Making the Most Out of Your Freelance Relationship

There are 53 million people doing freelance work in the United States, thereby accounting for 34 percent of the national workforce. Annually, freelancers contribute an estimated $715 billion in freelance earnings to the country’s economy.

Freelance, or “on-demand” employees, don’t seem to be disappearing anytime soon, either. According to Forbes magazine, half of the labor force will consist of freelancers by the year 2020. So the question for employers is no longer, “Should I hire freelancers?”Rather, it’s, “How can I make the most of my freelance relationships?”

Fortunately, it doesn’t require a fancy degree or the ability to solve complex mathematical problems in order to have productive relationships with your freelance team. In fact, it’s really quite easy. Whether you use a third party to manage your freelance employees or you oversee them directly, you can ensure a long-lasting, productive connection that brings you tremendous return on the dollar. Here are seven tips that will help you get the most out of your freelance relationship.

Establish Clear Expectations Ahead of Time

Image via Flickr by Jurgen Appelo

Image via Flickr by Jurgen Appelo

Like it or not, the success of a project often starts with you. Regardless of the type of freelance worker you hire, you need to have a solid plan with clear expectations in advance. More, you need to communicate the plan to your employees. This isn’t a one-sentence summary of what you hope the article will encapsulate. Instead, it needs to outline the purpose and scope of the assignment, the intended audience, the budget, and the anticipated timeline. After all, if you aren’t really sure what you want, chances are high that your freelancer won’t be able to figure it out for you.

Provide the freelancer with this information, paying particular attention to the “why” behind the assignment. Avoid being vague in the hope that the employee will somehow intuit your goals. The less time spent on misunderstandings means less time dedicated to revisions. With less time spent on revisions, the more profitable the project becomes for everyone involved.

Maintain Open Communication

Image via Flickr by Harley Pebley

Image via Flickr by Harley Pebley

In a situation where you don’t actually see one another, it’s even more challenging to establish a relationship of trust and loyalty. Yet, it’s also that much more important. If the employee-employer relationship is strong, the outcome is that much more likely to meet or even exceed your expectations.

Convey your expectations and goals with your freelancer. Spend time initially providing a project brief to the employee. Solicit feedback from the freelancer. You want the person to know that they can be honest with you about their expertise and limitations. If they overpromise and underdeliver, both of you will be frustrated and disappointed. On the other hand, if the freelancer knows upfront that they can’t provide you with what you desire, they can often refer you to someone who can — or at least avoid trying to do the impossible.

Deliver Customer Feedback

As a freelancer, it’s easy to feel disconnected from clients. Once a product or service is delivered, there is rarely any feedback offered. This lack of feedback leaves a full 21 percent of freelance employees concerned where their next paycheck will be coming from. To build a more effective working relationship, however, you can provide feedback from your customers.

Even if the feedback doesn’t apply directly to the freelancer’s project, giving them customer feedback reinforces your organization’s mission and helps the freelancer become part of the team. For instance, if you represent a childcare client and a parent delivers a warm appreciation letter thanking the staff for the wonderful family event last month, send a copy to your freelancer. Perhaps the freelancer wrote a piece intended to generate enthusiasm for the event, or maybe they crafted the copy for a banner displayed during the event. Either way, helping them connect to the bigger picture of your company is a surefire way to get what you both want out of the professional relationship.

Discover the Balance Between Too Much and Too Little

There’s an important balance necessary between providing freelancers with too much information, thereby overwhelming the talent, and offering too little information, therefore ensuring hours are spent on needless research. Fortunately, the lines between these two extremes are fairly obvious. The key for you is finding it.

Curate all of the information that is integral for the employee to understand context and content. Depending on your need, this may include company rules, examples of copy that you and don’t like, and any hot topics that you do or don’t want the person to touch on. If you’ve completed analytics about your audience, share those with the freelancer.

If you’re working with a third party to manage talent, provide them with this information so that they can filter it appropriately for the employee. They’ll also be better able to edit work to ensure it meets your needs and parameters.

Choose and Retain Your Talent Carefully

When deciding upon a freelancer or freelance agency, ask for a portfolio of previous work. If working with an agency, request that the agency provides you with documentation of proven success. Make sure there are procedures in place to guarantee that deadlines are met.

Likewise, if you begin working with a freelancer that delivers products how, when, and where you like it, nurture that relationship. Most agencies, such as CopyPress, allow you to rebook talent that works well for you and your organization. Unless you have copious amounts of money and time, it is far more productive to continue the professional relationship with a specific person that has been successful in the past.

Human capital is always the most expensive cost to companies, even in the world of freelancers. The average cost in 2013 to replace an $10/hour employee was $3,328. It’s worth the investment to properly train, provide feedback, and encourage your freelance talent to avoid these extra costs. That said, it’s also important to cut ties with a freelancer who isn’t working out even after you’ve followed all of the above suggestions.

About the author

Sylvia LeRahl

A professional writer, teacher, consultant and indie game designer for eight years, Sylvia has demonstrated experience writing hundreds of blogs, presentations, magazine articles, press releases and product descriptions. She writes for a variety of satisfied customers who rely on her SEO savvy and writing talent to increase readership and market materials.

Sylvia is a regular blog contributor, research professional and social media connoisseur who supports herself through freelance writing and running a small business. She holds an advanced degree in educational leadership and an undergraduate degree in English. In addition to being a writer, she recently served as a secondary teacher and the Director of Education & Special Needs at a large Head Start preschool program.

Sylvia's web and print publication credits include Parents Magazine, Ask.com, eBay, Staples, The Autism Site and The Knot. Additionally, she has authored over 2,000 blog posts, magazine articles, web pages, press releases and product descriptions for various online writing platforms.

Sylvia excels at writing articles that are thoroughly researched and entertaining. She makes technical material accessible to the average reader and seeks to find the human interest angle in most of her writing. She enjoys writing in a variety of niches, including law, education, parenting, games, health and travel.