How to bullet-proof your experience with freelancers
If you’re reading this article it’s probably because you’ve heard about the freelance revolution and the opportunities this massive shift can offer to businesses like yours.
Freelancers can help you win the race. But as the jockey, you want to create the best chemistry with your horse.
This article will look at what to avoid when hiring independent workers and tips to work successfully with them.
This will not only keep you glued to the saddle, but help you get to the finish line first. Especially if this is your first cup.
What you should avoid when working with freelancers:
1. Confusing freelancers with cheap resources
Many companies start working with freelancers with unrealistic expectations. They have heard all the benefits of using freelanceres: accessing highly specialized talent, taking advantage of the time difference and saving money by not requiring overhead or training.
Based on this, businesses create in their mind the fantasy of this highly productive, talented and cheap employee they can access on-demand.
In a way, they are right. As seen in the article 7 Reasons Why Big Companies Hire Freelancers, independent workers are cheaper than full-time employees in the long run.
From training to office furniture and supplies, from sick and holiday pay to other benefits and bonuses, permanent employees come at a price. Usually, all the associated costs plus a salary end up being higher than a freelancer’s fee.
The real comparison needs to be made considering the long-term view, not the pro-rata costs. So if you need to decide between hiring a freelancer or getting one of your employees to perform a task, you want to consider the opportunity cost.
Image by Boudewijn Huysmans on Unsplash
The problem is that while freelancers can be cheaper, businesses expect them to be unicorns that cost them nothing.
When entering the freelance market, these companies set their budget expectations very low. They demand the same quality of output, communication and process associated with much more expensive talent, but are not prepared to pay the same fees. In a nutshell, they want their cake and eat it too.
It should come at no surprise that the global freelance market replicates the dynamics of any other market. It’s the law of demand: the best freelancers are in higher demand and therefore more expensive.
2. Thinking productive and cost-effective freelancers don’t exist
Expecting all freelancers to be cheap unicorns is unrealistic. But there is a reason why some companies swear by them.
Those “pure breed” independent workers, who are highly productive and also don’t break your budget, do exist. And if you’re prepared to invest the time, you’ll find them.
Often these are young, talented workers who have just started a freelance business and want to build their portfolio. While they create a name for themselves, they charge low fees to entice more businesses to become their clients.
Now, these freelancers might not offer the ultimate reassurance of many years of experience. However, if you don’t have budget flexibility, the high quality of their work and their modest fees might be enough to convince you or your boss.
Here is a tip for you: If you want to access a large pool of talent and make apples to apples comparisons between several freelancers, use an online marketplace like Freelancer.com. Being able to compare them by jobs completed, on-time and on-budget response, repeat business and hire rate will make your life much easier. More importantly, being able to compare portfolios and going through customers’ reviews gives you a sense of what it’ll be like to work with that freelancer.
But don’t expect them to never grow out of their “cheap unicorn” state. Usually, when the demand increases, fees also go up. This is simply because they can’t satisfy old and new clients without compromising on the quality of their output. To maintain or increase the same standards, they are forced to turn away those clients that are not prepared to pay higher fees.
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3. Not addressing the communication barrier
Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room: offshore freelancers and language barriers.
When people think about freelancers, they often think about talents living overseas and assume that working with them involves a compromise in communication.
The reality is that freelancers could be local as well as offshore. So if you or your business stakeholders cannot take any risks (ie, cannot miss a deadline because of a misunderstanding), think about a local resource. Or take the time to search for talent in the global market and have a conversation with them before assigning the project.
This gives you the chance to have a feel for how they communicate and how you’ll work together. You’ll be surprised to see how working with many overseas freelancers doesn’t come with the expected language barrier.
4. Asking the wrong questions
I’m sure you’ve heard at least one story of a freelancer disappearing from the face of the earth in the middle of a project that was business-critical for their client.
That can happen, but doesn’t the same happen when a full-time employee misses a crucial deadline?
The core of the issue lies with hiring cheap, inexperienced or unprofessional resources.
Professional freelancers will always keep you up-to-date with their progress and try to exceed your expectations. They know that receiving referrals, testimonial and repeat work depends on it.
The question needs to shift from: “To hire or not to hire a freelancer?” to “To hire or not to hire a professional?”
Once the question is framed that way, it becomes pretty simple to answer, right?
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A common misconception is that freelancers don’t have “skin in the game”. With revenue as the primary aim, they end up accepting every job that comes their way. This leaves them with several clients to juggle and not enough time and attention to dedicate to them. On the other hand, employees know that if they underperform, they will eventually be fired.
