WHAT IS A FREELANCER?
As a freelancer, I have had to explain myself to quite a few people as to what exactly I do. As much as I love the original meaning of the word (a medieval mercenary) that is not what it means. A freelancer is a person who is, usually, self-employed and does not work for a particular employer on a long-term basis. Seems pretty simple, right? Okay, the article is done!
But no, I feel that there are a few things everybody needs to know when planning on working with a freelancer or another solopreneur (which is what a lot of freelancers are). This article will be about what a freelancer is, the pros and cons of working with one, where to find these elusive creatures, how to maintain a good relationship with them, and what to expect.
FREELANCER VS. EMPLOYEE
If you have never worked with a freelancer before, I suggest thinking of it as a business partnership between two companies. One of the companies (you) is looking for work to be done that another company can provide (freelancer). As such, you come to an understanding between the two of you using a contract to get the work done. While the work is happening, you are considered a client to the freelancer and the freelancer is considered an asset or a contractor.
The freelancer is NOT your employee for any duration of the work being done! As such, the freelancer does not receive many of the benefits that an employer would receive. This includes, but is not limited to, paid vacations, meal breaks, job security, insurance, awards, pay raises, company treats, tax benefits, and more. As such, now we get into the slightly muddy waters of compensation rates and payment schedules.
Every freelancer you work with will have their own rates based on their skills. But you, as a client paying for a service, need to keep in mind where this money is going. As a freelancer does not get any of the above benefits, they are specifically trained in their field and skillsets, and they offer their services as a business transaction. As such, expect to pay more for a freelancer than you would for a full-time employee. I will not give you exact numbers here but think of the following:
Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a bold woman approached him. "It's you -- Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist." So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the women his work of art. "It's perfect!" she gushed. "You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?" "Five thousand dollars," the artist replied. "B-b-but, what?" the woman sputtered. "How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!" To which Picasso responded, "Madame, it took me my entire life."
Quoted from How to charge, one of the archived posts on 1099 — "the magazine for independent professionals."
SPECIALITIES & SKILLS
According to Trebor Scholz in Digital Labor, the most common industries for a freelancer include music, writing, designing, programming, and drawing. Due to the infamous lockdowns and pandemics, this has probably changed as everybody was flocking to the internet to start their own business and make some money on the side.
The thing is, most freelancers have a wide variety of skills and services they provide. Sometimes, these skills may seem unconnected but remember that freelancers are not limited to one employer or job description. Sometimes, you may want to look for a freelancer that does only what you need, and there's nothing wrong with that... but keep an open mind and you may be surprised at the benefits you can get from other skills.
For example, my side gig is formatting and book design. I do, however, also do proofreading. While these two skills are quite different from one another, they are in a related field. I have had multiple clients that have originally hired me for one of these skills but ended up utilizing both. What I want you to take away from this is simple. Because of how hard and competitive the freelancing business is, freelancers are always looking to better themselves and provide more services.
One thing to note, just because you find the perfect freelancer for your project with all the skills required, does not mean they have found the perfect client. These relationships need to go both ways and if the freelancer is not happy with you, you may not only be short to get your project done but you may be blacklisted for other freelancers. Remember my earlier advice above, you are hiring a company that can provide a service. If that company does not want to work with you, that’s on you.
TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL CLIENT/FREELANCER RELATIONSHIP
In order to have a successful relationship with your freelancer, you should know how to treat them appropriately and what to expect. Working with a freelancer is different from hiring an employee. The legalities and payment for a freelancer are two of the main three things that differentiate a freelancer from a regular employee. Understanding these can help you have a successful relationship with your freelancer.
UNDERSTANDING THE LEGALITIES
INJURIES & COMPENSATION
What do you do if a freelancer has an injury while working for you? Generally, you are not liable, though there are exceptions depending on the contracts and type of work. As such, if there is some type of damage either to the freelancer or their equipment due to your business’s negligence, they have every right to sue you. As this does not sound like a successful relationship, I strongly suggest you and your freelancer talk about these possibilities first.
