Six Ways to Get More Juice Out of Your Freelancer

Six Ways to Get More Juice Out of Your Freelancer

Commonly known around here as “The Other James”, today’s guest poster James Hipkins brings you six ways to squeeze your freelancer for better work and the extra mile. And as a freelancer myself, I approve! Enjoy.

Businesses hire freelance talent to absorb ebbs and flows in activity or to fill talent gaps that are essential but not required every day. For example, hiring a creative consultant can bring fresh ideas and the alternative perspective you need to get your business from good to great.

Businesses are all about returns on investments, though, so the big question becomes, how can you get the most from your investment in freelance talent? Here are 5 best practices (and a bonus!) that have helped me be more successful in reaching my goals each time I worked with a freelancer.

1) Write a brief.

Freelancers are talented, but being talented doesn’t make them mind readers. Writing a brief has a number of benefits. By taking the time to write down exactly what you want to accomplish, you’re much more likely to get a good product and avoid expensive rework because of miscommunications.

And for the freelancer, a clear statement of the project that includes understandable objectives, requirements and specific deliverables, helps focus his time and resources on the task at hand, instead of trying to figure out what you need.

A solid, thought-out brief is as close to a guarantee of success as you’re likely to find.

2) Treat them with respect.

Freelancers are professionals. They’re also people running micro businesses with multiple priorities and limited resources. Respect them as the business people they are and listen carefully to their advice and feedback throughout the process.

Their ideas may take you to areas you hadn’t considered, which may make you uncomfortable – but consider their perspective carefully. It comes from experience and knowledge, gained from many assignments for many companies, and it can shed new light on your business.

If you’re prepared to hear what the freelancers have to say, that is. You don’t have to agree, but you aren’t maximizing your return the investment if you don’t pay attention. And if you do disagree? Be polite and tell them why.

3) Pay their price.

If you want the best work from freelancers, pay them what they ask. Don’t try to hammer down their rate; that’s disrespectful. This rate is what they’ve been getting from others and it reflects their professional worth. If you accept the price freelancers charge, they’ll work harder for you, and you’ll get more out of them than what you’re paying for.

If their price is beyond your budget, that’s okay – just tell them, then go look for someone in your price range.

When the project is finished, if you think the price was too much for what was delivered, tell them why you didn’t see the value you expected. They’re professionals, and you won’t hurt their feelings. They’ll want to know why you were disappointed so they can do a better job the next time.

If they exceeded your expectations? Give them a bonus. It says a lot.

By the way, stick to the payment terms you agreed to, whether it’s 50% down and 50% on delivery or net 30 days. Pay your freelancers on time. They operate micro-businesses and gaps in cash flow have a huge impact. (Plus, if you pay on time and reliably, freelancers are more willing to help you the next time you have an emergency.)

4) Be loyal.

When you find freelance talent that you’re comfortable with, keep sending them work. Loyalty is a two-way street. Be loyal to them, and they’ll be loyal to you. You might one day need fast help, a quick turnaround or even a miracle – your favourite freelancer is more likely to help you out if you’ve been loyal to them in the past.

Also, this might appear counter intuitive, but tell your friends and colleagues about your favourite freelancers. This helps make sure that they’re still freelancing when you need them and keeps them happy and busy. By demonstrating your loyalty and sending work to a freelancer when you don’t have any, that freelancer will always find time for you when you need it.

5) Trust them.

Things go wrong. That’s just life. When an error or a communication breakdown occurs, don’t freak out. People don’t come to work intending to do a bad job.

I’m not suggesting you ignore the issue. Part of gaining mutual trust involves honest feedback. Talk to your freelance talent about what happened. Dig into the root cause. They’re professionals, they can handle it, and you’ll both benefit from understanding what went wrong.

Never make freelancers the whipping boy for your problems, no matter what the circumstances. Your talent needs to know you have their back. This works both ways, too. When there’s mutual trust happening in your business relationship, freelancers often alert you to issues they see before they becomes issues that everyone sees.

Let freelancers do their job. The fine line between great work and exceptional work often lies in the execution and feeling confident and relaxed. Trust freelancers to see the project through. It might cost a bit more but it tells freelancers you believe in their great work and you believe in them.

The next time they work with you, they’ll want to do an even better job.

6) Thank them.

This is the easiest to do, and it might well have the most impact. It’s sadly also the best practice most often overlooked.

When freelancers finish the job say, “Thank you.” After some time has passed, circle back to provide positive feedback on how the project turned out. Give freelancers some samples of the finished work, if they were just taking care of part of it.

Everyone wins, and it’s a simple, zero-cost, low-effort gesture that makes all involved feel good.

For more feel-good ways to get better value for your business, check out Hip Shots, James’ marketing blogsite with bull’s-eye advice.

Post by Agent X

Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

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  1. Great Advice.

    I outsource sometimes and use the help of freelancers (although I freelanced previously too), so these tips will be a lot useful for me!


