According to some estimates, the number of Freelancers1 (or “Independent workers” as they are also called) in the U.S. has ballooned from 30.1 million to 40.9 million between 2011 and 2017. That’s an increase of over 35% in just 6 years…and the trend continues to grow. And the freelancing phenomena isn’t just restricted to the U.S. or Canada – it’s global. A research report shows that, between 2004 and 2013, Europe’s2 dependence on Freelancers has grown at an even faster rate – 45% - than the U.S.
From Auto CAD designs of prototype drones, to recipe books, business plans and web designing, Freelancers are being used to do it all. And it’s not just mom-and-pop shops and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) that are using Freelance talent. Large multinationals and Blue-Chip giants are increasingly embracing freelancing talent.
The “Gig economy” is encouraging businesses, both small and large, looking to source talented individuals, to increasingly turn to Freelancers to staff their teams. However, it takes a certain kind of discipline, as an “employer”, to work with Freelancers. If you are new to the world of using Freelancers, here’s what you should know to forge a win-win freelancing partnership.
TIP: Don’t look at Freelancers as “just contractors”. Instead, to really have a fruitful, long-term relationship, structure your relationship as a partnership rather than an employment contract
Why? Because they offer the ideal balance between not wanting to ramp-up full-time headcount, while finding people with just the right skills. According to one research report3 , the ranks of Freelancers in the U.S. workforce is growing 3-times faster than the “regular” workforce.
Here’s why you might want to consider supplementing your existing team with talented Freelancers:
- They are relatively easy to find – if you know where to look
- Most Freelancers come “pre-loaded” with the skills you need – that cuts down on your training costs
- Many Freelancers bring a diverse set of other experiences (because they may have worked with your competitors or other organizations in your industry) – which further enhances the value they’ll add to your team
- Since they aren’t full-time employees, it’s a great way to reduce your costs – you’ll save on HR costs like benefits and overtime
- Freelancers usually come with all the tools, technologies and equipment needed to do the job – you won’t need to provide any of that, like you would for most full-time resources
- It’s also a great way to manage your own margins – Freelancing contracts usually are fixed-cost undertakings. You know exactly how much it will cost you BEFORE you start a project
- The best of breed Freelancers are self-managed professionals – which means you don’t have to spend inordinate amounts of time managing/micro-managing them
The best thing about using Freelancers is that you don’t need to replace your existing workforce with contractors. Instead, the best practice model is to supplement/augment full-time work forces with Freelancers, to ensure companies continue to “refresh” the skills and knowledge of their in-house teams.
TIP: To find out if Freelancers are a good idea for your business, start out by working on a few non-business-critical projects first. Once you’re comfortable with the idea of using them, you can expand your portfolio of freelancer-aided projects
Being a Great Client
If you care to do a web search, you’ll likely find dozens (if not hundreds) of articles on how to be a great Freelancer, or how to find clients as a Freelancer. However, there’s scant material on what it takes to be a good client to a Freelancer.
As a business owner, you can easily go out and hire a Freelancer (we’ll tell you where to find them later in this post). But you’ll add even more value to your relationships if you can effectively manage your Freelancer relationships to produce that win-win outcome you (and your Freelancing partners) are looking for.
