A widely-publicized survey by Elance-oDesk and Freelancers Union found that about one-third of the U.S. workforce identifies as freelancers. Small businesses turn to independent contractors to lighten their workload and grow their business. Here’s how to put together a freelance team that has your back.
Step 1: Decide on an independent contractor vs an employee
The first step is deciding whether a freelancer or an employee is the right fit for the job. Freelance workers can help with many aspects of your business. Some common areas to outsource include:
- Designing a website
- Writing blog articles and other marketing materials
- Managing a business’ social media accounts
- Designing posters, logos, business cards, and other visual representations of the business
- Filming and editing videos
So what can’t a freelancer do for you? Anything your business depends on day to day to stay afloat. A restaurant can’t hire “freelance” cooks and wait staff. A veterinary clinic can contract a freelancer to design and write a promotional brochure, but the custodian, receptionist, and anesthesiologist must be employees. Here are some other factors the government uses to classify a worker as an independent contractor versus an employee.
- When and where the work is done: An employee comes into the office every day at a particular time. A freelancer works when and where she pleases.
- Use of business equipment: A freelancer provides his own computer, software, etc. An employee uses your equipment to get work done.
- Training: You hire freelancers for services they already know how to perform. You train your employees to do specific tasks for your company.
- Pay: An employee earns a salary. A freelancer is paid by the project.
There’s some wiggle room on a few of these points. Some businesses contract a freelance editor on retainer for up to 20 hours of work per month. Others can have employees who never or rarely need to physically be in the office to get work done. Generally, though, the more a worker behaves like a traditional employee, the more likely it is that the government will see him or her that way, and expect payroll taxes from you.
Step 2: Define the project
Before you post a freelance job listing, write out a clear idea of what you expect. If you’re contracting a social media manager, which platforms do you want him to keep up for your business? How many Tweets or posts do you expect per day? A writer will want to know whether to send you ideas or write based on topics you assign. A website developer needs to know about special functions you want on your site, and how much tech support you expect once the site is live. A clearly defined work description will make it easier for a freelancer to get started working for you. It will also help you attract applicants with the qualifications you need.
Step 3: Hire the right people
The single most important step to a successful freelance relationship is contracting the right person in the first place. Especially if you have ongoing work, you need to be able to work together effectively.
When you’re considering contracting a freelancer, start with an interview. Ask the freelancer about her experience, work availability, typical project turnaround time, and how she’d approach your specific goals.
Before officially starting the project, sign a contract. Your contract is an integral part of the freelancer-business relationship. It should state explicitly that you are not entering into an employer-employee relationship. This is also the place to outline project details, timetable, payment, and rights. A good contract protects you and the freelancer, so don’t work without one. Many freelancing sites include a contract in their service fee.
Step 4: Manage the project
It’s easy to forget that even though freelancers take a big chunk of work off your plate, managing still takes time. Budget in extra time to get new projects started and give feedback before the final materials are due. This is especially important with new freelance relationships. Here’s what management typically entails throughout the life of a project.
You don’t have control over how a freelancer completes the work, and you may not ever meet in person. Communication, then, is essential to make sure everyone is happy. For recurring projects, plan deadlines at the same time every week or month so freelancers can add your projects to their calendar in advance. Always let freelancers know the best way to get in touch with you and do your best to respond to questions promptly as they complete the assignment. Responsiveness is a great way to build a strong relationship.
The most helpful superpower a freelancer could have would be mind-reading—we’d love to turn in flawless work every time! Until then, contractors need feedback from time to time to understand how to impress you. A good freelancer is open to constructive feedback on his or her work, and will be happy to make the necessary changes for you.
Your job in this case is to be as specific as possible about what’s not working, and the approach you’d prefer. Try telling a film developer to fix background audio in the second minute of the video or asking a designer to try a lighter shade of blue. If the revision comes back in reasonably quick time with the changes you requested, you’re in good shape.
Schedules matter when it’s time to cut a check, too. You’d be surprised how many freelancers struggle to collect payments on time. Send payment when you promise you will and you’ll get in a freelancer’s good books. Be even a few days early, and you’re on track for star client status.
Step 5: Evaluate the results
You’re the one who defines what success and growth look like for your business. At least once a year, review the results you’re seeing from freelance work. What’s working well? Where can you concentrate your efforts in the next year or quarter? Make any adjustments you need to your strategy and notify freelancers of where you want to focus. These tweaks, over time, can turn freelancers into experts in how to propel your business toward your next goal.