  2. Hi Agent X,

    #3 pay their price speaks to me.

    beating freelancers up says volumes about the client and their own feelings of business self-worth. about a year ago, a client started pressuring me to reduce my design fee by a good 35%. i said no. my work is beautiful and I provide way more than design. Although I lost the account to someone who offered to do it for way less than me, I never regretted my decision. Thanks Giulietta

  3. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Hi James, I think you are right about the importance of establishing a “brief.”

    Last night in our Success Chef class with Sylvie and Michel Fortin, we saw them create “a clear statement of the project that includes understandable objectives, requirements and specific deliverables.” They called it a “template.”

    In special education we call it a “individual service plan” and “task analysis” but it is all semantics. Establishing ground rules and communication is a win-win for everyone.

  4. Good points, all of them, but I especially like #1. It brings back a few nightmares, though, from way back, when I first started freelancing fresh out of college. Assuming the client was much smarter than I was and knew exactly what she wanted, I took her lead in everything and got to work. Meanwhile, she was expecting me to lead her (I hadn’t mentioned this was my first really big project lol). Long story short, it was a disaster on both sides until I finally realized what was going on and got things straightened out. These days, I’m making sure we’re both on the same page before I get started.

  5. These are great. Number six makes a good point about giving feedback, but I also think giving feedback, whether positive or negative, is important not just after the fact but throughout the whole process. It sounds like such a simple thing, but so often we get clients that aren’t great communicators. The best way to squeeze the most out of me is to tell me along the way what’s working for you and what isn’t.

    Thanks for a great post! If all clients had this list (especially those new to working with freelancers) it’d be a better experience for everyone.

  6. Hey,

    I can agree that these are all good and sadly enough the last one is probably the most effective and probably is the most overlooked.

    Everyone likes to be appreciated and thanked for their work no matter what that is. Quit thanking and quit receiving.

    Good post! 🙂

  7. @ Eric – Your comment reminded me of something some clients do from time to time:

    Me: “Here’s your beautiful, stunning, sexy web design/copywriting! Isn’t it mouthwatering?”

    Client: “Move this here and use that there and put this over here and change the color a touch.”

    Me: “Great, can do. But… I mean… do you like it, overall? Maybe? A little?”

    Client: “OH! Yes!! Of course I love it! It’s sexy and stunning!!!! THANK YOU!!!”

    Sometimes sticking that little “thank you” before the “do this” goes a long, long way 🙂

  8. For number one, I would add that it’s a great idea to include your influences, or businesses/people that you want to be like “when you grow up.”

    Even if you can’t exactly pinpoint the problem that you are having, or you can’t exactly put your project into words, when you can show your freelancer some examples of things that you admire, then you can point them in the right direction.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  9. Elizabeth says:

    #1 is a great idea. So often they do expect you to read their minds and are disappointed when you can’t. 😀

    #3 is really important. I lose respect for people who whine about rates. I dropped a client who whined all the time, made it sound like he was on the verge of needing public assistance when he just bought out another company and it wasn’t for cheap. I let go of lots of stress and very little money – we didn’t even work together enough for it to bring in much money to my business.

    Great points all!

  10. I don’t know which one of these is my favorite tip. I will say, though, that I remember all the clients who have taken the time to thank me.

  11. #3 is so important, but it’s actually a rather significant subset of #2. If you don’t pay the freelancer’s price, you’re not respecting them.

    Failure to pay as agreed is a particularly bad form of feedback, but I’ve often seen clients use it that way.

  12. Any tips on where to find freelance work? The freelance-centric sites I’ve hit all have poorly defined projects that are usually rush jobs for little pay. I put a lot of time into the work I do to make sure it’s quality, but most of the advertisements I see where someone wants to hire a freelancer seems more like they’re looking for quantity than quality.

  13. I think giving good feedback both positive and negative can only help the freelancer. There is no point in not giving bad feedback, trying to fix the job yourself and then deciding to use another freelancer. Communication is key.

  14. Great comments all. I wish I’d been able to surface earlier to contribute to the discussion but I was off on a freelance assignment.

    @InkyClean – So true, clear feedback throughout is an essential contributor to success and, as James said, starting the feedback with “thank you” goes a long way. When training young people in ad agencies I always coach them to start with the positives, with the things they like and that are on target, then their comments will be better received and will have context.

    @Joshua – To build on your point, as the client you need to be open to questions the freelancer might have about your brief. You should take the time to be sure you have communicated what you are looking for. If you ask five people who just witnessed an accident what they saw you will get five different, and sometimes very different descriptions. Because you think you’ve written a clear brief doesn’t mean the freelancer gets it. Let them, in fact encourage them to ask you what you were thinking.

    @mark – they are all intertwined and “respect” is a keystone throughout.

    @Mathew – Lots of good article on Men with Pens about finding freelance work.

