Managing Freelancers

Finding and Motivating Independent Workers

Managing Freelancers - Finding and Motivating Independent Workers

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Learn how to motivate independent workers.

It's a common scenario: Your company is planning a series of brochures and articles that will go out every three months.

The problem is that your current staff doesn't have the level of expertise needed to create them. However, the amount of work involved isn't nearly enough to justify hiring a full-time writer for the project.

So, how do you get the expertise you need, when you need it? Simple. Hire a freelancer!

Good freelancers can be worth their weight in gold. Freelancers are typically experts in their field, they're flexible, and they're often much more cost-effective than hiring full-time people to do the same work. But how do you find one who delivers quality work? And how do you manage them, and keep them motivated, until the project is finished?

In this article, you'll learn about the benefits of using freelancers, and you'll also learn how to find a good one.

What Are Freelancers?

A freelancer is a professional who is hired to work on a specific task or project. This could be a writer who creates copy for the new company brochure, or a graphic designer who creates a new print ad for the company's latest product.

Many freelancers are paid on a fixed-fee, per-project basis, but some work on an hourly basis.

Freelancers typically differ from contractors in two main ways. First, freelancers tend to work off-site, often from a home office. And second, unlike contractors, freelancers usually work on projects for several different clients at any one time.

Freelancers offer a range of work, including creative (such as graphic design and copywriting), skilled (such as computer programming), and less skilled or administrative (such as bookkeeping or secretarial support).

Why Work With a Freelancer?

There are several good reasons for using a freelancer:

  • Expertise

    One of the most common reasons for using a freelancer is because you need something done, but you don't have the expertise in-house – and the amount of work doesn't justify hiring someone full time.

    For instance, you may want to redesign your organization's website, but your IT team doesn't have the graphic design skills to create a whole new look.

    Also, some types of freelance work require expensive and specialized equipment, such as high-tech cameras or design software. It may not make economic sense for an organization to invest in and learn to use this for a one-time project. Hiring a freelancer who already has the equipment, and knows how to use it, may lead to a better result, as well as costing less.

  • Capacity

    Your permanent team members may be too busy to take on an additional project, even though they have the skills to do it. In this case, hiring a freelancer is like delegating. It's usually most cost-effective to use a freelancer for the simplest – and therefore cheapest – of the projects on the team's to-do list. This leaves your in-house team to focus on the more complex work, where they can add the greatest value.

    For example, if you need to create time for one of your marketing executives to rewrite all of the company brochures, you might hire a freelancer to proofread the weekly customer bulletins, which your marketing executive usually does.

  • New Input

    Freelancers can provide a new perspective on a project. It's easy for regular staff members to become used to routine, business-as–usual work. Freelancers are unfamiliar with your company (and its politics), so they can often look at the work from a new angle.

How to Choose Freelancers

Thanks to online sites like Elance.com, Rentacoder.com, and Guru.com, it's now very easy to find a large pool of talented freelancers.

But the selection process can be difficult. It's important to screen freelancers just as carefully as you would when hiring a full-time staff member. Follow these guidelines:

  • Clarify who will do the work – Larger firms often outsource projects to less-experienced professionals. If you want to have close contact with the freelancer who will do the actual work on your project, then consider hiring an individual directly.
  • Understand scheduling realities – Remember that most freelancers work with several clients at a time. If an independent freelancer is busy for the next two weeks, and then leaving for vacation, she might not be able to start your project for a month. In these situations, bigger firms offer the advantage of time flexibility and a larger pool of professionals.
  • Don't hire based on price alone – Just like many things in life, you often get what you pay for. The freelancer with the lowest bid isn't necessarily the best one for the job.
  • Ask for references – Reputable freelancers should be more than happy to give you references. Ask for a list of past clients, and make sure you follow up with them.
  • Check on availability – Some people freelance full-time, and others have regular jobs and do freelance work during evenings and weekends. Some may like to work late into the night and sleep late in the day. Find out when freelancers are available to respond to questions, and what turnaround time they can offer.
  • Ask for work samples, if appropriate – Look at the freelancer's portfolio to see if there are projects relevant or similar to yours. All freelancers have their strengths and weaknesses, just like everyone. A graphic designer might be great at creating print ads, but not logos. Find a professional with skills in your specific area.

Management Challenges

As you can probably imagine, managing freelancers is very different from managing your full-time staff.

For example, if freelancers are paid a per-project fee, they'll earn the same amount, no matter how long the project takes to complete. This may motivate them to rush their work.

As a manager, you can help control this by being very clear about the project details and what you expect with the final result. Then you can send back work that doesn't meet the standards you specified.

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Remember, however, that good freelancers want to protect their reputations. Providing excellent work will likely be their top priority, no matter how long it takes. This is why investing more time in finding a great freelancer is worth it.

You may also face challenges with your full-time staff. For instance, if the really creative, fun projects are consistently outsourced to freelancers, then your team might become resentful. Try to keep a good balance with your staff.

Be sure to give your freelancers room to work – and we don't mean office space. Many freelancers have chosen to work on their own because they like the flexibility and freedom. So, give them space to produce their best work, even if it means they're working at midnight. Deadlines should be firm, but the professional should be able to determine how to meet that deadline.

Motivating Freelancers

The great news about freelancers is that, most of the time, you won't need to motivate them. They've chosen this type of work, which means they're probably already self-motivated. After all, if they don't deliver, they don't get paid!

If your freelancer seems to be delaying on your project, you might speed things up by promising a quick payment after it's finished, or offering to write a great testimonial. Remember, good freelancers rely almost solely on their reputations, referrals, and word of mouth. Reminding them of that might be all they need.

Key Points

Freelancers can bring a lot of creativity and new perspectives to a project. But finding a qualified and reputable one can take some effort. It's important to screen potential freelancers just as closely as you would a permanent hire. Make sure you get references, and take a close look at the person's portfolio.

Once you've found a good fit, give your freelancer flexibility. Most freelancers are highly creative, and they may work on a schedule that's different from your 9–5 team. Have firm deadlines, but let your freelancer decide how to get there.