Working with freelancers offers many advantages. You can hire someone with specific expertise to tackle a set task within a particular timeframe. You can choose from a selection of professionals and find someone you enjoy working with whose rates and talents fit your budget and project. You pay for work done and don’t have to worry about employee tax or benefits.
But hiring a freelancer can become tricky if you don’t have a clear understanding of what freelancing entails and how to build a good relationship with your freelancer.
From my own experience as a freelancer, here are some tips on how to work with freelancers so that the experience is pleasant and pain-free for both client and freelancer. They’ll also ensure you become one of your freelancer’s favourite clients.
Know what you want. It’s much easier for the client and the freelancer to get the job done well the first time if the client understands what he or she wants. This means you need to define the scope of the project, the schedule and provide a clear brief. “I want a cool website as soon as possible that uses trendy colours” is not good enough. Even if you’re not 100% sure of what you’re looking for, you need to have an idea of how you want the finished product to look before you hire a freelancer. We’re not psychic (or we’d have won the Lotto by now and be chilling in the Bahamas). Give a good brief, and you’ll immediately be a better client, as well as being more likely to get what you want from the freelancer.
Check in with your freelancer regularly. It’s much easier to make changes earlier in the project than later. As a writer, I will always send through the first chapter of a book or a sample page of web copy for the client’s approval before I continue working. I’d rather rewrite a small sample than finish the whole project and spend hours going back to address issues of formatting or tone that could have been sorted out in the beginning. If you’re having a logo designed, ask the designer to send you a few basic ideas to choose from before s/he spends hours completing a logo only to discover that it’s not what you’re looking for. This saves time, money and frustration on both ends.
Don’t pick a freelancer purely on price. Prices vary hugely among freelancers. The best person for the job isn’t always the most expensive (or the cheapest). Match your needs to the freelancer’s expertise and be prepared to pay more for specialist services. As you would for any other project, get a few quotes before you decide on which freelancer to hire. Make sure you’ve viewed portfolios and samples and contacted references before you make a decision. Remember that old truism: “If it seems too good to be true it probably is.” Don’t compromise your business by hiring a cut-rate freelancer who will deliver a shoddy product. One of the best ways to find freelancers is to ask for recommendations from people you trust.
Understand that you are not the only client. Freelancing is a feast or famine business. Remember that your freelancer is not your full-time employee and may at times be unavailable or busy with another client’s work. Make sure you are clear about your deadlines from the start and negotiate clear communications guidelines upfront. Find out what the freelancer’s workload is like and whether s/he will be able to take on additional work if your project requires it.
Avoid the broken telephone game. It’s always best to designate one person as the point of contact to deal with the freelancer. If you work in a larger organisation, you may have various people who will need to give input and sign-off on the project. Leaving the freelancer, who may not understand your organisational structure, to communicate with all these people will not only waste his or her time, but may result in delays and communication failures. Rather assign someone to communicate with the freelancer and let that person handle the in-house side of things.
Agree to payment terms and copyright upfront and in writing. Rather than getting into a dispute down the line, sort out exactly what you’re paying for before giving the green light on a job. Ensure you and the freelancer are both clear on how payment will be made and any conditions that need to be met, as well as who will own the final product.
Tamara Oberholster is a member of the South African Freelancers’ Association (Safrea).