  15. Well written and comprehensively covers the softer aspects of managing freelancers. Can appreciate as I have been on both sides through my career.
    However this addresses only part of the problem. Often I struggle to get the best out of a talented freelancer for lack of mutually agreed upon project management methodology. I request you to cover in some later blog, the project management and process related aspects of getting work done from a freelancer. Thanks

  16. @jhipkin

    Actually, there aren’t. I just looked through the archives (there’s no search for some reason, but I checked every article with the word “freelance” in the title) and there isn’t a single article about finding work as a freelancer 😛 And of the three somewhat relevant articles, one is an advertisement for an ebook and another says things like “you need a computer and a way to get paid.” Bit of a disappointment, really.

    I’ll look elsewhere. Thanks.

  17. Hey Matthew,

    Happy to answer you on that. There is a search in our sidebar, by the way, and it picks up a ton of results, but with over a thousand articles on the site, sometimes that gets hard to sift through.

    1. Never pay attention when someone seems focused on quality and low rates over quality. In my experience, pretending you didn’t see that bit often results in capturing client interest when you least expect it. Some clients I’ve been with for several years were initially those “cheap writers wanted” people, and they quickly saw that quality counts!
    2. I recommend setting aside some time every day – maybe an hour at most – to peruse job ads. Don’t discriminate, and apply on everything. Yes, honing in to spear the ideal client is often a better strategy, but in the case of starting out, building a name and getting a reputation for good work, casting a wide net brings in the fish.
    3. Do use sites like Elance. I know many people look down on them, but the truth is that they usually haven’t put in the time to make it work right or learned how to make the system work for them. Be humble, go for the auctions and beat the crap out of people who have their nose in the air.
    4. Show up on sites and blogs and forums where your ideal target market hangs out. If you want to work with small business owners, go find the sites they read and start hanging out in the comment section.
    5. Use social media. Start conversations with your ideal clients. Let them know you’re there to help them, get them knowing you on a personal level and make friends.
    6. Network with other people in your field. Offer to help out or take on extra work. Find partners in unrelated fields, such as design, and team up.
    7. Cold call. Find a really crappy website, rewrite a page and send it off with a benefit-rich offer to redo a few more that they can’t refuse. Show people what you can do *for them*, not just what you do.
    8. Pay attention to offline potential (stores in your area, for example) and get in touch with people that aren’t on the net. Buy some advertising and spread it around. Gain exposure not just here, but everywhere.

    That’s enough for now. I know that it can often seem like a hopeless task to find writing work, but the truth is that there’s plenty to go around. You just have to be where your ideal client is, you have to be ready to stand up and tell that person you can help, and you have to be able to show them that they need you. Determination and persistence are key!

    Hope that helps 🙂

  18. I am not being paid or compensated in any way for mentioning Diana Schneidman’s site for freelance professionals:

    She has several good resources on finding freelance projects and assignments.

  19. @Manav – What an excellent point, project management is an important element. I will start thinking about this right away.

  20. I have had success finding jobs by cold-emailing local web design companies. I am not that good at cold-calling yet.

    Great article and a great way to explain to newbies how to act professionally too.

  21. Damn. I just made a couple very similar suggestions to a person looking for a web designer on Linkedin the other day. Always nice to see some corroboration of your own opinions. Very nice list. Could easily be modified into a set of guidelines for Freelancers.

  22. I agree with paying the price and being loyal. I’ve found those two things are invaluable for keeping good talent around. However good they are, there’s always some downtime in getting up to speed. It’s always good to work with someone that knows what you’re looking for.

  23. The first point is very valid for me. I often forget to ask them a good brief – most of the times the clients are so busy and can’t even think of writing a small piece to send us. They really be nervous to write something.

    The other points are valid. Great post and I sent it few clients who has an opinion that freelancing is a hobby. They never think that it’s a business. Thank you Mathew and James!

  24. I am a freelancer and it is a very tough business to be in. Although many people dream of it, you will find most of your time is chasing the client.

    However, you’ll have a huge learning curve in doing freelancing. I strongly suggest having a payment system in place with a deposit.

  25. Your blog photo makes me imagine me squeezing my freelancers like a lemon, haha. Wow, you’ve made all the right points here on your post. I believe it’s all about trust, communication, respect, and appreciation that will bring out the best in your freelancer. It’s like asking yourself how you would treat yourself if you are your very own freelancer. Cheers!

  26. John Weil says:

    Thank you’s are nice but as a freelancer what I deeply appreciate are clients who provide full strategic and product/event information. Saves massive amounts of time.

  27. I have had some nice conversations with cold calling copywriters. I was in no position to offer them work, but they did do just as James suggests above. Contacted me, introduced themselves, politely pointed out some issues they found with my content, then went on to explain their position. Maybe sent a resume in the first mail, maybe it was after I spoke to them. Pitch it right and people will reply. Lots of work though, as you may have to review a lot of sites and make a lot of notes before someone actually takes you up on the offer.


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