According to Freelancer’s Union, there’s an estimated 53 million Americans -- 34% of the workforce -- working on a contract basis. If you have spent any time within an agency, you know that freelancers are frequent contributors to the work of marketing, advertising, and PR firms.
Freelancers are to advertising as adjunct professors are to higher education. There is a symbiotic relationship that, when it works well, results in the freelancer producing work for your agency with the same quality and fervor that a full-time employee would.
As the CEO of an agency, I am keenly aware of the value of this relationship and am frequently asked: Should I hire more freelancers or more full-time employees to grow my agency?
I don’t consider this an either-or question, as I consider the relationships with freelancers and full-time employees more like a graphic equalizer that helps to balance out your agency’s sound. And you need quality freelance efforts like you need rock star full-time employees -- but to varying degrees and ends.
If your agency can do it, which is a cash-flow consideration, you should hire full-time employees because it’s important to strengthen the bedrock of your agency: the culture. There’s tremendous value to bringing talent into the fold that will help to enhance and elevate your agency’s culture -- people who become your agency’s brand ambassadors and help to weave the tapestry that is your agency’s identity.
But a mainstay of agency life remains hiring freelancers to help deliver results for clients. We use freelancers to help us assess long-term organizational needs and mitigate risk. I think of it as a courtship: we are seeking permanent talent, and some freelancers are seeking a permanent home. Using freelancers is an excellent way to analyze needs and skill sets.
The key is to make freelancers a part of your agency’s culture. If you treat freelancers as transient “others,” your agency risks the kind of alienation that might result in less than stellar work, even though great freelancers understand the business enough to know that their reputation is as much at stake as the agency’s when it comes to delivering great work.
Our freelancers consistently rate us favorably on their satisfaction with working at Blue Chip, but there are always “dings” because they’re never going to feel fully integrated into the culture. The key is to manage freelancers’ satisfaction, so they feel welcome and accommodated, while also focusing on building a solid culture of happy and satisfied full-time employees. Again, it’s all about balance.
So how do you do it? Here are a few ideas:
1) Shift your hiring mindset.
Hire a freelancer with the expectation that she is a full-time employee. Screen for the same attributes you would look for in a full-time employee.
2) Consider your onboarding process.
Onboard freelancers as contributing members of the team. Obviously, you don’t want to set up false expectations for either party, but give them the information they need to truly understand your agency.
3) Include freelancers in staff meetings.
Trusted freelancers who have made significant contributions over the years can gain as much from regular staff meetings as your full-time employees. Our agency invites long-time, trusted freelancers to staff meetings.
4) Recognize that today’s freelancer could be your next hire.
A number of full-time employees at our agency were once freelancers for us. They did incredible work and fit so well within our culture that we wanted them to be here all of the time.
Don't view freelancers as outsiders who are only there to help in tough situations. Consider them as part of the team, and you'll find your agency is that much stronger.