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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

5 Tips for Working with Freelancers (from a Freelancer)

Yesterday, I mentioned 5 tips for freelancers, based upon my ongoing learning curve as a freelance videographer / writer / jack of all trades.

Now I'd like to address the other side of the conversation: tips for companies on how they can work better with freelancers. Again, these tips are based upon my own experiences, as well as the success (and horror) stories of my colleagues. They're intended to help the freelance process run more smoothly for all parties involved, not to ruffle anyone's feathers in particular.

1. Pay Promptly

Freelance is by no means a secure career, which means the contractors you've hired are budgeting according to their expected deadlines and pay dates. By and large, freelancers don't have much rubber room in their bank accounts. If one client is slow to pay, it disrupts what's usually a very precarious house of financial cards -- and it makes that freelancer question working with you again.

Also, realize that freelancers who live outside your city or state may have additional holds placed on your paychecks by their banks, which can slow the payment process up to an additional week. Thus, if your company has the flexibility, paying freelancers earlier than the last possible minute is always appreciated. It's also a great incentive for the contractor to work even better / faster the next time around, because they come to trust you as a client they can rely on for paying promptly.

2. Understand Who You're Hiring

Sometimes the person you're considering for a job is an expert in her field. And sometimes she has absolutely no relevant experience. How can you tell the difference? It isn't in the pricetag; it's in the quality of the work.

It may also be in the quality of their support system.

These days, a contractor can be reasonably expected to farm out certain aspects of a job that they're not as facile in. If you hire someone to reprogram your website, rewrite your content AND redesign your logo, odds are, you're going to receive a finished product that was actually created by 2 or 3 people -- even if only one of them filled out your tax form. How do you know you're getting what you think you're paying for?

Google prospective contractors. Find examples of their work. Just as important, find out what circles they travel in, and then Google the work of those people as well. If your contractor is going to be farming out side work to his colleagues, you want to ensure that the median quality level of work among that support system is something you're comfortable with.

Through this vetting, you might also discover that the person you think you're hiring is actually a quiet force among his peers -- or is all talk with no connections to speak of. The size of that personal web speaks volumes.

3. Establish Clear Communication - and Deadlines

Time is money - for both employer and contractor. The longer it takes a freelancer to turn in a project, the more it's going to cost. Likewise, the more that freelancer has to tweak, re-edit and completely redesign after the initial review, the less time he has to work on other projects -- and believe me, he has other projects. He HAS to; otherwise, he'd be broke.

When you give a freelancer unclear directions, when you change the project specs midstream, or when you fail to adhere to review deadlines, it complicates your contractor's workflow. At its mildest, this creates logistical conundrums like a paucity of hard drive space because a freelancer is trying to juggle multiple (unfinished) projects within limited resources. At its worst, this means a freelancer must reallocate time, effort and possibly additional resources (including other people) from another job to yours -- and that means that other job will probably also require multiple re-edits, this time due to minimal attention being paid during production.

This creates a vicious cycle of underserving multiple clients -- which, believe it or not, freelancers hate to do -- all because one project they thought they understood turns out to be a tangled mess. There is a silver lining to this problem for the contractor, though -- additional review costs, which will be tacked on to the final invoice. Save yourself AND the freelancer the hassle and agree upon the specifics and hard deadlines for the project well in advance.

4. Minimize the Chain of Communication

Regardless of the size of a company, it seems a universal truth that anyone in a position of even moderately senior management will insist on putting their thumbprint on any project that crosses their desk. It's an unspoken belief that by NOT making some sort of comment, they're somehow not doing their job and will be seen as unnecessary in the food chain, soon to be removed from all reviews entirely.

This leads to an endless stream of relatively minor notes -- a font change here, a color change there, a suggestion for different background music or a slight pan to the left or the renaming of the "About" page to the "About Us" page -- that, when added up, usually makes a freelancer want to throttle the entire company. It's not that we object to the changes IF THEY'RE NECESSARY; it's that we hate wasting our time and resources in placating the ego of someone who's hoping to turn their own performance review into an office one door closer to the lunchroom.

How many pairs of eyes does it take to sign off on a project in your company? How quickly can each of those people be reasonably expected to turn around their review? How imperative is each person's review, really? The greater the number -- and the longer it takes -- the more expensive it's going to be for your bottom line.

5. Be Idealistic with Word of Mouth

Most freelancers make a living primarily from referrals. The cost of actively pursuing new clients, in both time and money, is a luxury few working freelancers can afford.

Thus, if you like someone's work, consider making that freelancer's portfolio and contact information available within your trusted circle. A freelancer would much prefer to work with clients recommended to them via other clients, because they can trust the word of this new entity based upon the implied endorsement of the existing client.

Likewise, if you're unhappy with someone's performance, it's better to be tactful about your disapproval when discussing this person with your colleagues -- or, even better, say nothing at all. Slamming someone's work rarely makes you any friends in the industry, and word of mouth has a way of working itself back around to the source. Plus, you wouldn't want your peers to discover that the real reason a freelancer flaked was because you were impossible to work with and changed the project specs five times in a month...

These are my tips. Do you have more?

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8 Comments:

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  • Very helpful topic Justin.

    By Anonymous Tien Do Xuan, at 11:00 PM  

  • Well... round about every blog posts online don't have much originality as I found on yours.. Just keep updating much useful information so that reader like me would come back over and over again.

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  • I'm a journalism and I think this information isn't bad enough, because to many professionals has been wondering the same issues and they are analyzing this category in Universities, so in most professions involving creation of intellectual property, "freelance" and its derivative terms are often reserved for workers who create works on their own initiative, then look for someone to publish them and it will be the new journalism, specially if we're talking about blogger and twitters. 23jj

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    By Anonymous muebles oferta, at 2:17 AM  

  • Hi! I think it'll make sense if you mention other places where people can find freelancers/freelance jobs. For example, XPlace . It's a freelance job board with higher rates than on other marketplaces, no commission, and a multitude of freelance job offers!.

    By Blogger andrew radchenko, at 2:18 AM  

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