The rise of the freelance economy means that more and more companies are turning to freelancers on a project-to-project basis. Whether it’s freelance copywriters, freelance graphic designers or freelance content editors, it’s pretty likely that if you’re involved in content marketing, you’ll work with a freelancer at some point.
If you want to get good outcomes from your work with freelancers, then you need to focus on building a close working relationship. To do so, it’s critically important that you don’t say any of the following things to them.
1. There is no brief, per se.
Why: The more specific your brief is, and the expectations you set for the freelancer, the better results you will see. So make sure you give your freelancer a clear brief, and make it a concise one. Unless you have hired them to come in as a creative strategist or brand rejuvenator, they don’t actually have to come up with the ‘guts and bones’ of your campaign or strategy. That’s your job.
2. I’ll know what I want when I see it.
Why: This one is fairly self-explanatory. Not only is it a colossal waste of time for both you and your freelancer to get them to do several different ‘takes’ on a task, the chances are you won’t get a piece of work back that aligns with what you had in mind. They can’t read your mind – so don’t ask them to.
3. It must be so nice to do what you love for a living.
Why: Make no mistake, what freelancers do is a trade – just like yours. There are boring and tedious aspects to any role, in any industry. Creative careers aren’t all unicorns and puppies, so tread lightly when it comes to trivializing their hard work. Your relationship and the end product resulting from it will benefit.
4. It’ll get to you when it gets to you.
Why: It’s unreasonable to expect your freelancers to meet your deadlines if you’re not reliable or timely in your own communications with them. Try to minimize how much time they spend waiting to hear back from you about updates, deliverables and revisions – they are short on time just like you are.
5. Can’t you just Photoshop it in?
Why: Photoshop and other advanced design software can be pretty fiddly and time-consuming to use, and while they’re sophisticated, some things are technically impossible. So if your graphic designer hasn’t used Photoshop for a specific task, or advises you that your request isn’t possible, trust them. They’re professionals and will have a better idea of what will or won’t work for a design.
6. Can you provide some examples of your work?
Why: Let me add the caveat here that if they don’t have a professional portfolio of work online, this is a reasonable question. But if you’re well aware they have a website and simply haven’t taken the time to look at it, well… do your own research. Hire them like you would hire anyone else for your company – by checking their credentials and making sure their Facebook profile picture isn’t them passed out drunk with a shoe in their mouth.
7. It shouldn’t take you long.
Why: Do you have an intimate knowledge of their work process? Do you understand every intricate step involved in producing the kind of results that will reflect well both on them and you? If you don’t, then try to avoid saying this. Instead, trust the experience of the freelancer you are hiring and hold them accountable to a timeframe that they propose.
8. No one actually reads our blog anyway.
Why: It’s pretty strange that people say this yet still expect freelancers (we’re talking about freelancer writers here) to feel inspired enough to produce pithy, compelling, engaging blog posts. Plus, it low-key implies that what they do for a living is redundant or uninteresting to the majority of the population. That’s not great.
Not to mention that if you are paying a freelancer to produce content for you that no one is reading, then maybe you need to reconsider the reasons you are hiring them in the first place.
9. We can’t pay you, but it’ll be great exposure.
Why: Freelance does not mean ‘free’. Exposure does not pay bills. Saying this to a freelancer is basically attempting to get something for nothing. Even if you have an Instagram following to rival Kylie Jenner’s, it’s unethical and unacceptable to ask freelancers to work for ‘exposure’ when your business or brand is going to benefit from their time and talent. If you want consistently quality work, then pay your freelancers well and build a long-term relationship with them.
10. Can you just use this image I found online?
Why: Turning to Google or other search engines for images is problematic for a number of reasons, and nearly all of them involve copyright. Additionally, the resolution is usually too low for the image to look good in a professional design. There are plenty of places where you can find free, high-quality stock photos (like Canva) if you’re not keen on having to pay for them.
11. We’re a small start-up, can we negotiate your rates?
Why: Chances are, your freelancer is a small start-up, too. In fact, they’re probably smaller than you are, unless you’re also a solo operation. If you must ask this, ask it very nicely and with an acknowledgement that they’re perfectly entitled to say no. If their rates seem ‘too high’ to you, ask yourself if you have all the information required to make that judgement call on the worth of their work. Freelancers set their prices based on multiple factors, and rates often cover things like email correspondence and admin costs as well as the actual work required. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for determining if a freelancer’s rates are competitive or ‘fair’, and you generally get what you pay for so base your decision to hire someone on their skill set and how it can benefit/build your company.
12. I forgot to tell you this earlier, but…
Why: Always try your hardest to ensure your freelancer has all the information they need before they get started on a brief or project. Although they obviously want to provide something that precisely fits your needs, they can only work with the particulars they have been given, and no freelancer is going to appreciate being presented with a key piece of information midway through a project. It might mean starting over, and this may incur additional costs for you.
13. If you can do this one as a favor, we can make it up to you on the next one.
Why: Again, you’re treating your freelancer like a friend who works recreationally, not a professional who has bills to pay. Show them the respect they deserve by treating them as a valued and reliable team member, and paying them the appropriate amount at the appropriate time.
14. The target audience is everyone.
Why: If you can’t differentiate between the different types of people who might enjoy or get use out of your product or service, you’re going to make finding a relevant angle pretty hard for your freelancer. Every product has a niche. Think about yours, and they’ll be able to do better work for you.
15. Let’s work out the fine details after you submit the first draft.
Why: Freelancers need to protect themselves and look after their professional interests. A recent study shows that the majority of freelancers in OECD countries are ‘slashers’, meaning they are usually juggling several gigs at any given time. They need to know what sort of timeframe will be involved in your work for them so they can co-manage their projects.
16. I’m not sure why, but it’s not quite right. Sorry that I can’t supply more detailed feedback than that. Try something else and get back to me.
Why: You need to provide specific feedback if you want to get great results when working with freelancers. It’s illogical to expect them to simply ‘get it’ or keep trying different things until they stumble upon the answer. Provide reference points for guidance and give thoughtful, thorough replies to their questions. Let them know why certain things aren’t working for you instead of talking in vague clichés like ‘make it pop’ and ‘think outside of the box’.
17. If I didn’t work fulltime, I’d do what you do.
Why: They may very well work full-time hours (or more), just on a freelance basis. Don’t discount the luxuries that come with fulltime work, such as superannuation and sick leave, and act like what freelancers do is a hobby. It’s a job, just like yours, and the hustle is real. They clearly got where they are because they have the skills and experience to do their job well.
Working with freelancers can be hard, and there are definitely a few bad apples in the barrel as well as the majestic unicorns.
However, how you communicate with freelancers is a big part of how well the work you’ve contracted them to do will turn out.
Avoid the above phrases, and your freelancers will definitely appreciate your consideration.