Working with freelancers: Advice from Arcana PR and Talent Egg
The freelancer is a unique individual, untethered from the average work environment and free to shift attention from project to project.
And therein lies the challenge for small business owners planning to hire these workers – how do you ensure someone who’s not an employee will be accountable, committed and represent your brand properly?
Ronald Burke, professor emeritus of organizational studies at York University’s Schulich School of Business, suggests freelancers and contract workers don’t take on projects for the same reasons as typical, career-driven, full-time staff.
“The people who prefer a freelance life might be less into it for the money than other people,” he says. “They like the temporary commitment.”
This, Burke says, means the right freelancers are both affordable, and dedicated to the work they’re doing.
But the price of hiring a bad freelancer is high, he cautions.
Adrienne Fraser, owner of Arcana PR and Consulting, says she’s struggled with this problem before.
“Your expectations aren’t always met,” says Fraser. “Every time you work with a new contractor, you don’t know what they’re going to be like.”
Fraser’s business model is unique in that she works as a middleman between organizations and their promotional events. She works with brands – mostly eco-friendly and health-conscious ones – coordinating staff and running campaigns from conception to cleanup. This work also includes pitching press releases to the media, and hiring promotional photographers.
These hires don’t always work out. She once used a photographer who didn’t live up to her client’s expectations, producing poor-quality promotional photos of an event. Another photographer needed to be brought in for reshoots, and Fraser had to pay out of her own pocket.
“People either don’t come through or they screw something up, and you have to turn around and try to rectify it,” she says. “In the end it’s you that deals with the client.”
Maintaining a staff would help minimize these problems, but because projects constantly vary in style, length and type — everything from events to handing out promotional items on the sidewalk – having a static set of workers simply doesn’t make sense. As a result, Fraser has no choice but to employ a revolving cast of freelancers and contractors.
“I have a database that I’ve built so I know – these people are good at event planting and these are good at design, photography and so on,” she says, adding that referrals have been key to keep that roster updated, and that using freelancers allows her to take projects on very short notice.
But, Burke says, it takes time to bring freelancers up to speed on an organization’s culture.
“Figuring out how to bring someone like this on and get up and running without taking a lot of time (is) one of the challenges this model offers,” he says.
He recommends doing a thorough interview with potential freelancers to get a feel for their attitude, professionalism and adaptability to the tone of a specific project.
“You want freelancers that have been responsible, diligent, and professional in their past work engagements,” he says. “Managers using the freelance model need to be aware of these challenges and start addressing them on Day one.”
Lauren Friese, founder of job-hunting site TalentEgg, says most of the writing and design on her website was created by freelancers.
“I was trying to figure out how to build the core product of the business on a really low budget,” she says. “It’s a really practical solution, but it’s not necessarily an ideal situation.”
She says it was hard to find people that shared her mindset and were interested in more than simply earning a paycheque. But the process was made easier when she came across a website called oDesk – a network of freelancers that hosts reviews of contractors alongside samples of their past work.
It allowed her to get a scope of a potential hires competency and reliability. And in some cases, it helped her find candidates who might be interested in filling permanent roles at the company.
To this end, hiring freelancers isn’t just a means to fill short-term business needs, adds Burke. The practice also functions as a way to find future employees.
“We don’t work with as many contractors or freelancers anymore,” says Friese. “The value of having someone immersed in your culture, and on the same page from a goal perspective, outweighs the cost of having somebody full time.”