The following tips are meant to help business owners, who plan to use Freelancers, become better clients:
a) Starting the search: If you are new to working with Freelancers, you’re probably wondering: Where do I start? Well, start by going where Freelancers congregate – online! Your best bet would be to start your search at freelancing platforms like UpWork.Com, Freelancer.com or TextBroker.Com. Here are some things to watch out for when choosing where to find Freelancers:
- Look for a platform that’s been around for more than a year or two
- Make sure they offer freelancing services in line with what you need – hourly, fixed-rate or hybrid of the two
- Check out the platform to ensure they offer trustworthy payment modes – secure banking, credible 3rd-party transfers (PayPal)
- Find out if they offer Escrow payments to safeguard you against “fly by night” Freelancers
- Make sure the site rates and ranks their Freelancers, so you can choose the best-of-best amongst them
TIP: It might be a good idea to work with more than one freelancing platform. Be mindful though that many Freelancers are also members of multiple platforms. You need to consider that when putting out Job Descriptions on multiple sites
b) Making your needs known: You really can’t be a good client if you don’t tell your Freelancer what it is that you need them to do for you. The Job Description is the vehicle through which you achieve that. To make sure your needs are known, ensure you cover the following:
- WHO: Be as specific as you can about the skills and experience you want in the Freelancer you are looking to hire
- WHAT: Provide a detailed description of job that you want performed. If the task is environment-specific (Policies and Procedures manual for the Health Care industry; Web development supporting CSS3; Macros for Excel 2016, ECMAScript 2017), make sure you spell that out in your Job Description
- HOW: Deliverables must be provided to you in a certain form, so you need to convey that. If it’s a Microsoft Word 2010+ document you are expecting – say so. If you also want a PDF and Txt format, make that known
- WHY: Many prospective employers of freelance talent think that the “Why” is unimportant. Not true! Sometimes, if you mention why you need a particular task done, and what you intend to use the deliverable for, you’ll be surprised at how much “free advice” a Freelancer can give you about alternate solutions. Some of that feedback can not only be creative, but it might even be a cheaper alternate to what you are proposing
TIP: To find the best Freelancers and attract high-quality responses to your Job Ads, keep your postings short and succinct. Most platforms allow you to provide backup documentation that contains the details of your requirements
c) Workflow: Since most Freelancers will work remotely, it is good practice (at least initially) to enforce a specific work flow. For instance:
- If this is a project to produce some technical documentation, you may first wish to validate if they understood what you require of them. You could therefore insist upon a workflow as follows: Bullet-points before outlines; Outlines before Drafts; Drafts before final
- Most Freelancers are open to redoing work that the client feels requires some improvement. However, it’s always good practice to establish the number of edits/revisions expected at the outset
- You also need to discuss how you wish references and attributions dealt with. In most instances, Freelancers will include references to their research in a way that they do with other clients – only to be told such form isn’t acceptable. A good client will however spell that out in advance: End Notes or Footnotes. In-text links, or links as comments etc.
- If your freelancer-provided deliverables include images and graphics, you need to spell out what types of graphics are acceptable (Freeware? Creative Commons Images? Self Created?). A good client will also provide guidelines on graphics use: Format (JPEG, PNG, BMP etc.), Resolution, and location in the deliverable
- Rules around document sharing, file naming and common folders (on cloud or shared drives) should also be agreed in advance
Once your relationship is cemented, many of these workflow restrictions may be relaxed. By then, hopefully, your Freelancers will know exactly how you work, and will be finely attuned to delivering to your expectations.
d) Managing expectations: Clients often “assume” that their relationship with the Freelancer is temporary and contractual in nature. However, many longer-term Freelance relationships evolve into more permanent employment opportunities. A good client leaves no doubt what his/her expectations about the working relationship are.
Make sure prospective applicants know exactly what they are getting into – an hourly or fixed-fee contract, with specific deliverables. There should be no confusion about them being part-time or short-term employees – if that’s not what your expectations are. You might have to deal with too many legal challenges if that misconception arises!
TIP: If you plan on making regular/extended use of Freelancers, it might be a good idea to let them know what you expect in terms of commitments from them – Days per week? Hours per day? Number of deliverables per month?
e) Laying down the rules: Make sure you specify timelines, quality parameters, consequences for plagiarism and copyright infringements.
- If you plan on using online plagiarism checkers (CopyScape, quetext, Plagiarisma), make sure they know about it, and know which tools they need to build their content to satisfy
- Not all content validation tools work to the same set of rules. Make sure you lay down the law about what score is acceptable, and what is unacceptable (90%, 100%, 10 errors/flags per 10,000 words)
- If you use SEO scoring tools, like those available at Moz or Yoast, to check for content – make sure they know about it upfront
A good client never ambushes his/her Freelance partners with rules and tools after the fact. Making everyone aware of the rules in advance, ensures that Freelancers don’t unnecessarily spend (unpaid) time and effort re-tooling their deliverables. It also ensures that clients get high-quality deliverables the first time!
TIP: Specifying the rules of the game in advance might result in some “push back” from Freelancers used to working in certain ways. However, it helps them understand what you will be looking for at the outset. That’s a key ingredient for a win-win relationship
f) Communication protocols: Good clients don’t just assume a Freelancer will communicate in line with “what’s expected”. What your version of reasonable communication might be, could be vastly different from what the Freelancer practices with his/her other clients.
- Make Freelancers understand how you wish to communicate (email, text, Skype, phone calls, Messenger etc.)
