Innovators, managers, product developers, accountants, coding engineers…today’s solopreneurs and small business owners wear so many different hats it can be hard to keep up!
For small business owners who are tight on cash but need to expand their creative teams (or put together a creative team in the first place), partnering with freelancers is an increasing popular option. Hiring a full-time social media manager, graphic designer, or content writer can be an expensive undertaking, especially if your needs for these services fluctuates.
Opting to work with a freelancer, or assembling your own team of freelance creatives, is typically a more affordable option. Delegating work to a freelancer will clear unnecessary tasks from your plate so you can
Unfortunately, working with freelancers can bring about a fresh set of problems. Nearly every small business owner who’s worked with a freelancer has their own horror story of missed deadlines, project cost over-runs, and communication missteps. This doesn’t have to happen. Whether you’re working with freelancers for the first time or are frustrated with a previous work experience, here’s how to minimize conflict and enhance collaborating on your next freelance project.
#1. The problem: Missed deadlines
The scenario: You’re up against the wall for a major project launch and you’re still waiting on final content from your freelancer, even though the content was due yesterday. You’ve called and emailed, but no response. Finally, the content trickles in just before 5 pm, a full day late. You’re frustrated and now you’re the one pulling an all-nighter to meet your client’s deadline. Are freelancers always this flaky, and what should you do if they miss a deadline in the future?
The background: No, not all freelancers are flaky! Most are passionate about their clients’ work and want to deliver the very best product possible. Like any employee, sometimes freelancers get behind. Creative freelancers juggle multiple projects at once from different clients and oftentimes are in constant flux adjusting schedules to meet changing client needs. That said, there’s nothing more frustrating than setting a hard and fast deadline that a freelancer fails to meet. Establishing clear expectations from day one can help avoid this problem.
The solution: Communicate clearly from day one about deadline expectations. You can minimize workflow snags by not waiting until the last minute to review work. Brian Sutter, Director of Marketing for Wasp Barcode Technologies, said, “If you’re working with a freelancer for a first time, I recommend reviewing working in stages. Set a deadline for draft submission and a second deadline for final edits. Not only does that keep your freelance team members on a clear schedule, it also helps you prioritize on multiple projects at once.”
Build in extra time to your schedule: if you need the freelancer’s content to meet your own project deadline, aim to receive this material at least 72 hours in advance, if not a full five business days. While it’s not always possible to add such generous cushion times to a rush job, nonetheless I don’t advise a 24-hour turnaround unless you already have a solid working relationship in place with that freelancer.
“We have learned to plan ahead,” says Audrey Holt of FinalExpenseInsurance.com. “When we outsource anything, we assume there will be communication lags and possible delays just from having more hands in the pot.”
#2. The problem: Project cost over-runs
The scenario: You’re hiring a freelance team to hold the line on costs, not to blow your budget! Your designer initially estimated $500 for the project but now says the work has taken her twice as long and your bill is twice as big. There’s no room in your project budget to pass the cost on to your client, so you’re eating the difference. What went wrong?
The background: Cost estimates can be tricky, especially for design projects. Designers need to estimate time to complete a draft and make changes; if they’ve never worked with you before, figuring out how many rounds of revisions you may request can be difficult, even if they’re basing their estimate on similar projects with other clients.
If you’re worried about overrun charges, shop your project around to a few different designers and compare how long they think the project will take. If everyone is estimating 20 hours but one person claims it can be done in five, it’s safe to say that the five-hour estimate may have no real bearing on reality, and you’re setting yourself up for either a poorly executed project or extra costs.
The solution: Before signing a contract with any freelancer, know what freelancers should cost. Nearly half of all freelancers fall into the $20 to $59 per hour range. Writers, for example, earn $58 to $82 per blog post; designers average $52 to $90 per hour, and programmers average $63 to $180 per hour, according to this excellent guide to freelancing. If you’re paying per hour, include a clause in the contract requiring regular time updates so you won’t be surprised by a big bill at the end.
#3. The problem: Communication missteps
The scenario: You need a rush edit and you’ve emailed your freelancer five times about this change in the last hour so why haven’t they responded?
The background: Freelance creatives not only juggle multiple projects at once, but they also need a “time out” from client interaction in order to actually get their writing or designing done! Some freelancers prefer to turn off emails during their “peak creative period” (be that mid-morning or mid-afternoon) in order to focus on actually completing their clients’ work. Expecting 24/7 access to your freelancer – or even expecting they’ll be available for instant email updates – is often unrealistic and can lead to disappointment and frustration.
The solution: According to Alex Price, General Manager for System ID, a barcode technology company, “Like with all working relationships, it’s critical to set communication expectations from day one. If I have a freelancer that is completing a simple project with a quick turnaround (48 to 72 hours), I let them know I’d like them to be available during this period for prompt feedback and edits. If they are working with my team on a project with a much longer deadline (two weeks or longer, for example), I typically set up a regular time to get project updates. If I anticipate a quick edit, I like to provide a head’s up because, with a little-advanced notice, the freelancers I have worked with are more than happy to adjust their workflow to meet my needs.”
Most freelancers are just as passionate about your business’s success as you are. If you’ve had a bad experience in the past, consider how you can improve communication around project deadlines, edits and cost estimates so both you and your freelancer are on the same page.