However, what many people don’t understand is that with freelancers the dynamic is very similar. Good freelancers consider themselves always on notice. They know they’re only as good as their last job.
They are aware that competing freelancers are only one click away. If they don’t deliver or meet expectations, someone else will certainly take their place for the next project.
For an employer it's much harder to fire an employee than switching to a different freelancer.
Therefore, “Should I hire a freelancer or a permanent employee?” is another question that needs to be reframed. Whether hiring a temporary or a permanent staff member a better question is:
“Should I hire an unreliable resource or someone who understands my success equals their success?”
It is important to think about WHO you hire as well as HOW you hire them.
5. Not being clear on the company’s ways of working
The other thing to consider is autonomy. The more experienced the freelancer is, the more they’ll work independently and take initiative. The best freelancers understand they’re not just paid to perform a task, but to solve a business problem.
But you might be one of those bosses who needs to have frequent communication with his workers or watch over their shoulders to give them a steer as they go. Your experience has taught you that staff members struggle with setting their own goals, taking initiative, and working towards mid or long-term goals. These people need to be given a structure with daily meetings to check in on progress.
That’s understandable, but there’s another reality to consider. There are people out there who love doing what they do and have taken the freelance path to do more of it. For them the commute, the office chit-chat, the formalities and endless meetings are a roadblock to their eagerness to produce and create. These people are highly productive resources who need independence and autonomy to work at their peak.
It’s important to think about your style of working and choose the people that better fit with it.
If you’ve always been one of those who got the job done without being chased by anyone; if you were happy to set the direction in the first meeting and reconvene once you completed the job; you might fall in this second category.
In this case, you want to surround yourself with people that have similar approaches and ways of working. This is key to a healthy and thriving working environment.
6. Only looking at the immediate task
Another mistake many hirers make is to screen freelancers only for the task in front of them. Often they are under pressure and look for the support they lack. In those situations, the time to find the right resource is usually limited.
However, when there’s time, it’s important to look at the bigger picture and find freelancers who have the potential to become “long-term life-savers.” As mentioned, good freelancers see themselves as problem solvers, workers whose clients rely upon them when they are stressed, overworked or in need of a specific skill they can’t find anywhere else.
This types of talent will always be ready to help their clients as they understand the importance of durable relationships that stand the test of time.
Sometimes it is hard to judge if someone will be a good fit from the first contact, but when you know right away the relationship has no future, stop right there. It will protect the success of the project at hand and give you the chance to find a resource with whom to build a long-term relationship.
Image by Martin Damboldt from Pexels
Tips to work successfully with a freelancer
If you want to experience the upside of freelancers without any downsides, follow these tips:
1. Be realistic about your budget
Freelancers are already cheaper than employees, but if you want to reduce your budget to a minimum, be prepared to invest more time to find the best talent, to brief them and to overcome potential hurdles.
2. Look for “pure breeds”
Productive and cost-effective freelancers exist, it just takes longer to find them. Leverage the power of online marketplaces like Freelancer.com to find the best ones.
3. Focus on good communication
Try to hire excellent communicators; if you can’t afford them, be ready to compromise.
4. Hire professionals
Don’t fall into the trap of hiring cheap, inexperienced and unprofessional resources. They’ll end up costing you more in the long run.
5. Be clear on your preferred working style
Whether you prefer someone who sits in the office or a freelancer who works remotely and independently, reflecting on your working style before starting the project will save you a lot of headache.
6. Have a long-term view
Think about freelancers as permanent resources, not on your payroll, but still with you for the long haul. By building solid relationships you’ll make the most of the time you invested in searching for the best talent, getting used to working with them, managing the admin, etc.
Because of some negative experiences, certain companies have decided not to work with freelancers.
One of them is Nomad Capitalist, who in this article lists out all the reasons in great detail. What’s interesting though, is that they conclude by stating that every business is different and there are good reasons to hire independent workers.
Even more remarkably, they also point out:
“The freelancer ecosystem has shifted from a race to the bottom to one that tries to promote quality. So ignoring this all together is a tad silly – for much the same reason you wouldn’t cut off your left arm even if you use your right one far more and with greater efficiency.”
As the freelancer ecosystem keeps growing and evolving, we should expect professionalism and associated benefits to increase. This is another confirmation the freelance revolution is here to stay.
Ready to hire a freelancer? Jump here.
* Header image by Francesco Solfrini