Digital transfers. This is important for both sides due to safety and confidentiality. For example, a virus or corrupt file can cause equipment damage, or equipment fixes may cause confidential files to be viewed by an outsider.
Physical labour. If you are hiring freelancers for physical work (such as construction workers or yoga teachers), you need to make sure that they have their own proper insurance and documentation to proceed with their practice.
Unless you both agree otherwise, freelancers can take on work from other clients in addition to the work they do for you. This can include competitors. In order to ensure you can still have a successful relationship with your freelancer even while they are working for your competitors, get everything written out in a contract. NDAs can allow your freelancer to continue working with competitors without giving your confidential data away. The only thing to watch out here for, on your end, is to make sure they are not too restrictive.
Contracts can be provided from either side. Personally, I have a base contract ready to change for any new client. This ensures that we are both on the same page at all times. I am also open to making changes to the contract based on client requirements. Everything is just based on communication and compromise. Both freelancers and clients want to get the best for themselves, but if you are working together, you have to compromise. It is the same for any successful relationship.
Speaking of the other side - make sure to read everything in a contract before signing. There have been horror stories and scenarios where people have signed off on things that they didn't understand and then had a loss because of it. Read everything, question what you're not sure about, and make sure whoever wrote the contract knows what they're talking about and they're not avoiding your questions.
And lastly, keep an open dialogue with your freelancer, especially when it comes to your contracts and payments. This will make it easier in the future if there is a situation where something wasn't written in the contract and you can discuss it openly. For example, let's say intellectual property rights were never added to the contract - that can be something to talk about and then add it on as an addendum to your original contract.
UNDERSTANDING THE PAYMENT
INVOICES & PAYMENT SCHEDULES
If you are not using an intermediary or third party between you, contracts and invoices are your best friends. Contracts, as mentioned above, can help smooth out any issues to ensure you have a successful relationship with your client. Invoices, on the other hand, are the receipt for services rendered and what you need to pay your freelancer. Every freelancer is unique in their work process and payment schedule, but a general rule of thumb is this: you pay for what you get.
Payment schedules are extremely important as well. Just because a freelancer is not your employee, does not mean you should not pay them on time. Usually, a payment schedule is included either in the contract or the invoice itself. No matter how simple or complicated the schedule is, you need to follow it. Remember, you are hiring another company to work for you, as such, that company can take legal action against you if there is a breach in the contract (whether written or verbal).
As mentioned briefly above, every freelancer has their own rate. These rates are dependent on both skills and where your freelancer is located. The standard rate for a graphic designer in the UK is different than that in Canada, India, or China. As such, you cannot expect to receive the same quote from all of these freelancers.
Add on that individual’s skill level and every freelancer will offer the same service for a different price.
Remember that the two main factors for freelancers to pick their rates are their skill level and social economy. In order to ensure that you have a successful relationship with your freelancer, you need to keep these prices in mind.
If the price is too high, take a look at some general information about the economy. If the price is too low, make sure you are still getting the proper skill level. There is a fine balance that you and your freelancer need to find that is respectable for both parties.
HAVING A SUCCESSFUL RELATIONSHIP
As you have probably heard before in any romantic comedy, relationships take work. This includes business relationships. Always be aware that you are a person working with another person. If you want to think of yourself as a company, then put your freelancer on the same level. Neither one of you is above the other!
Communicate clearly and often, and make sure you are always respectful. If your freelancer does not return the favour, drop them. I know it’s harsh, but that is the truth of it. Would you work with someone who doesn’t respect you? Remember, treat your freelancer the way you want to be treated.
Outside of the above basics, here are some other things you need to know when working with a freelancer. These are just a few things to help you better understand what you’re getting into when working with a freelancer. Your freelancer may not always be there for you or working only for you.
ON-SITE VS REMOTE
Depending on how and where you find your freelancer, you may have the option to choose how you want to work together. Working with a freelancer can be done either on-site or remotely. This means, you can have them either come into your office/work space during set hours and work there, or you can communicate with them through the phone or internet to get work done while they work from another location.
There are two very important things to note when it comes to freelancers working for you. On-site freelancers are NOT your employees. They can come in on time, sit at a desk, and work alongside your employees, but they are a separate company that is there to offer a service.
