Monday, 9 February 2009

Engaging Freelancers

Just recently a couple of people have asked me for my thoughts on engaging freelance employees. I'm not surprised they're asking. As our economy relies more and more on flexible resources, so the way we work with our freelancers becomes more important.

The thing about freelancers is that many of them are very good at what they do, otherwise they wouldn't be able to do it for very long. Dodgy freelancers soon get found out! However as with so many good things in life, they are often taken for granted. Companies tend to think that time and money should only be spent on developing and engaging full time staff. However there are huge benefits to doing the same for your freelancers as you would for Jo Employee.

Freelancers represent your company to your clients in just the same way as your full time staff do. They need to have the same understanding of your history, your brand and your ways of working. They also represent your company across your industry and in the big wide world. Do you want them to tell everyone how brilliant you are? How smart and great to work for? Or do you want them to shrug their shoulders, and say 'yeah, they're all right, work is work'?

Here are some suggestions for engaging freelancers so that they believe in your brand, give you their best work and become advocates of your company.

1. Invest in your freelance resource

Is there training that you would send your freelancer on if they were a full time employee? If they're a regular face in your office, send them on it anyway. Apart from the benefits to your company of having your flexible resource fully skilled up, you'll find freelancers are grateful for this kind of trust and investment. If the training only benefits you, then you'll still need to pay their day rate. However it's more likely that relevant training will benefit you both, so you might find your freelancer will reduce their fee - or if it's really valuable to them, waive it completely.

2. Freelancers are people too

Don't allow freelancer freeze-out, it happens a lot. You remember how hard it is to start a new job right? That tricky first week when you don't know where to have lunch, or who with. You're not sure of company processes and who to ask to get things done. Well if you're a freelancer that happens several times a year - if not more.

Assign your freelancer a buddy
Sit them in a busy part of the office
Show them round and introduce them to people
Behave as if they'll be with you for 6 months (even if the booking is for 2 weeks)

3. Tap into all that lovely knowledge

Look at your freelancers as an opportunity for you to tap into lots of lovely freshness for your business. Full time employees have a valuable in depth knowledge of your company. Balance that with the of-the-moment breadth knowledge of your industry which a freelancer can bring.

Let your freelancer know you're interested in their opinions, not just their output
Ask them to join brainstorms, or put time aside to discuss other projects together
Ask them to pitch with you
Find out their story

4. Pay invoices on time

Does everyone in your company from the person suggesting that a freelancer should come in for a couple of days, to the person processing the invoice, understand how important it is that freelancers get paid on time? Make sure they do. This is unequivocal. I know someone who has £17000 owed to him for work done in the past year alone. A good chunk of this was for a big company with plenty of money and credit - but they are so late with payment as to make you wonder if it's ever going to happen. This person's work is beautiful and he's known to be one of the best in his industry. He gets a job offer at least once a week. Think he's ever going to work for that company again? Nope. Freelancers can't afford to take second chances on people that don't pay them.

5. Give them all the information

Put together a mini induction for your freelancers to make sure they know as much as they can about your company, as soon as possible. Freelancers have to hit the ground running, so you should be trying to give them as much information as you can to help with that.

Give them the skinny on who makes what happen
Show them examples of past work for various clients
Make sure they have materials which demonstrate your brand behaviour and tone of voice

Just like you do for your full time employees... (you do, don't you?).

6. Turn your freelancers into advocates

I'm walking, talking proof that freelancers make excellent advocates. Have you heard of a company called Involve? They're a results focused, experiential change agency based in Clapham and they totally rock. Look them up. If you're a client, call them. They are passionate about what they do, fresh, clever and effective. I did some work for them last year and:

On my first day I had a full induction, including meetings with members of each department.
I was given lots of lovely material to read...
...And DVDs to watch of previous work they're proud of.
I was included in lunch trips and invited to the pub.
I was included in the monday morning staff meeting and invited to the offsite half-day and trusted with all the news that gets shared there.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Involve use a lot of freelancers, and it's part of their culture not to treat them any differently than their full time staff. It's an investment which pays off, rewarded by effort, commitment and advocacy.

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