Rules for Getting the Most from Your Freelancer
Much has been written about the responsibilities of freelancers to clients. But clients have responsibilities too. Project success depends as much on how responsibly the client performs as how diligent the freelancer is. After 30 years as a freelance writer serving scores of clients, I know all the ways projects can go off course. I’ll accept my share of responsibility when projects go off course, but projects also fail because clients don’t hold up their ends of the relationship. So, clients, to get the best shot at a good outcome with your freelancer, honoring these Ten Commandments of being a good client is a good place to start.
- Thou Shalt Have a Written Work Plan
Yes, the project will evolve over time, but it’s vital to provide a document at the start that states the entire goal of the project and provides any necessary details the freelancer needs to complete it successfully. This is the place to include financial details such as the fee and the schedule of progress payments. The more specific and detailed you are, the better. Make sure to include your objective, the expected outcome, and how you measure success.
- Thou Shalt Have a Realistic Budget and Timeline
Have a professional appreciation of what your project will cost and how long it will take. Responsible clients understand that results are better when budgets are thought of as investments rather than expenses. Responsible clients focus on the value that freelancers deliver, not how much they cost.
- Thou Shalt Offer a Single Point of Contact
My most frustrating projects required me to report to more than one person. Misunderstandings and delays multiplied. Assign the freelancer one point of contact and then manage internal communications from there. And if that person is not you, make sure he or she has sufficient familiarity with the project and the authority to handle routine requests.
- Thou Shalt Provide Prompt, Candid Feedback
One of your jobs as a client is to respond to requests for information or feedback with prompt honesty. The more direct and honest you can be, the better the freelancer will be able to craft the deliverable to your satisfaction. It does the relationship no good for you to hold back feedback for fear of hurting the freelancer’s feelings.
- Thou Shalt Pay Invoices When Due
Nothing will derail smooth sailing more than unpaid and unacknowledged invoices. You and the freelancer have agreed to a structured payment plan based on deliverables. When you get an invoice, acknowledge receipt and let the freelancer know when payment will be made. If you need to withhold an earned payment for any reason, let the freelancer know why and what he or she can do about it.
- Thou Shalt Maintain Boundaries
If things go well, you’ll be spending a lot of quality time with your freelancer. It’s natural to start treating them as a friend. Be friendly but remember that you are business associates. Treat your freelancers like other business associates. Would you invite a business associate to sleep in your home or guest house? If not, then extend your freelancer the same courtesy. The project will go better if both sides respect boundaries. If you want to socialize, wait till after the project is over and the freelancer has more independence to say yes or no.
- Thou Shalt Remember Freelancers Are Not Employees
You can tell an employee when and where to work and what tools to use. Not so a freelancer, so please don’t try. If you want an employee, hire one and pay all the benefits that employees are due. One of the main benefits of hiring a freelancer is to avoid all that overhead. Accept that when you engage a freelancer, you are giving up a measure of control and that you are, in fact, negotiating with a fellow business owner. This one is more than a commandment; it’s the law.
- Thou Shalt Pick Up the Phone When Things Get Hard
Every project has hiccups when the freelancer misses a deadlines or a deliverable or otherwise messes up. Or maybe something detrimental to the project has occurred through no fault of the freelancer. At these times, it’s critical to avoid email or, worse, texting. Pick up the phone and have a conversation. Email and text just invite misunderstandings and bruised feelings. No one likes having a difficult conversation, but you can have it now or later when the conversations will be much harder.
- Thou Shalt Not Take It Personally
In any human relationship, there will be disappointments, miscommunications, and failures. Nothing good comes from blaming or taking it personally. Be a professional and work to fix the problem instead of fixing the blame.
- Thou Shalt Show Appreciation
If your freelancer is doing a good job or going above and beyond, find a way to express your appreciation with a small decency. Send a personal card in the mail. Include a gift card for Amazon or a chain restaurant. At the conclusion of the project, hosting a celebratory lunch or other festivity, if possible, is nice.