Additionally, remote freelancers can have either full-time or part-time hours (depending on your contract). This means they may not be working at the same time as your employees, but they are still working.
Just because they are a freelancer, does not mean that they are available to you 24/7. Make sure to discuss working times with your freelancer before you get mad at not getting a response on time. Working as a freelancer is the same as any job. Though many freelancers are workaholics (most of the ones I’ve interacted with), that does not mean they work 80hrs a week.
Additionally, you are very likely to find a freelancer from the other side of the world, so keep time zones in mind! Remember, everybody needs sleep and some time away from their computer. Freelancers are people too. You may be ready to work on your project with no sleep for a few weeks, but your freelancer probably needs some time to themselves.
And, as mentioned, you may be working with someone in a different time zone. After talking to a few freelancers in regard to this, I noticed that most freelancers are comfortable with changing their regular working hours for international clients. Like any relationship though, when it comes to working with your freelancer you will need to compromise. Be ready to either change your own working time slightly or be prepared to have your freelancer available only for part of your working hours.
Additionally, you need to keep in mind that you are, usually, not the only person your freelancer is working with at any given time. When you are working with a freelancer, you have to keep in mind not only their schedules but also their availability. I usually work with a minimum of any 3 people at a time. This ensures that I am not just sitting at my computer and twiddling my thumbs until one of my clients responds. As such, this means that I do not always get to respond to a client right away.
Another very important thing to keep in mind when it comes to a freelancer’s other clients is competition. Unless you have specified it beforehand in your contract, your freelancer can work with your competitors. If you don’t want your freelancer working for competitors or to be available at your beck and call, specify beforehand and be prepared to pay for twiddling thumbs and no work being done.
REVIEWS & TESTIMONIALS
Due to the way the current culture of freelancing is growing, there are many websites available online for you to find a freelancer. You can check out their skills, see their previous client history, and learn more about them. In the digital age, reviews and testimonials from other users are often-times the easiest way to check if you are getting your money’s worth. In the same way you can see if a product on Amazon has good reviews you can see if a freelancer has had happy clients.
Reviews and testimonials, case studies, portfolio pieces, and other such examples of the work you've done together are extremely important to most freelancers. These are what help them get more clients. So, be generous. By the way, double-check your contract for portfolio rights, or something similar and if you don't want your work shared with others, specify that as soon as possible. I know freelancers who have turned clients away because they weren't allowed to share progress work and I know freelancers (like myself) who only share the final piece or nothing at all. Make sure you know and are comfortable with what is going to be shared and keep an open dialogue with your freelancer.
Also, by the way, reviews and testimonials are how a freelancer can see if you are a good client to have. As such, you need to treat your freelancer with the same respect you would as a sister company! I cannot stress this enough!
AND LASTLY, BRANDING!
Let's get back to branding here. While everything above is extremely important in making sure you have a successful relationship with your freelancers (or contractors, or solopreneurs) you're hiring to help you, that is not the only thing.
When you're hiring someone to work for you and your business, you are hiring them to work for your brand. I've already mentioned before how a brand isn't only the pretty things about your business, but it also includes the internal work. As such, it's a good idea to have at least some of the following to hand over to your freelancer, depending on what they're going to help you with:
Visual guidelines - mostly for any designers you hire but basically anybody that is going to be creating any visuals for you.
Content guidelines - mostly for content creators but again, anybody that is going to be creating any content for you.
Workflows - for everyone, to make sure you're all on the same page and your business workflows aren't going to be interrupted by adding in a new person.
Systems - a list of everything that you're currently using and expecting them to use (no need to list every system) along with any settings or special instructions.
Etiquette - mostly for anybody that will be interacting with your audience, whether through design and content, or phone calls and emails, or anything else.
Onboarding - this is especially important if your freelancer is joining a team for longer-term projects or work, you want to make sure they are on the same page as everyone else and know what is expected of them!
Now, having listed all of that, if you're hiring someone only for a one-off project, you don't give them every single thing about your business. Give them only what is relevant to what they're doing for you.