Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Freelancers are just like any other tool that you use to complete a task — their effectiveness depends on how you as the user operate them. You wouldn’t write with a dry pen and then blame the pen for not producing ink, would you?
Freelancers can be an excellent resource for your company. They can take a lot of work off your plate and offer a much-needed outsider’s perspective if you set them up for success.
So, here’s how to do that.
Empower them to make decisions
If you’re like me, you’re bringing freelancers on to complete work without the hassle of a full-time employee. This means giving them a longer leash than you would to a full-timer and empowering them to make decisions that most employees would try to leave up to you.
So don’t treat them as disposable — treat them as you would an employee who’s been with your company for a long time and knows what will earn your seal of approval and what won’t. Train them the same way you would a normal employee and take the time to fully explain how you want the job done and what standards they will be held to.
In my humble opinion, freelancers should only be employed if they can make your life easier. You don’t want another touchpoint that you’re going to have to handhold through all of their workflows — you probably do that enough with clients as it is.
When you go looking for a freelancer, search for them the same way that you would for a full-time employee and vet them for the same qualities. You’ll want someone you only have to give directions to once and who will feel bold enough to make the tough creative decisions without consulting you every step of the way. Empowering them will reduce the number of edits, back-and-forth and misunderstandings while increasing their effectiveness on the projects you assign.
Fine-tune your onboarding process for their success
If your mind immediately goes to “Oh, great, more guides and processes I need to write,” readjust your perspective.
Look at it this way instead: You can either spend a few hours creating a comprehensive guide that outlines their work and your expectations, or you can potentially waste thousands of dollars because you set your freelancer up to fail. Tough decision, I know.
Create an onboarding guide for your freelancers that helps put them on the right track toward understanding your agency. Give them a thorough low-down on the clients they’ll be working with so that they can seamlessly transition into the team with the right understanding of the customer’s unique needs. And finally, take time beforehand — probably during the interview process — to try and understand the professional goals of your freelancer and how you can help them work towards what they want while still delivering on what you hired them for.
As an agency owner, I actually find that I have a similar mindset to most freelancers that I bring on board. Like me, the freelancers I hire are workhorses who go out of their way not just to understand assignments, but come up with ways to creatively contribute to the campaign’s success.
Look for all of the qualities that made you successful—after all, if you can’t hire yourself, who can you hire?
Above all: communicate
The best piece of advice I can give: communicate well, and learn to realize when you’re not.
I, admittedly, am not always the best communicator for a variety of reasons. One is that I think time is better spent just doing something myself than having to explain it to someone else who might not execute my vision. Another is that I’ve cultivated a team that almost knows what I want so I can much say, “Go get it done” and leave things at that.
However, when you’re working with a freelancer, especially in the early stages of the relationship, they’re not going to have context for your working style or the assignments they’ll be handling. So don’t just communicate — overly-communicate. Explain things in twice the detail you would when speaking with a full-time member of your staff. You might feel like you’re speaking to them like they’re a baby, but when it comes to your company they basically are a baby — so no harm done.
Explain your expectations and work processes one time in twice the detail and encourage them to ask questions. If you do this and they still end up emailing and calling you with non-stop questions about things you already cover, you can mark them down as a poor listener and probably not opt to work with them again.
Freelancers are a tool you can use — not a cure-all for too much work or a guarantee for a stroke of creative genius to come in and save your campaigns. By a thorough search for the right freelancer to match your company’s energy and workflows and processes in place to help them work successfully, a freelancer can be a boon to your agency. But without it, they’re almost guaranteed to be a burden.