There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to freelancer management.
In this two-part article on managing freelancers, we’ll discuss some of the challenges, along with advice from those in the know. To begin with, we spoke with two agency heads who work exclusively with freelancers to help understand some key elements involved in successfully working with freelancers.
11 freelancer management tips and tricks
April Margulies began her career working at top agencies, including Weber Shandwick, Edelman, and Rubenstein Public Relations. When she started her own PR agency, Trust Relations, she considered it almost an extension of her successful freelance career.
After she landed a big account ($10K/month), Margulies needed help staffing it and turned to other freelancers she knew from previous agency jobs to help.
Margulies considers this move to be a smart business model and shared her freelancer management strategy.
1. Vet for qualifications over availability.
Margulies said that by working intentionally with freelancers, “You could staff each account with the most qualified people for that client, based on their industry experience, etc. (rather than just matching a new client with someone who has the capacity, regardless of the fit, which often happens).”
2. Focus on scalability.
Margulies considers working with freelance staff to be “a safe way to scale an agency.” You can bring in freelancers when you need them. And you can also work with them on only the accounts that require their specific qualifications.
Margulies said this approach “prevents the mismatched client team that otherwise often happens, as well as the layoffs that are all too common at agencies when the firm loses too many accounts.”
3. Know that full-time doesn’t appeal to everyone.
Many of the most talented publicists I know are no longer interested in working full-time at an agency,” Margulies said. She added that “Freelancers also tend to be happier since they’re setting their own hours and have the freedom to pursue other hobbies and side hustles.”
Interestingly enough, Margulies said she knows the freelancers are happier with their current arrangement because she asked almost all of the existing freelancers to join her full-time. She said, “they’re happier with the current arrangement — even though we offer the standard benefits, including health insurance, time off, etc.”
4. Encourage freelancers to provide recommendations from their network
When starting out, Margulies reached out to freelancers she knew personally. “Eventually, they introduced other freelancers, and those freelancers did the same.”
When her team needs a specific skillset the team doesn’t have, Margulies turns to word of mouth, LinkedIn job posts, and networking, to find additional team members.
5. Have someone manage the freelancers.
Last fall, Margulies hired Chief Client Officer Lana Dao, who she credits with implementing freelancer management processes, including an onboarding process and account management processes. Margulies also has a points system in place to ensure clients know the agency’s priorities for the month and where their budget is being spent.
6. Create easily shared templates.
Margulies said her team has templates for everything, including biweekly meeting agendas, recaps, monthly reports, press releases, messaging documents, etc. And anyone working with the team in any capacity gets a Trust Relations email and email signature, as well as their bio posted on the company website.
7. Have meetings only when necessary.
While staff meetings are often the butt of many a corporate joke, they also help a group of freelancers feel more like a team.
Margulies believes these meetings ensure there’s also a sense of “camaraderie that leads to a consistent voice.” Be mindful of meeting fatigue, though, and only schedule as necessary. Consider paying for your freelancers’ time as well since, as contractors, they are not required to attend meetings.
8. Stay connected throughout the project.
For Margulies, that means staying in touch via Slack and Zoom, regardless of location or time zone.
9. Create perks people will be excited about.
Margulies and her team send out hand-picked gifts best suited to each team member for their birthdays and work anniversaries. She also has a happy hour every other month and buys everyone lunch remotely by giving them a credit for lunch or paying for their food delivery. She also offers a client referral program in place for anyone who brings in a new client.
In addition, she’s been known to give spot bonuses and gifts for great work, including gift cards, silly gifts appropriate to the situation, and even, in one case, an iPad.
10. Create test projects and pay attention to results.
Before hiring freelancers, you might want to have a trial run, but make sure to compensate them for their time and talents. Margulies brings in new freelancers slowly, so they are on a team with other members the team already knows and trusts.
To ensure freelancers integrate into the culture and are a great fit, they begin with limited responsibilities.
11. Be mindful of finances and your bottom line.
Margulies and her team use something she refers to as T-sheets as part of their freelancer management strategy. They use T-sheets to plan out how many hours per month can be relegated to every client or project. She then asks freelancers to track their time in T-Sheets on a weekly basis to see how the actual hours compare with the budgeted hours to flag any potential issues before they become issues.
At the end of every month, freelancers’ tracked hours are converted into an invoice by the HR & finance director, who then sends the timesheets to everyone and has them confirm hours are correct.
Freelancer management lessons from a freelance collective
Freddie Laker, the co-founder of Chameleon Collective, co-created what he refers to as something of an ecosystem powered by freelancers and careful vetting. He offered some freelancer management advice on how to attract and retain the top freelancing talent possible.
Hire trusted colleagues.
When looking to expand the collective, Laker said he typically seeks out people that one of them has worked with in a prior role. In that way, “someone from within the collective is able to vouch for that person.” But one person’s approval isn’t enough since six separate members of the collective then vet the new hire. Since Laker works in an extremely non-traditional culture, the vetting process is fairly rigid.
To create a vibrant culture, it’s important to go beyond your traditional networks. Try using your social media networks to amplify your search and encourage others to share your messages.
Decide how interconnected you want your team to be.
The Chameleon Collective works with freelancers from all over the world who are teammates operating independent LLCs.
“We share resources such as admin, tech, billing, new business, etc but can work as little or as much as we want,” Laker said. And since it’s more like a body of consultants working together for a common goal, Laker said they maintain their independence, set their own rates, and pick and choose which client projects they want to participate in, and they determine how, where, and when they work.”
Define your collective work style.
Laker explained that, at his agency, freelancers are given the ability to work with many of the hallmarks of entrepreneurship. That said, they also all agree to “work collectively in the areas that create value for all.”
Create a feedback program.
Working remotely with teams can make it difficult to offer ongoing feedback. Laker said their feedback system is used for both peer feedback and client feedback.
“For peer feedback, it’s more about professional improvement for client feedback we use a more traditional net promoter score approach but are always open to direct feedback as well.”
Need help finding quality freelancers — or want to fully outsource your content creation? Talk to a content specialist at ClearVoice today.