How to Manage Freelancers and Independent Contractors
As the U.S. economy continues to adjust to changing conditions, freelancers have become more valuable to businesses than ever before. Freelancers offer a business numerous benefits. They give you access to skill or talents as you need it, and you only need to pay whatever fee is negotiated upon. The freelancer handles much of the messy HR business and payment affairs that you normally have to handle with an employee. They offer you greater flexibility, and freelancers work remotely, which is an additional benefit for those still concerned about Covid-19.
But despite these benefits, businesses often complain about freelancers, saying that the freelancer they hired did sloppy work and that it turned out to be a complete waste of time. While bad freelancers certainly exist, remember that a poor workman blames his tools and the freelancer is a manager’s tool. If you can manage freelancers well, you will get valuable workers who can make all the difference for your organization. Here are a few tips to get the most out of them.
Know what you want
Why does your organization need freelancers?
This may seem like an obvious question, but many organizations do not seem to know the answer. They give freelancers vague, open-ended assignments and do not clearly specify what is needed. As a result, organizations often hire unqualified freelancers or the freelancer ends up uncertain about what he is supposed to do. This is especially so because freelancers do not have the cultural knowledge that accumulates in any business, and so do not know how things are done in your organization. The New York Times notes that vague job descriptions cause either unqualified candidates to apply or qualified candidates to stay away, and that applies to freelancers as well.
Before you hire a freelancer, figure out the specific tasks you will need them to do, as opposed to writing or administrative duties or some other vague category. List those tasks when you put up a job posting. When deciding which freelancer to select afterwards, ask specific questions that make clear whether he can do the job.
Doing onboarding right
Onboarding a freelancer is different and at times more difficult than onboarding a new employee. Like a new employee, freelancers lack the cultural knowledge and specific details about how your organization works. But unlike a new employee, freelancers are often expected to contribute right away because they are not viewed as a long-term investment.
It is critical to make sure that everyone is on the same page. So it is a very good idea to start with a Zoom meeting held once every week, if not two weeks. An in-person meeting is even better if logistically possible. Furthermore, if this is your first time hiring freelancers, ask them what information they might need and who they might want to contact. You can then gather that information for the freelancer, and then have it ready on a form for future freelance hires.
Onboarding for freelancers and new employees is fundamentally about constant communication. Send them video meetings and emails regularly to make sure that the work is going well and that there are no sudden surprises.
Freelancers are primarily freelancers because they want greater autonomy and independence, and often are working for other organizations besides yours. While it is important to communicate with freelancers, that should not turn into micromanagement.
I noted above that you should regularly contact your freelancers once every week or two weeks. More than that is excessive. You should set processes in place so that you do not feel the need to check on the freelancer every day (and I have seen some clients check in every hour). Above all else, set boundaries for both you and them. While freelancers often work on irregular schedules, do not email them at odd hours in the day unless they expect such communications from you.
Look to connect
Freelancers are often viewed as a purely transactional affair. The organization asks for the work, the freelancer does the work and that is that. But while freelancers value their independence, they often want to feel as if they are part of a team and are not being treated as a second-class citizen.
Make sure to give freelancers many of the small perks and treatments that you will give a regular employee. Include them in email lists, let them know what is going on in your company and do not try to draw major distinctions between freelancers and regular employees. The one potential risk is that you do not want to violate any employment law by paying or treating them in the exact same way as employees. But remember that everyone is part of the same team. There is no harm in singling out freelancers for praise or rewards.
Pay them well
You can include freelancers in email lists and invite them to company lunches. But, they are not going to feel like they are treated well if they are underpaid or if the payment process is not handled correctly. All too often, organizations think that they can pay freelancers at absurdly stringent rates, sometimes as little as a few dollars per hour. The result is that the organization gets exactly what it paid for in the form of shoddy work.
Remember that most freelancers are not wholly independent but have contacts and networks who help connect them to other jobs. A dissatisfied and underpaid freelancer may badmouth your organization after the job is done, making it harder to recruit freelancers in the future. When you have a job in mind, look around and see what similar organizations are paying for similar work and do not try to pay less than that.
Learn from your mistakes
The above tips are crucial to handling freelancers, but that does not mean that you will avoid mistakes entirely. Sometimes you just hire the wrong person, or the nature of what you need them to do changes drastically or some other unexpected event occurs.
In that situation, the two most important things to do are to limit any damage that might be caused by the mistake and ensuring that the same mistake does not happen again. If the mistake was caused by you, own up to it and figure out what can be done. Consider holding a meeting with other freelancers and ask them how the problem or mistake can be avoided in the future. The Muse notes that owning up to mistakes is one of the best ways to make clients love you and that applies to your freelancers and workers as well.
Remember that freelancers are workers like anyone else. They want recognition, regular communication and effective management. Effective management does not mean nitpicking every single detail but giving freelancers the freedom and also the structure to work at their best. Follow these steps, use the right tools and you can turn freelancers from cheap throwaways to valuable parts of your organization.
Patty Block, President and Founder of The Block Group, established her company to advocate for women-owned businesses, helping them position their companies for strategic growth. From improving cash flow…. to increasing staff productivity…. to scaling for growth, these periods of transition — and so many more — provide both challenges and opportunities. Managed effectively, change can become a productive force for growth. The Block Group harnesses that potential, turning roadblocks into building blocks for women-owned businesses.