For some freelancers, you’ll never be more than a source of pay-cheques, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t build loyal relationships and inspire people to go the extra mile for you
For start-ups, forecasting revenue is tricky. You have little experience or past performance to base predictions on and it can be hard to tell how much things like seasonal variation will affect your business. I’m now in my third year of trading and it’s still hard to predict how much is going to come in each month.
Even though I now know enough about my customers to know what kind of impact Christmas or the summer holidays will have, I still can’t be sure that the growth I’ve enjoyed over the last two years will continue in year three. This uncertainty makes it hard to commit to hiring permanent staff – and all the costs and various responsibilities that come with them. So hiring and managing great freelancers has been one of the most important things I’ve had to learn to do.
Even if you’re lucky enough to be a little surer of your figures than I am, freelancers provide the outside expertise (from digital design to bookkeeping) and the arms and legs that you need from time to time. So how do you find and keep a talented team around you when you can’t put them on the payroll?
Look for someone who’s up to the job
Cheap, inexperienced support is most often a false economy. There are times it can be necessary, but if you do go down this route, then get ready to do most of the work yourself.
The best people I’ve found have always come recommended by someone I trust. I am always asking people to tell me who they respect. When looking for designers, I have always chosen people whose work I connect with – and more often than not, they turn out to be people I enjoy working with.
Don’t overlook the people who fall into your lap
I get a lot of unsolicited approaches from people looking for work. Most of them haven’t even taken the time to understand my business before firing off a CV, but, occasionally, one turns out to be amazing. I read all my emails. Apart from the ones that say they are from HMRC, who want to give me a massive refund – the most implausible scam ever.
Give them a clear understanding of your business
Spend some time at the beginning of every new relationship to talk through your business and how you operate, just like you would if they were a new employee. This is especially important for any freelancers who are going to be customer-facing. Homemade London has very clear business values and freelancers need to represent us. I try to get freelancers involved in social evenings and offer training if possible. They want to feel valued.
Even creative people need a brief
Last year we had a young, talented graphic-design graduate on our team. Fresh out of university and buzzing with ideas and enthusiasm, she took on lots of design work from small companies to build up her portfolio, from web design to creating brand logos. I’m naturally nosy and curious about how other businesses work, so I’d quiz her on each of her new projects. Without exception, none of these companies provided her with a proper brief of what they wanted and, unfortunately, she was too inexperienced to know which questions to ask. Jobs that should have taken hours took days and even at the bargain rates she was charging, costs started to mount up and relationships became tense.
When providing a brief, it pays to be as specific as possible – if you’re designing a new website or publicity material, outline all important content you need to include, create a mood board or give clear examples of sites you like and even those you don’t, and set out clear budget parameters. Clear direction and financial limits don’t constrain creativity, they spark it.
Be clear about deadlines
Freelancers have lots of competing demands on their time and it’s easy to get forgotten if other people are shouting louder. I don’t think nagging is a productive way to stay front of mind, but deadlines are. And make sure your deadlines are realistic – for you and for them.
Show your appreciation
Relationships with freelancers are more transactional than with employees and for some people, you’ll never be more than just a source of pay cheques, but that doesn’t mean you can’t build loyal relationships and inspire people to go the extra mile for you.
My motto at Homemade London is ‘We’re not big enough to be ordinary’ – we always hope to exceed our client’s expectations. That’s not easy to pull off if your team doesn’t feel appreciated. Give love and you shall receive it in return – and so will your customers.