How to get the best from freelancers

At the time of writing there are more than 1.4 million temporary workers operating in the UK according to the Professional Contractors Group. The UK's flexible workforce can be a hugely valuable asset to your own business. Whether sourcing skills to plug temporary gaps while you look for permanent staff or hiring 'know-how' specifically for projects on an ad-hoc basis – choosing and utilising this flexible talent to its full potential can give your company the edge over the competition.

Your choice of freelancer when it comes to hiring media and creative skills is arguably even more important. These people will often be tasked with representing your company through the marketing, PR, design, journalism, advertising or copywriting project that they undertake for you. Their resulting work will be amplified through local or national media, the internet or the corporate literature they produce for you.

New freelancers will of course be 'cold' to your company's culture, objectives and history. Whilst creative and media freelancers, by the nature of the project-by-project work they do, will often excel at researching each client and then adapting the execution of the work they do to fit your business, you can, and indeed should, play in active role in both briefing the freelancer and getting involved in the work process. A woolly brief and 'show me when it's done' will usually result in chargeable work not fit for the purpose you had in mind.

Choosing your freelancer

Word of mouth will provide a pre-qualified freelancer; Freelance UK has its own directory of UK based freelancers in the form of Freelance Alliance, while 'Googling' may throw up more options still. Hopefully the astute local freelancer will already have targeted your company with an approach for new business.

As well as providing testimonials to demonstrate a proven track record of happy clients, their portfolio will demonstrate any specialist areas and generic style of work (is it a good cultural fit with your organisation and its current needs?) as well as how innovative and credible they are; communication will point to that freelancer's motivation, business mindset, organisational skills, confidence and personality. Is the freelancer easily contactable; do they return calls? Will they be easy to manage and can you trust them? The right person to 'fit' with both you and your organisation, teamed with razor sharp business and creative skills makes for smoother communication and therefore a more enjoyable, and financially viable relationship.

The brief

Whatever the project, the freelancer will need to know the objectives expected of them. As well as needing to know all about your company and what this piece of work needs to achieve, there is plenty of additional supporting detail that will ensure they have all the facts to hand. We've compiled some guidance on putting together your brief here.

Although freelancers will expect the creative solution to that brief to come from them, they'll also welcome constructive creative input since you will always know your market better than they do. However, good freelancers will argue their case for changing your mind where they believe the results will benefit.

Getting the best from freelancers

The National Union of Journalists offers this guidance on getting the best from freelancers:

"A commissioning editor is entitled to expect a number of things from a freelance journalist:

A concise pitch that is suited to the publication.

Work delivered by deadline.

Work that meets the brief.

A willingness to make any necessary changes promptly."

"It is important to remember, though, that a professional freelance must earn a living. It should go without saying that he/she will take pride in the work and in meeting deadlines. But in return for this professionalism, the freelance is entitled to expect professionalism on the part of the client. Remember that the way you deal with a freelance could have a serious effect on his or her income."

The Union furthermore suggests that freelancers are given speedy responses, either when they are awaiting feedback as to whether you are going to hire them or not (and the reasons) and in terms of paying them promptly too, whether you use the work you commissioned or not. In terms of crediting the journalist for the work, The NUJ also states "Work should be by-lined or credited. A freelance relies on previous by-lines to obtain work."

As the company hiring you will also need to be clear (and agree in writing) the ownership of the work to be produced, bearing in mind the needs of your organisation; be prepared to negotiate extra payments for extra rights, beyond basic first use of the material. For more detail see: http://media.gn.apc.org/feesguide/commission.html

Similarly the Association of Photographers' guide for clients states "Professional photography will sell your product or your company. A professional understands how to capture images that are right for a client's business and convey the message required." On the subject of rates, the Association further states each photographer will set their daily or hourly rate on the type of commission and the following factors:

  • Where the work is to be used eg on packaging, annual reports, billboards, national press, website
  • The length of time the work is to be used by you
  • The territory or territories in which the work is to be used
  • If other professionals i.e. models, stylists, set builders etc are needed these will be charged on top of the photographer's fee,

The Association also has a guide to help client and photographer negotiate licences for us of the images. http://www.copyright4clients.com/pdfs/Licensing_Guidelines.pdf

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations www.cipr.co.uk(CIPR) also added that selecting the right specialist expertise to work on any timed or specific project can be a valuable asset to any company looking to make the best of its human resources. The Institute states that who you hire will depend on "your needs, budget, and chemistry."

Freelance UK also polled its forum members on how to get the best from them. They all echoed a plea to be paid on time. Furthermore creative freelancers see themselves as adding value to your business beyond their call of duty. Offering a fresh perspective on matters outside of the immediate brief is one such example. One freelancer said "a freelance is not just a 'production machine', they can offer solutions to problems you didn't even know you had."

Contrary to popular belief that clients meddling in the creative process is frowned on by freelancers, our forum shows 'creative feedback' from the client is encouraged as "an integral & very healthy part of the design process". Whether that feedback is incorporated in the end result is down to the discussions held between the two parties. Freelancers realise that it is often down to them to "persuade, negotiate & ensure the client gets the benefit of our experience..."

Other factors were:

- Advising freelancers working on your site of the software that will be available on the workstation; again forward-planning that means you're not paying the freelancer for while they wait for the software to be installed by your IT department.

- Discussing if jobs need to be worked on in a particular software package. For example, a freelance graphic designer may be equally happy working in InDesign or Quark but the client/agency hiring them may favour one or the other and will often need to be able to edit the work in-house in future

- Be prepared to pay a reasonable fee and expect to get what you pay for! If you're inexperienced in commissioning freelancers have a think about what sort of fees comparable trades charge per hour, taking into consideration that many freelancers are graduates (or are at least skilled to an equivalent level). Have a think about how long you think a job is likely to take. If you're only prepared to spend £50 having your company logo designed you're either taking a gamble on an inexperienced designer or you're going to have a more experienced designer rushing out the first idea they have.

- Expect to pay for meetings after the 'sales process' is complete. That includes all meeting time and travelling time. Basically any time where the freelancer could be doing fee-paying work if they were sat in the office.

- Give a clear brief where possible or, if defining requirements is part of the process, expect to have your vague ideas consolidated into a firm action plan (working in conjunction with the freelancer) before actual work takes place.

- Don't spend half an hour on the phone gathering your thoughts and asking for advice, then not expect to pay for that time.

- Help us with seeking approvals for pieces of work internally within your organisation, or with getting case studies approved by your customers. It saves things dragging on and means that we can get projects invoiced!

- Be willing to accept (and pay!) part or interim invoices if projects get extended or do not complete on time (and it's not the freelancer's fault).

- Expect to pay more than originally quoted if you change the brief.

- Agree to sensible terms of payment - 30 days max, ideally 14.

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