According to a recent article by Forbes, the number of freelancers in the United States is the highest it has ever been. Whether it is because of changing priorities during the pandemic or part of the Great Resignation, a staggering 36% of the entire United States workforce has performed freelance work in the last 12 months. The share of those making freelancing permanent instead of temporary has also grown to a record 35%. Both numbers are expected to climb significantly as more workers opt not to return to offices and strike out on their own.
Companies are now using more freelancers too. Research from the freelance sourcing website Fiverr shows that 45% of businesses employ more freelancers currently than before Covid 19. The pandemic showed many companies that remote work was possible, opening the doors for freelancers that were not on site. And many companies rely on freelance specialists to build websites, enhance e-commerce platforms and lead digital marketing efforts to rapidly adapt to new business environments.
With so many freelancers out there and more companies than ever using them, the chances are high that your brand will eventually employ one or several. But the same strategy and tactics used with full-time employees might not apply to freelances. So what are the best ways to work with the right freelancers to produce the best results? Read on as we explore how to do just that.
AVOID THE FAST-FOOD MODEL
Sites like Fiverr and Upwork have been both a boon and a curse for freelancers. While these websites have been great at helping some freelancers find work, they have also turned freelancing into a fast-food model. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and others all make money by being cheap and quick. They want to serve a product and get you out the door as quickly as possible to move on to the next customer. For them, it is all about quantity over quality and being the cheapest. Some freelancers have adopted the same business model by trying to be the least expensive and the fastest while serving a high volume of customers.
Like constantly eating Taco Bell for dinner, shopping for freelancers simply by price and speed is never a good idea. The cheapest freelancers usually do marginal work and lack customer service. They want to move on to the next job as quickly as possible and don’t necessarily care if you are completely satisfied with their work. Instead of looking for a quick fix, search for freelancers that want to develop a long-term relationship with your business. They won’t necessarily be the cheapest, but they want to keep you happy and a returning customer by turning out quality work.
ONBOARDING AND ON-BRAND
Another reason to avoid freelancers that use the “turn-and-burn” business model is that they don’t spend any time getting to know your brand. That might not be a big issue for someone writing code for your website. But for anything creative, a freelancer needs to be familiar with your brand to produce something on-brand. Quality writers will want to take the time to see previous content like product descriptions and blog posts. Better graphic artists will request your brand book and style guides before they start on a project. And high-end photographers usually want to meet before a shoot and have a detailed shot list. It helps them understand your brand and produce quality work that fulfills your expectations.
Beyond understanding your brand, properly onboarding a freelancer is vital to their success. Don’t just assign them a task and never speak to them again. Most successful freelancers are usually very self-reliant, but it always helps to introduce them to the team they will be working with. And make sure someone is managing them internally so they aren’t treated like a rental car. A freelancer should also have a point of contact to get any assets, materials or products they need to complete their task. The more tools you give a freelancer to succeed, the higher the quality of their work.
Nobody would go into a restaurant and try to haggle about menu prices. But some people try to do that with freelancers about their rates. It usually leaves a bad taste and isn’t the best way to start a relationship. Always be upfront about your budget with a freelancer. If you can’t afford their rates, it is better to find a different freelancer than to haggle them down to what your budget allows.
In turn, a freelancer should be upfront with you about the total costs of their services. Most will use a flat rate to make things simple. But photographers or others that need to travel can have additional fees to cover their travel expenses. And even if you are covering travel expenses, you may be charged a fee as a day spent traveling is a day that a freelancer can’t work. Other surprises can include rush fees for projects needing immediate completion or after-hours work. Ensure a complete understanding of any additional fees before hiring a freelancer to prevent disagreements over costs.
Some companies have a hard time differentiating between freelancers and their employees. The vast majority of freelancers bill a company per task or job. They are not salaried employees who will work on a task for as many hours as needed as additional work or changes are added. Most freelancers will be very specific about what is included with their rate. For example, a writer or graphic artist may specify that only so many changes or rewrites are allowed before additional overage fees are incurred. Photographers might only include a certain amount of edited photos as part of their rate as editing photos is very time-intensive. For freelancers time is literally money, and it is essential to understand what their rates entail and respect those boundaries. Constantly asking a freelancer to do work outside of the scope of the agreed-upon contract without compensation is a surefire way to sour a relationship.
It is important to remember that most people choose to become freelancers because it offers more freedom and flexibility than a typical job. They may not respond instantly to emails because they are picking up their kids from school or on a job for another client. Or they might not be interested in a rush task assigned to them in the middle of the night. This isn’t an excuse for a freelancer to take forever to respond to emails or complete assignments. But respecting both their personal and business boundaries is an excellent way to have a healthy and happy long-term relationship with a freelancer.
TREAT FREELANCERS LIKE EMPLOYEES
Yes, we just said that freelancers are different from employees and need to be treated as such. But one area where both employees and freelancers need to be treated the same is payment. No employee would tolerate taking months to be paid or constantly harassing their boss to receive their salary. But this is common in the freelance world. Invoices somehow continuously get lost, or emails are never received. Other companies push well beyond the limits of invoice terms taking significantly longer than the standard 30 days to process payment.
Any freelancer will tell you that they spend an excessive amount of time trying to get paid. And that is time they could be working and earning instead. One way to stand above the rest of their clients is to pay them regularly, just like you would any employee. Don’t take months to process their invoices or misplace them. Paying them on time or before their invoice terms will go a long way. Most freelancers would rather work for someone that might pay a little less but on time to avoid the hassle of chasing down payment. It is an easy way to attract and retain top-tier freelance talent.
KNOW THE LAW
Before hiring any freelancer, you need to know the law. The penalties for misclassifying a worker can be severe, so it is important to understand if a freelancer might qualify as an employee instead. Generally, the Internal Revenue Service looks at three factors to determine if a worker is an employee or a freelancer. If you can direct and control how the work is performed, a worker is an employee. Any worker that you invest in their equipment or pay a regular wage is also an employee. And if the worker provides services that are an essential function of your company, they can be classified as an employee. Click here for a full breakdown of determining the proper classification for a new worker. It is always a good idea to consult an attorney before getting into trouble.
Laws regarding freelancers can also significantly vary at the state level. One of the most intrusive is California’s constantly changing AB5 law that radically changed 30 years of worker classification, reclassifying many freelancers as employees. Focused initially on Uber and Lyft drivers, AB5 affects almost every type of freelancer in California, inadvertently sweeping up many in its grasp. AB5 is convoluted, difficult to understand and full of exemptions like many California laws. Trying to explain all of AB5 goes well beyond the scope of this article, but follow this link for a lengthy explanation on AB5 from a law firm. Again, it is best to consult an attorney before winding up on the wrong side of the law.
Even with following all these tips, assembling and managing a team of quality freelancers can be a challenge. Working with the right agency can be a great alternative as some are one-stop shops eliminating the need to find and manage multiple freelancers. At Kahn Media, we are a fully-integrated marketing agency that goes beyond traditional public relations. We offer a full suite of services, including graphic design, content creation, video production, in-house social media management, digital marketing, influencer relations and brand positioning. And we always want to develop a long-term relationship based on results. Contact us to see how we can help elevate your brand.