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5 tips to better manage freelancers

If you are an employee managing projects involving independent contractors, there are a few aspects to keep in mind to curate a nice collaboration. Here are a few pieces of advice about how to best manage partnerships with freelancers.

1/ You are a partner, not their boss

The freelancer has no boss. Freelancers are their own boss. At least, in their state of mind and way of organizing their work. But they still need clients. Would that then make you, the client, somehow the boss? That’s up for discussion, but still, put yourself in one’s shoes, don’t be bossy.

You should not always address a freelancer like you might address a fellow employee. In a perfect world, you would treat all fellow employees like freelancers. You do not impose a task on a freelancer, you ask.

An employee is hired to do a certain job and receives a fixed income each month to perform various previously defined tasks, so it’s expected that you pile work on their desk. The Company pays the wage, and the employee does the work.

The freelancer is not at your service in the exact same way. Just because you had him sign a contractor agreement or know this person from previous work, it does not mean you should take anything for granted. You should ask nicely if the freelancer is happy to perform a task, giving enough details (volume, deadline, rate, specific constraints…) to facilitate a quick response. Only clear requests can lead to reliable commitments.

Be prepared to answer any questions. Even better, anticipate them. And don’t sweep any potential difficulties under the rug because you’re afraid the freelancer might decline. You risk encountering problems further on down the road, at a point in your project where you can’t reassign the job, and that pressure on the partnership can only do harm.
Even for repeated requests and repetitive assignments, you still ask every time. Do not assume it’s ok and that the job will be done just because you pressed “send”.

manager sending email to freelancers
Karen, pressing send at 5.32pm on Friday, just before leaving the office, and asking for a Monday delivery… don’t be Karen.

2/ Avaibility is not guaranteed

Just as a constant flow of work from you is not guaranteed either. Plus, every human needs time off or gets sick once in a while. Freelancers have other clients, other commitments, and cannot necessarily dedicate all their time to your demands.

How to get around that? Give specific heads-up about work coming their way so they can pencil it in. For long-term, continuous projects, set a pace that enables the freelancer to still dedicate time to other clients.

If you work year-round with freelancers, time off is often a touchy subject. While you can require hired employees to take turns covering for one another, there is no way you can dictate dates to a freelancer. They have no paid-leave, so it’s only fair that they at least get to organize their working schedule as they please. They are their own boss, remember.

Again, anticipate by diplomatically explaining how grateful you’d be if they could share their vacation plans in advance so that you can organize a back-up plan for their absence or delay deadlines to make room for their well-deserved time off.

3/ Rates and willingness may evolve

Employees ask their boss for a raise during an annual perfomance review. But, because clients rarely offer to pay more out of the goodness of their own hearts, freelancers raise their rates and then wait to see who sticks around.

So, don’t take it as a personal attack if a freelancer questions the agreement you had established at some point. Maybe your projects takes more of their time than initially planned. Or perhaps it’s simply a question of global inflation. Freelancers can’t afford to keep the same rates for decades in a row.

“Coffee doesn’t get any cheaper, Karen…”

When building your project budget or discussing the quality assurance terms with your end client, factor in the compensation for extra rework. Because more often than not, issues arise due to weak links in the chain of communication about expectations rather than a lack of serious work from the contractors. If it’s a one-time favor and the budget is tight, arrangements can often be made. What’s important is that you remain transparent and understanding. Showing you are aware the deal was not particularly fair and that you are considerate for someone’s efforts is essential. At the very least, you can offer a smallish extra for now and balance it next time on a smoother project that can afford it.

You and the freelancer are not operating with the same constraints. Be respectful of these differences, fair when compensating and considerate of the person’s efforts.

4/ Transparency is key

This partnership can only work with trust. And trust requires a certain amount of transparency and mutual understanding.

Paying invoices on time is high on the trust list for a freelancer. Imagine your manager telling you, “Oops, I forgot to wire your wage again this month!” Any issue with an upcoming payment should be dealt with as soon as possible. Being asked to cut one invoice into two or to delay payment terms by a fortnight is never a good surprise, but it’s better than waiting for a payment that’s not coming any time soon and having to chase it down.

Do not keep useful client information away from the freelancer just because you want to make sure you remain in charge. Most independent contractor agreements protect you from direct client handling anyway, and your freelancer is interested in building long-term work relationships with you, so the goal is not to disappoint. In any case, the freelancer might not even be interested in direct handling, lacking both the notoriety needed to catch big fish and the finances needed to launch big projects.

5/ Think long term

How long did it take you to find a reliable freelancer who gets the job done properly? How much client knowledge has this person taken in since then? What is the value of all that time you’ll save if you manage to keep that person on board?

Integrate them into your work as much as you can. Don’t keep laudatory feedback from clients to yourself; share it with the concerned freelancers. Give them news about how the project went. Offer free access to an online training session your company offers that could benefit the work they do for you. Find ways to make them part of the team.

Karen, finally engaging with project details instead of simply moving files around… 👍

Don’t treat freelancers like disposable items. Building solid partnerships and getting to really know people is as helpful with freelancers you only talk to via email as it is in a regular office situation.

In short, pay attention to details when managing freelancers

Of course, I’m making it look worse than it is between FTE managers and freelancers in order to illustrate my point. Freelancers don’t bite, they will generally welcome any requests, make some room for work even if they have other things going on, and do all they can to meet your expectations, with the brightest smile. And managers are on the whole very respectful.

However, keeping these 5 tips in the back of your head will help you to build a loyal, grateful and reliable team of freelancers around you. Home offices and remote work are now pretty popular, making online communications the norm across all sectors. The way you treat your contacts from afar, showing them how much you value them, can make all the difference.

Because the way you phrase things and how you address freelancers says a lot about your respect for their work and overall team spirit. Small details demonstrate how deeply you have integrated different ways of approaching work. So, be sure to take good care of any and all freelancers working for with you.