Working with freelancers enables businesses to save resources and expand their menu of services. Since a freelancer comes to you trained and willing to work on a per project basis, he or she provides exactly what you need without you investing anything other than the fee for services. However, working with freelancers can be a little tricky. These people are not part of your company in a traditional sense, so its culture might be foreign to freelancers.
A major challenge that accompanies work with freelancers is communication. How can you create an efficient communication system that enables a project to flow from beginning to end with as few snags as possible?
First and foremost, establish expectations for communicating. Both of you need to be in agreement about two things: how often you communicate and how communication occurs.
Create a Schedule
Creating a communication schedule avoids several problems. It ensures you and your freelancers are not interrupting one another during your busy work days. It helps you stay on top of the project and provides your freelancer an opportunity to raise concerns and ask questions. Finally, it keeps things organized.
Instead of emailing a dozen times each day or calling one another every time a question arises, a set-in-stone time is established to answer all of the questions during a particular phase. For instance, by arranging to communicate once a week, each of you is able to accumulate a list of talking points to be discussed at that time. This eliminates numerous emails addressing various things, which is a sure way to lose track of details.
Choose a Method
Establishing a means of communication from the beginning of a project puts everyone at ease. I recommend email because it provides flexibility for freelancers and project managers, and it also ensures all of the details discussed are in writing. Email creates a track record of instructions which is available for reference and it helps to enforce a contract if there are problems.
Phone calls and video chat can help everyone feel more comfortable working with one another, but I do not believe they should be the only method of communication. In-person meetings can also be extremely valuable, but they are not always an option. Projects are often more successful when client are flexible about methods for communication. Remember, your goal is to get a completed project that requires less of your time and effort managing the process.
Utilize Internet Tools
There are plenty of programs available for keeping communication organized. Many are available for a very reasonable rate, and they eliminate the need to search through weeks of emails looking for a piece of information. Some offer affiliate programs that allow you to use their systems for a reduced rate if you refer customers. Keep in mind these programs might not offer the security you need, so be sure you know if it’s safe to exchange information before setting up an account.
Tip: Remember freelancers might be working with several different tools already and adding a new one to the bunch might complicate things. If you are unsure of a project management system, ask your freelancer for suggestions. Freelancers can adapt to your current system, but if you are in the contemplation stage, why not make things as easy as possible? You also benefit from a first-hand review of the various options.
Temper Expectations and Set Clear Project Goals
The final step to building effective communication with freelancers is to ensure the project is clear and understandable. Project goals should be set from the beginning, especially if you would like the freelancer to send the project in pieces.
A great idea is to schedule partial or draft submissions of work that include installment payments. This works well for larger projects, but can also be beneficial if you are used to micro-managing projects. Making the transition to working with freelancers can be difficult because there are limits to overseeing the work. In some cases, you have no idea what you are getting until the project deadline. Scheduling milestone submissions and payments give you an opportunity to review the work in progress and helps a freelancer make improvements mid-way instead of revamping everything at the end.
It is also important to ensure the project description is complete and that project creep is avoided as things progress. As a project expands to include additional work, the cost of the project rises. Suddenly, you are left with a busted budget and a frustrated freelancer. You can avoid this with clear project goals from the beginning.
According to Douglas Brown and Scott Wilson, authors of The Black Book of Outsourcing: How to Manage the Changes, Challenges, and Opportunities, defining the scope of work starts by asking yourself several important questions:
- What does your organization hope to achieve from outsourcing these [specific] functions?
- Are you seeking to reduce cost or to improve service delivery to your internal customers?
- What is the service level expected?
- What are your expectations in matters such as turn around time for claims settlements?
From here, you can work backward to determine what issues to address up front and if there will be problems with communication.We’ll be looking at a more detailed overview of The Black Book of Outsourcing in the coming weeks.
Set Security Protocols
Finally, make sure you have established proper security protocols concerning communication with freelancers. If necessary, ask the freelancer to sign a non-disclosure agreement. You should also verify technological security is up-to-date. Exchanging information online is convenient, but you must make sure your business is protected. In most cases, securing information is the client’s responsibility, so learn what needs to be done and follow through.
Tip: Know the difference between non-compete agreements and non-disclosure agreements and don’t be surprised if a freelancer is unwilling to sign the former. I’ve encountered situations in which a client wanted me to sign a non-disclosure agreement (fine), but instead sent a non-compete document (usually not fine). You can ask a freelancer to keep your company secrets protected, but you cannot expect him or her to not work elsewhere in his or her field, unless you are willing to provide a long-term contract agreement that makes the sacrifice worth it. If you have doubts about security and your competition, be upfront about these concerns with your freelancer and see what he or she is willing to offer.
Working with freelancers is a great way to make your business better, but it takes a little learning and effort. Brown and Wilson summarize, “All vendor relationships have to be nurtured over time. The key to success is careful planning, mutual support, understanding, and solving problems collectively with a we’re-in-this-together attitude.”