Managing Freelancer Relationships: How to Take Good Care of Your Freelancers (so They’ll Take Good Care of You)

If you work in marketing or technology, you probably work with freelancers. These content writers, graphic designers, video editors and website developers are the ones we turn to for projects that don’t require a full-time, in-house position. Whether you have one or two go-to freelancers or you manage a team of dozens, it’s likely you’ll work with them more often as we move into an ever-evolving digital workplace.

According to the Freelancing in America: 2016 study by the freelancing platform Upwork and the Freelancers Union, 55 million people freelanced in the United States in 2016. That’s 35 percent of people who took on freelance side projects or worked freelance full-time, up 2 million since 2014.

Why is it important to have good relationships with your freelancers?

Here are three good reasons:

  • Retaining high-quality freelancers saves your team time and money in on-boarding and training costs
  • Building strong relationships with freelancers enables them to master your brand style, turn work around more quickly, and bring creativity and innovation to your projects
  • They’ll go the extra mile for clients they like working for – just ask a marketer who’s been helped out of a jam by one of their favorite freelancers

Strengthen the freelancer-marketer relationship with these tips:

1. Don’t lowball freelancer projects

Unfortunately, there’s no set standard for freelance rates, which can make it difficult for managers to decide whom to work with and how much to charge. Estimates vary wildly based on the position, level of expertise and location of work. A 2017 study of more than 5,300 software developers by software developer network CodementorX found that in the U.S., software developers charge an average of $70 per hour. Hourly rates of writers and editors can range from beginning at $15 an hour for fact checking, up to $200 an hour to write whitepapers, reports financial tips site The Balance.

Additionally, many freelancers only charge on a per-project basis. As a marketer who is pricing projects and hiring freelancers, keep these points in mind.

  • How much is a lead generated from a freelance project worth to you? A B2B brand that generates 100 leads from a whitepaper, that turn into two sales, that equate to $100,000 in annual contracts will surely see the value in a $200/hour quote on copywriting for that whitepaper. A startup that wants to use fun blog writing in an effort to boost search results might get away with hiring junior writers for some 400-word posts at a far lesser price. Considering it can take around eight touchpoints to generate a lead in some industries, according to cloud computing company Salesforce, you might also take the approach of divvying up a budget for an overall marketing project into what you can afford per piece of the lead generating puzzle.The project management triangle - cheap, good, and fast
  • Remember the project management triangle. Fast, good and cheap – in any work project, you can only pick two, based on the project management triangle. If you don’t want to pay a lot but want a fast turnaround, the quality is probably going to suffer. Ask yourself how much you’re willing to pay in time and effort if you need to go through rounds of revisions because of poor quality. That might quickly outweigh the hassle you could have avoided by paying a trustworthy freelancer who is worth their rate.
  • You’re paying for benefits. Compared to what an in-house, full-time creative professional makes per hour, the hourly rate of a freelancer may come as a shock to marketers new to managing them. Within any hourly rate or project quote a freelancer gives, keep in mind that part of their rate includes all the benefits they have to pay for out of pocket. Often, freelancers come up with hourly rates by calculating their needs including medical coverage, paid sick time and, yes, even funds so that they can take some vacation time. When you work with freelancers, you’re saving on office space, company culture budget, equipment and supplies, and more.

The work of a freelancer can be of higher quality than what your full-time staff is producing and can end up saving you money despite a higher hourly rate. Just like full-time employees earn more as their employment at a business increases, experienced freelancers may give themselves annual raises that increase their rates.

2. Provide freelancers with clear expectations & feedback

One of the best ways to optimize the work your freelancer turns in is to give thorough directions and offer to be available when questions come up. This shows you value their time, and the work they turn in will be more on target with what you’re looking for.
A great freelance project brief includes:

  • Background on your business or the client they’re creating for
  • Links to resources and examples of work to take inspiration from
  • Any examples of what to avoid in the work
  • Goals for the project (what types of leads the work should attract, etc.)

Detailed feedback after a completed project is also helpful, especially if you want to work with the freelancer again. Even if their work was near flawless, pointing out the strengths can help to reinforce those for future projects. The research firm Gallup reports that meaningful feedback has a significant impact on employee engagement, yet the majority of remote workers don’t connect with managers routinely. One way to become a freelance manager whom your top freelancers want to continue working with is to provide regular and detailed feedback.

3. Help freelancers grow their careers

You may not work in the same office, but you can have a positive impact on their career. Ask them about their desire to take on new projects and what their interests and career goals are, so you can keep them at top of mind when relevant work pops up.

You can also help to strengthen relationships with freelancers by referring them for work. Research conducted in 2016 by the freelance resource The Mighty Marketer found that referrals are, by far, the most important source of work for independent contractors.

4. Recognize & reward your top freelancers

Make meaningful gestures that increase their engagement with your brand and satisfaction in their careers. Ways to recognize and reward your freelancers include:

  • Send a handwritten or email thank you note upon project completion
  • Leave a recommendation on their LinkedIn profile or offer a testimonial for their website
  • The ultimate reward – pay them more or give them a monetary bonus

When you apply the good will you’re used to spreading to your office full-timers to your freelance team, you’ll make them feel valued and motivated to continue to produce great work for your business.