While many companies choose to hire full-time, in-house content and marketing staff, there are perks to building out a strong team of freelancers.

They bring an unique skill set and have a different point of view, which is a benefit when working with clients in a variety of different industries. A team of freelancers can also help you to turn around work more quickly, as they work on different schedules or even in a different time zone. 

The problem is learning how to manage and grow these relationships so you don't have to constantly look for new freelancers. If you want to build long-lasting relationships, follow these tips:

1) Establish your company culture.

If a majority of your creative employees are freelancers, create a culture that integrates all team members. In this case, it is even more important to create a sense of cohesion as your face-to-face interactions might be limited. While maintaining company culture is certainly easier in a shared office space, there are measures you can take to help freelancers feel like part of the team. Create a “virtual” office with a photo and bio sheet that can be shared internally, invite freelance workers into your office (if you have one), or set up team gatherings for face-to-face interaction. 

2) Gather feedback.

To keep the doors open for communication in both directions, feedback is critical. Your freelancers need clear direction and project guidelines to meet their deliverables. In addition to giving feedback, check in and ask questions of freelancers frequently. It's important that both parties work to achieve their goals -- and a freelancer's goals will be different that those of your company's. Find out what he wants for his future and what type of recognition matters most. Perhaps he enjoys flexibility, autonomy, new challenges, or the excitement of juggling various projects. Or perhaps he has personal goals, such as being home with his kids or forgoing a commute. Do your best as a manager to ensure that a freelancer's personal goals are being met. Happy freelancers equal long-term freelancer relationships, which is ultimately what's best for your clients, your company, and your team.

3) Communicate results.

When a freelancer works hard on a project and never hears if it had any impact on the company goals, it's difficult for the freelancer to feel like he is part of the team. In addition, when a freelancer works hard on a project that isn’t successful, discuss why the project didn’t meet your goals and make sure he is able to implement necessary changes moving forward. 

4) Ask for estimates.

Be realistic about the amount of time you think should be spent on a project. Time management skills are relevant for any employee, but this is especially critical for freelancers. Always ask for an estimate from a freelancer being paid hourly so that you won't be surprised when you get his invoice and the 15-hour project turned out to be 40! For freelancers with long-term potential, consider setting up payments on a project basis so you can set a budget and determine a deadline.

5) Choose your freelancers carefully.

It can be difficult to gauge a freelancer’s past experience. Ask for writing samples or a portfolio of his work, as well as past references. Make sure he is trustworthy, accountable, and able to meet deadlines. Because a freelancer is an extension of your company and is doing work directly for you and your clients, you need to trust him. 

6) Create a style guide.

Having a company style guide on hand is recommended for any firm, but it is a must if you employ freelancers. A style guide creates and defines the standards for internal and external corporate documents as well as serves as an important reference source for all your employees. A style guide shouldn’t restrict your content writers; instead it should give them parameters to work within to create clear, direct, and effective communication. In addition to helping with consistency and professionalism, you will also save on company costs as employees with access to a style guide spend fewer hours researching, writing, reviewing, and correcting their work. Your style guide should include your target audience, content tone, social media strategy, distinguished approach, industry jargon, phrases, and slogans. This way, as freelancers come and go, your brand keeps its integrity.

7) Go beyond email.

While email is great, inboxes can get cluttered and slow down processing time on deliverables. Using an online platform for project management helps your team stay organized, collaborate on projects in real-time, and meet deadlines. Using platforms like Basecamp and Mavenlink make communication and project management easy when team members work in various different location. 

8) Don't micromanage. 

When it comes to hiring, you need to trust that your team of freelancers are all specialists in their fields. I am confident that each individual on our team makes informed decisions and am aware that any micromanaging on my end is unnecessary and will only slow them down. Know that you don't need to agree on something 100% --there's room for creative differences. At the end of the day, when you let your freelancers run their projects without bogging them down in inconsequential details, they will deliver high-quality material in an efficient manner. 

9) Be a mentor.

Move beyond the management role, and be a mentor to freelancers. Provide resources so they can learn more about your company and your industry of expertise. Help them grow to be an even stronger member of your team.


Originally published Jan 23, 2015 7:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017