet-list of primary responsibilities and/or areas in which you expect assistance from the freelancers. When applicable – particularly for the production of creative assets (design, copywriting, etc.) – include examples of what you’d like to see.
Here’s what you probably weren’t expecting: This paragraph isn’t for the freelancer; it’s for you to use as a guide as you go through the process of vetting, onboarding and working with a contractor.. By knowing exactly what you want, you’ll be able to choose the right freelancer for your exact needs.
Start with Small Projects
If you are completely new to freelance work, consider running small low-stakes tests to see if their work and skillset are a good fit for your project needs AND that it aligns with your company brand. A worst-case scenario would be bringing on and paying for a freelancer that produces work that is unable to deliver the desired results. Using small projects is also a great way to determine that fit. It also provides a great opportunity to compare the work of various freelancers and see which best suits your business’ needs. If a freelancer delivers quality work for a small, inexpensive project, that is a great bed of trust to bring along to future projects.
Match Your Vision to Professionals’ Existing Style
Closely investigate freelance workers’ existing body of work before deciding to form a partnership. A Freelancer’s portfolio represents a cross-section of the work they are most confident creating with consistent quality. Before even contacting any freelancer, be ready to spend a serious amount of time sorting through portfolios, as the more time you spend in this phase, the less likely it is that the whole endeavor will be wasted over mismatched expectations. Asking a freelancer to work outside their preferred field of work is a waste of money for you and a waste of time for the talent themselves.
Firmly Establish Payment Before Work Begins
Depending on the type of work you are seeking out, freelancers can be paid in several ways. The most common system is a per-contract lump sum paid out generally in phases throughout the progress of the project. It’s also possible that your freelancer may want to be paid hourly if they will be frequently collaborating or working directly with your in-house hourly employees. No matter how they would like to be paid, follow the guidelines and rules set out by the freelancer themselves when negotiating payment. Be prepared as well to discuss additional payment for future edits or if the project goes over its deadline. Discussions about post-deadline payment must happen during your initial discussion in order to avoid uncomfortable and heated conversations later.
If your professional accepts payments per-contract, consider setting percentage payouts with certain milestones. For example, if you are looking for a new graphic to use as a logo, consider paying out the first 25% of the lump sum upon signing and then each subsequent 25% as drafts and revisions come to pass; be sure, of course, to clearly lay out when you expect those drafts to be completed. It is also essential to explain directly to your freelancer the possibility of termination; have a set percentage of your lump sum you are willing to pay out in the event that you terminate your contract either because of a change in your plans or the results in the freelancer’s drafts.
Be Honest with Feedback
Freelancers expect criticism and clear advice from their clients; this is how they create for you the best product or provide you with the best service. To ensure a happy partnership, always give honest feedback. For example, when a freelance writer gives you drafts of a piece to evaluate, and it’s not on par with what you are looking for, don’t be afraid to say that you are unhappy with the results. Of course, you ought to also be prepared to give clear and reasonable advice for them to change their direction. Further, if you find that your the writer’s drafts are continually not up to your standards, sever the contract rather than try again. You, as the business owner and the client, will innately know when a freelancer isn’t meeting your needs. You should be sure to follow up on those feelings as soon as possible to both save you and your team money as well as the freelancer’s time.
Remember that You are a Client, not a Boss
Modern full-time freelancers can sometimes juggle several clients at once. While your contract is certainly a priority to your freelancer, remember that they are not your employee; you are their client. To maintain a healthy and beneficial partnership, be sure that you don’t cross the line and begin treating your freelancer as if they are your employee by adding on tasks and responsibilities that fall outside the scope of the initial project. Remember, they were contracted for specific responsibilities without any of the benefits that come with being a full-time employee (benefits, vacation time, sick days) – so keep expectations and your requests in-check.
Freelance Help is a Tool Best Used with Purpose
Teams who can leverage freelance help efficiently have a tangible advantage over those who don’t. Taking advantage of the international and multi-disciplined world of freelance talent with the right expectations puts you and your business in the best position possible.