Solid, long-term relationships are important in most any business, but perhaps nowhere as much as with freelancers. And although managing freelancers can be a job in and of itself, handling the task properly and professionally will benefit you (both your company and you as an individual) in the long run.
Even though freelancing is transient by nature, it’s not unusual for a freelancer to have the same clients for several years — which is a plus for both the freelancer and the client. You want your freelancers to feel a part of the team, even though they may not work on site and don’t receive all the perks and benefits of a full-time employee.
While many of the following points are also relevant to full-time employees, many managers don’t realize just how pertinent they are to freelancers. Here’s why building strong freelance relationships is so important.
Every time an employee leaves the company, they take a store of knowledge with them that is difficult, if not impossible, to replace. It doesn’t matter whether the employee is full-time or freelance: They still have skills and company information that walk out the door when they do. When that knowledge is not easily replaceable, it can take some time for your team to get back up to speed.
Yes, it’s a best practice to keep in-house records of your processes and projects. But even full-time employees come and go. I once freelanced for a multi-million-dollar corporation that reorganized, meaning I had to report to a newly hired manager. I ended up teaching her a lot about the job that her own manager couldn’t, including the content management system and editorial ideas we had previously tried that didn’t work out. No one outside the department would have had this knowledge, but because I was a freelancer, I hadn’t been affected by the re-org in that way. My new manager told me several times that my knowledge of the department’s history kept her from repeating past mistakes.
Faster turnaround and lower costs
A freelancer who has already done several projects for you and so is more familiar with your processes is more likely to be able to churn through future projects more quickly. And if your freelancers charge by the hour, that means subsequent projects might cost less. (Of course, there are other factors to consider.) That’s not even taking into account the costs associated with training anyone new you bring on board.
About a year ago, I began working with a new client, Envera Consulting, an environmental consulting firm that I bill on an hourly basis. The content, as you might imagine, is highly technical and scientific, and it took me a while to become competent in the terminology and overall industry. During the first two months, it would take me roughly four to five hours to craft a blog post, publish it, and send it out as a newsletter. Now, six months later, it takes me two to three hours, because I’m familiar with the subject matter and I know the client’s voice and online publishing system, plus I’ve been able to point out efficiencies in the overall process. And because the client has agreed to a long-term relationship with me, I’ve offered a reduced retainer rate in exchange for a guaranteed amount of work each month. It’s win-win.
No matter how skilled or intelligent a new hire, they’re going to need ramping up before they’re at full capacity. And that ramping-up requires time for you to teach them the ropes. Building relationships with your freelancers can improve your retention rate, meaning you can spend less time training and more time assigning projects to people you trust.
Years ago, I worked at as an editor of an online city guide. Our stable of freelance writers was constantly turning over, meaning I was continuously hiring new freelancers (a process in itself) and coaching them in our voice and style. Sometimes it would take weeks before I felt comfortable assigning more advanced writing projects to a new hire. I was always more productive when I had a stable of long-term freelancers I trusted and could tap for a quick turnaround on urgent assignments.
Improved company reputation
In this great age of information, word travels fast. You want to be known as an employer who is easy to work with and, by extension, that your company is one that a freelancer wants to work for.
Every freelancer I know belongs to at least one — if not several — online groups, where members share their experiences working with different companies and even individual editors. They gripe, they kvetch, they complain, and every once in a while they applaud a particular publication or editor. You want to be the one receiving the applause, and that only comes through good management and building strong relationships. (So reply to that pile of pitches pronto!)
Tips for managing freelancers
Be clear and communicate often. Freelancers often don’t have the benefit of working in the office, which means they’re not privy to the business changes that you see as part of your everyday job. And remember to avoid these six traps when working with your freelance team.