- Let them know when they should be available (Pacific Time, Eastern Standard, Mountain Time, GMT), and for what duration
- Don’t provide ambiguous response time guidelines – be very clear: Don’t say “at your earliest”, say instead “Within the next 4 hours”
Half the challenges of working with freelancing professionals come from lack of/poor communication. To be a good client, you must ensure you have flexible, but clearly defined, communication protocols in place.
g) Penalties: To be a good client, you have to empathize with your Freelancer – making allowances for occasional errors and omissions. However, if you intend to penalize a Freelancer for any mistakes or lapses, you need to make sure they understand the exact nature of such penalties:
- Deducting payment from the agreed-upon fee
- Withholding payment for longer duration, until the errors/omissions have been addressed
- Demanding future rate discounts, on follow-up assignments, for less than expected quality delivered
If penalties are brought up subsequent to a deliverable being provided, Freelancers are apt to believe that you, as their client, are trying to short-change them. A good client will never want to leave that impression.
TIP: Beware – if you haven’t discussed penalties in advance, and try to withhold payment in the absence of such discussions, Freelancers could initiate arbitration procedures (which some platforms provide for) to recover amounts withheld
h) Payment terms: One of the biggest points of contention, between client and freelancers, is payment. Being a good client often means paying what the Freelancer is worth. However, “worth” is often subjective, and could get lost in the muddle of negotiations. As a good client:
- Make sure the rate is clearly defined
- Be sure everyone understands which currency payment is being proposed (US dollar Vs Canadian dollar, or Euros, Bitcoin Vs eWallet)
- Ensure the terms of the engagement, hourly, deliverable-based, installment-based, are understood
- Clearly outline payment schedules
- Agree to payment modes that are accessible to the Freelancer (PayPal Vs Paydirekt; or Direct bank transfers Vs Monegram)
- Clarify who will pay money transfer/payment platform fees
TIP: A word of caution: Many freelancing platforms do not allow/encourage payments being made or received outside of their forums (they usually receive a fee from Freelancers, Clients and Financial institutions). A good client will never encourage/force Freelancers to break the rules.
i) Feedback and references: Every Freelancer that you end up working with, covets one thing: Great references and feedback from clients. And they will do everything possible to ensure you, as their client, provide them such feedback. It is therefore in your best interest to use that “craving” to your advantage.
Make sure upfront, that Freelancers know exactly what your standards of “client satisfaction” are, so that they can strive throughout the engagement to meet (or even exceed!) them. It would be unfair to grade/rate Freelancers after-the-fact, if they don’t know what the grading scheme is at the outset of a project.
Conversely, a good client will be mindful of the overall impression he/she leaves with the Freelancer. Some freelancing platforms also provide freelancers the opportunity to rate their client. If you wish to remain a client in good standing on that platform, it is therefore in your interest to make sure you receive good feedback and references from your freelancers.
j) Collaboration tools: Even though you may be working through a freelancing platform, that doesn’t mean that you’ll have all the tools built-in to coordinate, cooperate and manage your Freelancers. You might more effectively empower your freelancing team by using other 3rd-party (mostly FREE) collaboration tools, including:
- Skype – for voice and video calls, group meetings, chat sessions
- Google’s G-Suite – to collaborate on creating document, spreadsheet and presentations, as well as building central repositories (cloud-drives) for project deliverables
- Dropbox – for storing, sharing and exchanging documents, videos and other large-format digital files
- Scribblar – to brainstorm (whiteboard-style) with a geographically dispersed team
- Trello – to manage multi-team task lists and assign individual tasks to a team of Freelancers
TIP: Before you offer to use any of these tools, it’s important to check if the freelancing platform you are using has any rules against such usage. Some platforms have native features in place, and they may penalize their users for making use of 3rd-party tools.
Most importantly though, as part of being a great client, you should check with the Freelancer if he/she is comfortable using such tools. Many freelancers do not like to download tools, or to share personal details required when installing many of the tools mentioned.
Making Freelancing Work
As someone considering working with them, these few tips will hopefully put you on the path to forging win-win relationships with Freelancers. It all comes down to you realizing the need to create value (for yourself) through them. And to do that, you need to empower them with everything they need to succeed.
According to a recent survey4 , Freelancers know exactly what it is that they are looking for in a “good” client. They want someone that:
- Values their work (97% respondents)
- Allows them freedom to control how they work (95%); and
- Allows them to control their schedule (94%)
If you keep the guidelines provided in this blog in mind, you too could become a client-of-choice for all Freelancers you work with.