6 Ways to Get the Best from Freelance Talent

by James on September 12, 2008

Do you use freelancers like writers or consultants, or some other form of freelance talent?  It’s an excellent way to absorb ebbs and flows in activity. There are times when hiring a creative consultant will make the difference between good and great because they can bring fresh ideas and perspective to bear on problems or challenges faced by your business that you are too close to see.

Lots is written about how to find freelance jobs but little is available to help businesses maximize their investment in freelance talent. Over the years I have identified 6 best practices that have helped me work with freelance talent. They are tightly intertwined and all are important.  Follow them and you will get great work.

1) Brief them well.

As talented as they may be, they can’t read your mind. A good brief has a number of benefits to you and the freelancer.  By taking the time to craft a thorough brief you are much more likely to get a good product and avoid expensive rework.  For the freelancer, a clear brief with understandable objectives, requirements and specific deliverables helps them manage their time and resources.

2) Treat them with respect.

Freelancers are people, they are also professionals running micro businesses with multiple priorities and limited resources.  Respect them as the professionals and business people they are by taking the time to write a good brief. Did I mention how important the brief is?

Listen respectfully to their advice and feedback throughout the process.  You hired them for their expertise.  That same expertise may take you to areas you hadn’t considered, which may make you uncomfortable.  This is OK.  You don’t have to agree with everything but, if you disagree, tell them why.

3) Don’t quibble over price.

If you want the best work from a freelancer don’t try to knock down the price they charge.  If this is what they charge, it’s what they have been getting and it reflects their professional worth.  Accept it without question and trust that they will deliver value for the price. They will work hard for you and you will get a lot more than you’re paying for.  If their price is beyond your budget, that’s OK.  Tell them, and look for someone in your price range.

When the project is finished, if you think the price was too much for what was delivered, tell them why you didn’t see the value you expected.  They’re professionals, you wont hurt their feelings.  If they exceeded your expectations, give them a bonus.  It says a lot.

And pay them on time. Most freelancers are accustomed to net 30 days.  Whatever you agree to, stick to it.  Never let an invoice go past due.  Freelancers are micro businesses, holes in cash flow have a huge impact.

4) Be loyal.

When you find freelance talent that suits your needs keep sending them work.  If you are loyal to them they will be loyal to you.  Situations will arise when you will be reaching into a hat for a rabbit.  Freelance talent is more likely to bump a job to help you find the rabbit if they know the favor will be returned.

Tell your friends and colleagues about the freelancers you work with.  You want them to be busy so they are still freelancing the next time you need them.  And since you showed loyalty by making referrals they will find the time to take on your project.

5) Trust them.

Things will go wrong. Accept that an error or communication breakdown has occurred.  They didn’t start your project with the intention of making a mistake.  This doesn’t mean you ignore the issue.  Part of gaining mutual trust is honest feedback. Talk to them about what happened.  Dig into the root cause.  They’re professionals, they can handle it.  You will both benefit from understanding what went wrong.

Don’t, under any circumstances, make the freelancer the whipping boy for challenges that arise.  They need to know you have their back. This works both ways.  When there is mutual trust, a freelancer will alert you to an issue they see, before it becomes an issue everyone sees.

Whenever possible, let the freelancer produce their work.  The fine line between work being great, and creating something exceptional, lies in the execution.  Trust them to see the project through.  It tells them you believe in great work and you believe in them.  The next time they work with you they will do an even better job.

6) Thank them when the job is done.

The easiest thing on the list but the one most often overlooked.  When the job say “thank you.”  Let them know the status of the job, provide feedback on how the project went, give them samples of the finished work.  Everyone gains from this simple, zero cost, low effort gesture.

Freelancers who contributed to this article include Nicole Andrews (Art Director), Jason Headley (Copy Writer), John Morton (Creative Director and Interactive Designer) and Randy Shiozaki (Interactive Producer). Use them if you need some expert help.  They do great work.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Singer September 12, 2008 at 2:57 pm

James’ comments about freelancers are bang on. Having had a small agency and used freelancers extensively, I know the value of freelancers and how to manage them and James encapsulates that very well in his article.

Susan Zechter September 12, 2008 at 4:27 pm

Having been on both sides of the freelance equation, I found James’ post to be extremely respectful and spot on.

While in management positions at agencies, I was grateful for talented freelancers who I could count on and who did terrific work. As such, I would never think to take advantage of them or try to get them to work at a rate that wasn’t fair. In fact, it was just the opposite. I would strive to ensure they were motivated to do their best, properly informed throughout the entire process, and a trusted and valuable part of the team.

As a freelancer, I always find myself wanting to deliver the best for my clients, especially when they treat me with integrity, provide clear direction, and value what I bring to the party. Thus, I hope and expect that they will be fair with me from the get-go and that the relationship will be based on mutual respect, not a vendor/supplier mentality. It is my belief that this principle should apply to clients and their agencies as well, which often is not the case.

Integrity, loyalty and respect go a long way.

Jenn Hollowell September 18, 2008 at 6:33 am

I can’t offer much more in the way of compliments than the others so far, but I still wanted to chime in. GREAT post!

Jenn Hollowells last blog post..Finding Work Solutions When Sick

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