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Retaining Top Freelance Talent Is Like Dating

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Written by: Emily Brungard

When you find top freelance talent, you don’t want to lose them. It’s hard enough to find a full-time employee, let alone an amazing freelancer who understands your industry and your specific business.

In that way, it’s a little like dating—you have to learn someone’s preferences, talents and expectations in order to click. And for freelancers, there are plenty of fish in the sea.

Deloitte Insights’ research suggests that employee retention and engagement are the number two concern in the minds of business leaders, second only to the challenge of building global leadership. This statistic isn’t just relevant to full-time employees—it’s a trend that has made its way into the 1099 workforce. Workers are more like free agents than ever before.

So how do you keep them engaged?

Allow Ramp Up Time

Hiring a freelancer helps you save on recruiting costs by getting to work sooner, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need ramp up time. If you truly want the best quality work from your on-demand help, give them a chance to learn your preferences and learn about your brand.

If you routinely switch freelancers after just one project, they may not have the chance to ramp up properly. After your first project, be sure to set a meeting to provide feedback, review expectations and see how you can work better together. It can be as simple as spending five minutes at the end of an engagement discussing what went right and what went wrong, but more frequent feedback is even better.

Set Expectations Early

Consider offering your freelancers a fixed monthly retainer if you like their work and plan to keep sending projects their way. Include a set amount of work in the monthly retainer, and get their rates for any work that falls outside of it, so they can bill you the extra as needed.

Don’t fall into the trap of making your relationship with freelancers purely transactional. If you want to get to work with them again in the future, make sure to treat your freelancer like they’re a true extension of your internal team.

Communicate Frequently

Treat them like they’re a part of your team, even if they’re not in the office next to you every day. Don’t just rely on written text. Schedule a video or voice call to convey more details. While it might seem like it takes too much time, doing this up front can actually improve clarity, prevent misunderstandings, and save time later on. This also helps you establish a closer connection.

Don’t limit interactions with freelancers to just your own. Connect them to more team members to help them learn about your projects and business.

Related: How Freelancers Help You Get the Most From Your Marketing Budget

Understand You’re Not Their Only Client

Because you’re likely not your freelancer’s only client, you have an opportunity. When was the last time you asked for their advice? With a diverse portfolio of work, it’s likely that the freelancer(s) you work with can provide a unique perspective on the content you’re putting out.

In the same vein, remember that the freelancers you work with could be working with several clients at the same time, including you. One of the advantages of freelancing is flexibility, so if a client frequently shoots over urgent last-minute projects or expects the freelancer to be available 24/7 (unless specific times of availability were agreed upon), chances are that freelancer will look for work elsewhere.

Pay on Time

The best freelancers are in very high demand. They can pick and choose their clients. In fact, freelancers might decide to stop working with you entirely if you don’t treat them well. More than 70 percent of freelancers have trouble getting paid at some point in their careers, and 29 percent of freelance invoices are paid late. It’s not difficult to get ahead of this problem: be transparent with your freelancers about how your company’s fiscal year runs, how long it typically takes to process invoices and how it pays its contract workers.

The keys to successful freelance relationships are a lot like what it takes to be successful in any other relationship: transparency and communication are key. By setting expectations early and reviewing those expectations often, you set yourself and your freelancer up for success.  Implementing these tips may nurture what could ultimately become mission-critical relationships for you and your company.

It could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

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