As the creative director of a digital marketing agency, I am responsible for managing the creation and maintenance of various clients’ websites, as well as designing digital ads. The process of building a site or ad from scratch involves numerous aspects and skillsets including: creative web design, coding, copywriting, and SEO.
Like most small to medium-sized digital marketing agencies, hiring full-time designers and writers is simply not feasible given the size of my agency and the project budgets in which I have to abide. I thus opt to outsource the majority of these tasks to creative freelancers.
Working with freelancers has its pros and cons. If done right, you can receive high quality design work and content creation at a much lower cost than paying a full-time employee. The difficultly lies in assembling a talented crew that you trust and can build ongoing relationships. But even after you have a squad of all-star creative talent, challenges still arise. Managing freelancers presents a unique set of challenges and difficulties. Since freelancers are often located in other parts of world, in different time zones, and work for many clients, it can be a hurdle communicating and meeting deadlines.
When I first began managing freelancers, there was definitely a learning curve as I adjusted my communication and management practices from how I worked with full-time staff members.
If you’re new to managing freelancers and find the process cumbersome and a bit overwhelming, don’t stress out! By following the 8 tips for managing freelancers that I provide below, you’ll master the game in no time!
Tips for Hiring Freelancers
Closely Examine Applicant’s Portfolio
Whether or not you are hiring a web designer or a writer, every freelancer has his own aesthetic and style. This is what differentiates one freelancer from another in a very saturated industry. Many freelancers, especially writers, have adjusted to a fragmented media landscape and often work in a specific niche.
Before hiring a freelancer, make sure that his past work aligns with your needs and reflects what you need accomplished. No two creative workers are the same, so it is imperative that you closely examine their previous output. A freelancer’s portfolio is the single most important aspect of their application to consider – more so than a resume or education.
Read Testimonials from Previous Clients
After examining a potential freelancer’s portfolio, the next step is to check references and read past client testimonials.
Talent alone is not enough in many cases. A freelancer’s ability to work within deadlines and remain accessible is equally important, especially if you require a quick turnaround.
You don’t want to hire someone who works a full-time day job and only freelances on the side, as you will always be a secondary priority. It’s best to hire a full-time professional who needs the work and will deliver quality on time every time.
Tips for Managing Freelancers
Provide Clear Direction
Most freelancers charge an hourly rate. In order to keep cost low and optimize the freelancer’s billing hours, it’s imperative that you provide concise and clear direction for each project before initiating.
For web designers, this means providing detailed wireframes and explicit aesthetic direction including examples of other sites, color scheme, and the tone/attitude you’d like to exude.
For writers, this means providing samples of work when possible so the writer can gain an understanding of the brand’s voice and style. If you hire a writer to create a blog post for you, make sure to communicate the length you need, whether you want subheads, the keywords you’d like the article framed around, if it needs images, and whether you require outbound/inbound links.
All of this will save you hours of editorial headaches and decrease the time cost of each project.
Know What You Don’t Know
As a freelance manager, you will begin a new project with several assumptions. You will have your own ideas on how long something will take, what features you’d like a site to include, or whether an article topic will be entertaining and informative.
It’s not uncommon for a freelancer to chime in and offer their two cents. Often the freelancer’s opinions may be in contrast to your assumptions. Don’t disregard the freelancer’s opinions. Remember that you hired them because of the quality of their work. If you hired wisely, your freelancer knows what they are doing. Trust them, listen to them, and don’t be afraid to modify your plan based on their input. By allowing the freelancer to contribute ideas when possible, they will feel more connected with the work and deliver a better product.
You Get What You Pay For (Most of the Time)
A freelancer’s hourly rate will vary significantly based upon their abilities and experience. It’s important to understand that they have worked in the industry long enough to understand where their skill level ranks among their peers. In the majority of cases, a freelancer’s rate is a direct indication of their skill level. While a freelancer may occasionally attempt to overcharge, in my experience, this isn’t all that common, as most freelancers survive off word of mouth recommendations and ongoing partnerships with their clients, so overcharging isn’t a sustainable practice.
While it may be tempting to find a cheap freelancer off Upwork.com or another platform, don't expect to pay $10/hour for a website redesign and be completely satisfied with the results.
With that said though, there are a lot of talented freelancers out there with limited experience who charge below market price as a means of developing their portfolio. Just be aware that these freelancers may have a higher time-cost as they will often require more guidance.
Develop Trust and Build a Relationship
While my network of freelancers lives all over the world, they are an essential part of my team and I treat them that way!
If you show appreciation for your freelancers and take a little time to get to know them, they will truly appreciate it and return the kindness ten-fold in the quality of their work.
Simple things such as sending them a $25 gift card for Christmas, referring their services to another company, or complimenting them when they produce something exceptional will lead to a better and smoother working relationship.
I cannot stress this point enough. Most freelancers work remotely and receive the majority of their communication via email. By showing a little humanity and treating them as a colleague, they will repay you with loyalty and quality.
Be Clear on Price and Deadline
There are a lot of different payment methods that you and your freelancer can decide on before initiating a new project, e.g., pay half up front/half when project is complete, flat fee/project, hourly rate, etc.
Whatever payment model you decide on, make sure that it is clearly defined and understood on both ends before the project starts.
It’s also important that your freelancer acknowledges and agrees to the project’s deadline before you assign the task to him. The freelancer knows better than you how quickly they can complete something. Listen to their feedback. If they express concern over a deadline, take this into account. If you feel that the freelancer’s hesitancy is indicative of their inability to accomplish the task on time, seek the services of another who assures you the deadline will be met.
Pay Invoices on Time
Lastly, it’s crucial that you pay your freelancer on time. If you continually fail to process invoices in a timely manner, the freelancer will grow annoyed and lose respect for you. This will often manifest in lower quality work, missed deadlines, and degradation of your working relationship.
After the completion of a project, communicate to a freelancer when they can expect their invoice to be processed so they don’t grow anxious and seek other client’s to replace you.
I hope this list of 8 tips to successfully manage freelancers helps you get the most from your outsourced talent and meet the goals of your business. Remember that kindness and loyalty goes a long way with outsourced talent. If you find good people, take the extra time to nurture the relationship. If you position yourself as their best client, you will get their best work.