Managing a team in the same office as you is challenging enough. Working with a team of freelancers adds another level of complication, especially when the freelancers are spread out across the globe and you’ve never met most (if not all) of them in person.
However, it’s far from impossible to manage freelancers — many businesses are doing it successfully. Small businesses, in particular, work with a significant number of independent contractors: an average of 6.7 per employer. The trick is to learn how to manage freelancers effectively.
The Benefits of Working with Freelancers
First of all, why would you want to work with freelancers? It turns out there are a number of benefits of contracting freelancers over hiring traditional employees:
- Less expensive. Although their hourly rates may be higher, paying freelancers works out cheaper. This is because there’s no need to pay for additional resources, office space, or benefits.
- Great flexibility. You can contract freelancers just when you need them, even if it’s just for a few weeks or even a couple hours. Plus, they are often able to move things around in their schedules to complete any urgent work quickly.
- More choice. As you can work with freelancers based anywhere in the world, you can find a person with the exact skills you need along with a rate that falls within your budget.
- Higher productivity. It’s in freelancers’ best interests to finish projects as quickly as possible to start working on the next. You’ll also see greater productivity working with freelancers due to a lack of office drama and no pressure to include freelancers in irrelevant meetings.
How to Manage Freelancers: Top Tips
You’ll only see all the above benefits if you put in the effort to manage freelancers. Although this will require an investment of your time and resources, it will pay off. For instance, you’ll retain top freelancers and see a higher quality of work.
1. Keep Lines of Communication Open
Working as a freelancer can be isolating. Communicating with your freelancers often will help them feel like part of the team. As a result, they’ll often strive to go above and beyond your requirements, just because they want to support you and your business.
In addition, maintaining open communication will help you to avoid problems. By checking in often, you can find out if your freelancers are on the right track and correct any mistakes early. Freelancers will also have the chance to voice any doubts that they may feel hesitant to bring to you unasked.
2. Form Relationships
Beyond simply communicating with your freelancers, it’s helpful to create a relationship on an interpersonal level. At a minimum, make small talk to learn about the key details of your freelancers’ lives.
This is especially useful if you intend to develop a long-term relationship with a freelancer. You’ll often find that freelancers are more interested in taking on future projects if you know each other well. Some freelancers may even turn down other work to stay on your team. This will prevent you from continuously needing to onboard new workers — a process that is time-consuming and potentially expensive.
3. Know What Motivates Them
Another way to provide freelancers with value is to find out why they decided to take your job.
For entry-level work, the answer is often just for money. However, more experienced freelancers who are receiving multiple requests for work will have chosen your project for a particular reason. It could be the chance to learn new skills that come with the assignment, that they want to work for your organization because of your specific niche, or even because of your values.
4. Set Clear and Reasonable Expectations
It’s important to remember that freelancers are usually working on many projects at once. It’s unlikely that they’ll be able to dedicate all their time to you. In fact, freelancers often care about deadlines and flexibility just as much as pay. You need to take all this into account when setting expectations.
Ask freelancers if your requirements are reasonable. If you just demand work — especially a lot, all of a sudden, and without warning — you’ll find that your freelancers won’t stick around. Also remember that each freelancer has different work and life commitments. What’s reasonable for one person may be unfeasible for another.
5. Provide Feedback
Let freelancers know what you think of their work. If they’re delivering small pieces of work often, there’s no need to go into detail every time — a simple acknowledgment of your appreciation is sufficient. With larger projects, though, it can be motivating for freelancers to know what you liked about their work. Plus, you should let them know if you’d like them to do anything differently in the future. This will help them keep improving.
How to Resolve Conflict
Managing freelancers also means knowing what kinds of conflict you may encounter and how to resolve issues — or, better still, avoid them entirely.
6. Avoid Micromanaging
A great appeal of freelancing is flexibility. Freelancers have clients rather than a boss. The moment you start enforcing strict requirements, you bring conflict into your relationship. This includes creating a schedule for your freelancers or defining the exact process you want them to use to carry out a task — experienced freelancers will have developed their own methods that work for them.
You may find that some inexperienced freelancers are unsure how to manage themselves. In these cases, you can offer guidance, but you still need to avoid micromanaging all the minor details.
7. Monitor Only When Necessary
It may make sense to pay for some tasks or projects on an hourly basis rather than with a fixed rate. This requires time-tracking software. Most freelancers are used to this and will have no problem with you tracking their activity. Depending on the software you use, this may include monitoring how long they spend on each website or app along with the number of mouse movements and keystrokes.
A slightly more intrusive method is with screenshots. You should ask freelancers if they accept this before you start a contract. The most intrusive of all, however, is taking webcam shots at the same time as a screenshot. If you are considering this method, think carefully about whether it is actually necessary.
Beyond time tracking, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to monitor freelancers any further. Requesting that they use the passwords you create for project management and communication tools to enable you to read their messages is asking for conflict.
8. Pay Promptly and Fairly
A surefire way to lose out on working with great freelancers is asking for free work on a trial project. Experienced freelancers will never do this, but it’s also unfair to entry-level freelancers who think they need to do some work without payment to get their foot in the door. If you do need to assess a freelancer’s skills before committing to a contract, offer to pay a small project at market rate.
Once you have freelancers working for you, make sure to pay them on time — just like you do your employees. Delayed payments will make freelancers feel undervalued.
Finally, when an invoice from a freelancer arrives, unless the freelancer is clearly being abusive (such as claiming too many hours for a task), accept the amount and pay it. It’s important to remember that freelancers are always going to be less committed to your company than you are. If you ask them to do additional work (however small), they will charge for it. Questioning minor details will ruin your relationship with a freelancer.
How to Manage Freelancers: Software and Tools
You’ll find that many of the above tips are much easier when you use freelancer management tools. The specific software you need will depend on what kind of work freelancers are doing, although there are some tools appropriate for almost every team.
It’s easy to coordinate projects with freelancers when you use a tool like Asana. The great thing about Asana in particular is the drag-and-drop kanban boards, which allow you to split projects into tasks and assign activities to different team members. You can also upload all the documents related to your project, add due dates, and create checklists. Plus, you can discuss everything related to the project within the tool.
If you do decide to use Asana, make sure to learn all the top tricks and tips before you get started. This will help you use the tool much more efficiently.
For just communication — not necessarily around a particular project — Slack is a top option. You can discuss business issues in general, have one-on-one chats, and create groups chats with various freelancers and employees. As you can create as many channels as you like, it’s easy to keep conversations organized. It’s a good ideal to have at least one channel for non-work topics to give everyone the chance to socialize.
Sometimes, you’ll want to have a proper conversation with a freelancer — perhaps even the whole team. Zoom is ideal for quick chats to longer meetings, as you’re able to talk on video and share screens to discuss projects.
You have several options for time-tracking software, but one of the top choices is Hubstaff. As well as allowing freelancers to track their working time across a variety of devices, Hubstaff uses productivity monitoring. This tells you how much time freelancers have spent active. Plus, time tracked generates invoices, allowing you to easily pay freelancers.
The key to seeing success with freelancers is a combination of great management practices and the use of freelance management software. Plus, when you’re also aware of what kinds of issues may crop up, you can plan to resolve conflict without the need to sit down and have a face-to-face conversation with your freelancers.