Tips for managing freelancers

Creative Differences: How to get the most out of outsourced talent

At the tail end of the 1980s Irish author and management guru, Charles Handy, coined the idea of the ‘Shamrock Organisation.’ Ostensibly, his model argued that from an organisation’s stem would grow three leaves; the highly trained senior management, a nucleus of process-driven consultants (for example IT services) and a fringe tranche of freelancers. Handy’s vision has proven eerily accurate.

Shamrock organisation

With the unrelenting rise in outsourcing, zero hours contracts, and freelancer reliance it seems that the traditional personnel make-up of modern day organisations has evolved to now perfectly fit Hardy’s mould. While it goes without saying that your core nucleus of staff cannot, and should not, be outsourced where there is a clear need for talent or expertise, and an obvious internal vacuum in that subject area, then outsourcing is pretty much a certainty.

Here are a few tips to help you to get the most out of your freelance lucky charms:

Work your contacts to find the talent

Of course, finding a trustworthy and self-motivated freelancer is easier said than done. You’re much more reliant on referrals and word of mouth recommendations than if you were to open the post to the standard interview process.

Social network of freelancers


So work your contacts, ask your trusted network of fellow marketers – and beyond – if they have any experience contracting particular specialists (be they copywriters, graphic designers, or photographers for example). Take their advice and contact their preferred supplier for an initial chat. Remember, you’re not obligated at this stage and the freelancer will want to feel out whether they can work with you too, bearing in mind they’ll likely have other projects that they’re balancing as well as yours.

Get to know your freelancer

Make sure to spend a good amount of time getting to know your freelancer, understanding how they work and what makes them tick. That’s as well as showing or telling them the inner workings of your business and how you operate. Ideally, your golden goose is a freelancer who cares. One that isn’t merely in it for a quick buck but really buys into your business’ vision and is willing to add value and creativity to help your vision to flourish. Once you have a better mutual knowledge of each other it’s a good idea to formalise arrangements and make all your expectations, deadlines and budgetary considerations clear to your freelancer. They in turn will no doubt signpost their preferences in terms of billing schedules, deadlines and what to expect if things deviate from the brief or plan.

Strike a management balance

It’s a strange relationship that develops between a recruiter and a freelancer. You’re not the boss essentially. You’ve now become the contractor’s client and in effect they’re working hard to service your needs and meet your deadlines. There’s a huge amount of trust implied when you unleash a freelancer and just expect them to get the job done, having interpreted the brief correctly, on time and on budget. Any jobbing freelancer worth their salt should be able to meet these expectations, with dozens of satisfied clients to back up their worth, but nevertheless if you’re consistently wowed by your freelancer’s efforts to go the extra mile then you’ve obviously found a keeper who’s worth their weight in gold.

Cogs working together

On the flip side, hired guns need to be self-driven, organised and meticulous. If you’re having to micro-manage their time and constantly harangue them for updates and finished results then perhaps they’re not the ideal fit for your organisation. Their workload may be too great, or their other projects might take precedence, but either way a good freelancer should at least make you feel like you’re their number one client. Remember that they’ve bought into your business values but they’re not their defining motivation. So, whilst it’s life and death for you, your freelancer might need a gentle reminder every now and then as to the importance of whatever project you’ve engaged them on to ensure it stays at the top of their work pile.

Give great feedback

While you’re ensconced in an office, or factory plant, environment and surrounded by colleagues; spare a thought for your freelancer’s work environment. More often than not you’ll be dealing with ‘one-man-bands’ or at least small teams of contractors. If you’ve completed an assignment for your next in command, you’ll undoubtedly receive some form of appraisal relatively quickly and directly. Freelancer’s often don’t have that luxury. Critical feedback is the lifeblood of an outsourced contractor’s creativity. It’s not a neediness, far from it, but it’s a desire to fulfil the client’s requirements or even surpass them if possible. Without a decent yardstick to fathom whether they’re on track and meeting a client’s needs a freelancer is essentially shooting in the dark. So give them some timely, and constructive, feedback and they’ll love you forever!



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