Mistakes to avoid when working with freelancers

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Freelancing has never been more popular. Millions of people already freelance at least some of the time, and a survey by Upwork (opens in new tab) found that up to 20% of American employees are considering a move towards self-employment.

It’s no surprise that more companies are hiring freelance talent to supply specialist skills, fill gaps in their talent pool, or handle some of the workload during busy periods.

Freelancers offer important skills and extra flexibility for any business. But hiring a freelancer isn’t as simple as sending an email, and working with self-employed staff members can have its own pitfalls and problems.

We’ve rounded up the top five mistakes that you should avoid if you work with freelancers, from the biggest issues to the smallest tips that can make the experience easier for everyone concerned. If you want to hire a freelancer, head here to read our verdict of the best free and paid freelance sites (opens in new tab) – and here’s our pick of the best US job sites (opens in new tab), too.   

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Not talking to HR

It’s easier to hire a freelancer than a conventional, salaried employee, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the proper processes – if you want the relationship to be fruitful and without problems, then do it by the book.

Before you hire a freelancer, head to your HR department and find out exactly what contracts you need in place to adhere to all of your legal requirements. That’ll differ between countries, but a proper freelance contract will protect both the freelancer and your business and ensure that you hit the right tax codes.

Ideally, your contracts should confirm the type of work, the outcome, and how long the contract will last alongside the rates of pay. Contracts can also cover revisions, deadlines, cancellations, copyright and ownership, and what happens if there are disputes. Consult with the freelancer to build a contract that works for everyone involved. If you can eliminate as much ambiguity as possible, then that’s going to produce a better working relationship.

Outside of your contractual obligations, your business should have a policy regarding freelancers so that everyone involved knows about the hiring process, what to do if anything goes wrong or if the freelancer has a grievance.

Make freelancers feel welcome

The contracts you establish with freelancers should detail the work they’ll be doing, the time frame, and all of the other information required by the freelancer and company. And that’s fine, but if you’re going to be the person who manages the freelancer then it’s vital to treat them properly.

Too many managers treat freelancers as outsiders. If you’ve hired a freelancer for a long project or if you know they’ll be working with you and your team for a prolonged period, then acting as if you’re suspicious of their motives is not a recipe for success.

Instead, make sure that freelancers feel comfortable and welcomed as part of your team and as part of the wider company – they may not be on a salary, but they’re still crucial for success. Maintain open lines of communication, and be kind and considerate rather than dismissive.

Man troubleshooting IT issues

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Strike a communication balance

It’s important for a freelancer to know exactly what work they’re doing and when it’s due. If you want your freelancers to produce their best work on the right time frame, they need accurate information provided regularly – if you’re vague or inconsistent then it’s just going to make everything worse.

Bear in mind, though, that it’s possible to go too far in this direction. If you’re constantly checking in with your freelancer, you can come across as nit-picky and irritating. When freelancers often keep their own schedules and work for multiple clients, they don’t appreciate being micro-managed.

Ultimately, you’ve got to strike a balance to get the most out of freelancers. Give them accurate information, stay in touch and make them feel valued without being overbearing.

Don’t mess with their money

Freelancers don’t have the security of a salary or an hourly rate, and so it’s important that companies and HR departments don’t prolong the payment process for as long as necessary.

Your company’s freelance contracts should detail the rate of pay, and when a freelancer sends an invoice for their completed work it will usually have a payment date on the document. That’s when the freelancer is expecting their money, and if the payment is late then they may add late fees or interest charges.

This costs your company money, and a business that develops a reputation for late payment may struggle to attract freelancers in the future. And, ultimately, paying promptly is the right thing to do – so make sure it gets done.

Find the Right People

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Hire the right people for the right tasks

The freelance talent pool is huge, and that means you’ve got lots of people to choose from if you’re on the hunt for temporary additions to your workforce. While that may represent a huge opportunity, it also means that it’s easy to hire someone who isn’t suitable.

Ensure that you’ve drawn up a shortlist of requirements before you start to hunt for a freelancer. You’ll need to talk to every stakeholder to make sure that the requirements for your contractor are clear.

Try not to hire the cheapest people available if you can avoid it – because by doing that you increase the risk of getting someone without the talent or experience needed to succeed. Also make sure that you check their skills and portfolio (opens in new tab) before you hire a freelancer, because they need to have the right attributes to get the job done.

Once you’ve hired a freelancer, also make sure that they stay on task. If you have a freelancer who ends up taking up jobs across loads of different business areas or departments, then they may not be able to focus on their key job. If they end up taking on loads of work in a variety of different areas, then quality will suffer across the board.

And, once they’ve moved on to a new contract or client, you could find yourself or your team floundering if you’ve inadvertently ended up with a freelancer who found themselves responsible for loads of different work. That will make life stressful for you and your staff, and it could cost you loads of time and money.

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Mike has worked as a technology journalist for more than a decade and has written for most of the UK’s big technology titles alongside numerous global outlets. He loves PCs, laptops and any new hardware, and covers everything from the latest business trends to high-end gaming gear.