Freelancers should be an essential part of any marketing team. As snap-on resources, they provide on-demand access to an array of skill sets and expertise, as well as the raw manpower that you need to scale your operations. Plus, since you pay as you go, using them can often be a more cost-effective option than hiring the same talent to join your team full time.
Still, it’s not uncommon to hear people say that they’re either having trouble finding good freelancers or that the ones they’re working with aren’t meeting expectations.
Having spent a fair amount of time recruiting and managing teams of freelance writers, graphic designers, videographers, and other creatives in my career, I’ve discovered a thing or two about how to maximize your chances of success. Here’s what I’ve learned:
How to Find Freelancers
The best way to find good freelancers is simply to work your network. Sure, you can try the various matching services available, go through an agency, or use one of the sites where various writers submit content to you in an effort to compete for your business, but in my experience all of these methods tend to be hit or miss. As a result, you wind up wasting a lot of time.
Instead, the best thing to do is ask around to find out who other people you respect are using and like. Occasionally you may find that some people are territorial about their freelancers and refuse to share any information, but in most cases I’ve found that people are willing to share and happy to help get their freelancers more work (something their freelancers surely appreciate). Anyone who has come highly recommended to me has always either met or exceeded my expectations.
Once you find a freelancer who you like, you can also ask them for recommendations, too. The freelance community tends to be small and people know each other, including who’s good and who isn’t. Plus, any really good freelancer won’t hesitate to recommend others to you, knowing full well that they’re better off trying to be helpful to you and proving their worth through their work, than trying to keep would-be competitors at bay.
It’s also worth noting that it’s always a good idea to have relationships with a stable of freelancers rather than relying too heavily on any one person, who you might find unavailable when you need them most.
How to Work with Freelancers
Regardless of how highly recommended any freelancer comes to you, always start your relationship with a test — a small assignment that you know you’ll have the time to redo if for some reason your new freelancer misses the mark. You certainly don’t want to get caught with your pants down if he or she can’t deliver what you need.
It’s also important to make sure that you make a real investment in your freelancers. Just because they’re a virtual part of your team, doesn’t mean that you should only have virtual contact with them. Build strong relationships with your freelancers by ensuring that you have regular touch points by phone and, if possible, in person. Bring them into the fold — both within your team and within your company — and you’ll find that they’re more engaged, feel a greater sense of accountability, and produce better content.
It’s also important to remember that freelancers aren’t mind readers or magicians. If you want them to create good content, you have to position them to do so. Set clear expectations, ensure that they have access to the right tools and resources (such as your company’s editorial style guidelines), and make yourself available to talk through ideas and answer questions. While you don’t want to micro-manage, any time you engage a freelancer, be collaborative and invest the time necessary to ensure that you are both on the same page from the start.
After they have produced something for you, make sure to provide not only critical but also useful feedback. Simply taking what they’ve done and reworking it yourself doesn’t help them learn. Nor does failing to explain why you’ve made a particular change. Look at each project as an opportunity to educate your freelancers so that they become better able to produce work that meet your needs and expectations with less effort on your part.
A Few Words About Paying Freelancers
Great freelancers can command high rates because, frankly, they’re worth it. You’re absolutely going to pay a premium for expertise, professionalism, flexibility, reliability, and quality. If you’re not willing to spend the cash, be prepared to compromise on one of more of these areas. That said, great freelancers keep their fees competitive. Those with rates in the stratosphere rarely meet expectations.
Try to negotiate flat fees for specific projects whenever possible. Doing so, rather than simply letting your freelancers bill you for however many hours they work, encourages them to manage their time more effectively and keeps everyone’s expectations in check. That said, there can always be unexpected hiccups that significantly increase the time it takes to complete a project, so offer to adjust fees accordingly. Trying to nickel and dime your freelancers, even when budgets are tight, is rarely a winning strategy.
Ultimately, the best piece of advice I can offer you is that you’ve got to remember to be the boss that you’re meant to be. Some people get tasked with managing freelancers without ever having managed anyone else before. Remember, it’s up to you to enforce deadlines and standards, provide honest and constructive feedback, and to take action when a freelancer isn’t performing. It’s important to build great relationships with your freelancers, and one of the best of ways to do so is by always providing leadership and direction.
What has your experience been, either as a freelancer or as someone managing them? What advice would you offer?