I met with an agency the other day, who struck me as being at the more enlightened end of the scale when it came to working with independents. We were meeting about some potential work on a client in the future, and the concept of this blog came up in conversation, and they asked me what I thought the best way to engage and motivate freelancers was.
'Enlightened' because the vast majority of agencies I work with tend to use freelancers because of one of a few reasons, all of which tend to be fairly last minute - (1) they have a big pitch coming up and either don't have the volume of staff to resource it or the right kind of staff to help them win it (2) they're always a bit under-resourced and use you when volume of work increases beyond the team practically living at the office or (3) they can't really afford to have someone with your capability on staff full time, and pull you in as and when you're needed.
Obviously, there's nothing wrong with any of these reasons (and they make up a good deal of my business), but this agency were looking at how they could form a more ongoing relationship with a particular set of freelancers, identifying them as skill sets that could be important to them, and wanting to build something longer term in approach, even if their use of the individual might only extend to a day here and there.
This longer term view chimes with a lot of trends I'm seeing at the moment, and conversations I'm having about new businesses springing up - agencies who want to extend their skill set and overtly position themselves as having teams of people they can pull in as and when projects require; agencies that pair brands and independents to produce great work they might not get out of a traditional agency team; recruitment organisations arising that focus purely on freelancers and positioning them as a core part of your business, despite their absence from the pay roll.
It also marries with the issues that some larger organisations are having in recruiting younger candidates (I'm desperately trying not to use the term millennials here through risk of someone throwing things at me), because they have learnt from the world of independent working that the benefits they seek are no longer about money and title, but more geared towards flexibility, entrepreneurialism, and genuine support of their individuality and creativity, and some bigger corporations are found wanting on each of these measures.
So, in preparation of responding to this agency, I thought I'd write down my thoughts and impressions of what freelancers would really like, and what would engage them in terms of having a longer term relationship with agencies or brands:
(1) Make working with you easy peasy
This one sounds simple (hence the easy peasy...), but the reality is it's often not. Many companies are still not set up for someone to come and hot-desk with them for a few days or weeks; or heaven forbid, interact with them remotely.
Whether it's getting a wifi code (why, oh why do some companies change this every day??), getting access to servers (I've now worked in several companies, one of which I contracted with for over a year, where they made me have a second computer so I could get access to anything on their server - it was quite literally 'computer says no' when it came to the idea of setting something up on my laptop despite me regularly working remotely), or the simple act of printing, in many places it just becomes a nightmare. In some companies the guest wifi is so slow you may as well just go round the corner to the nearest greasy spoon and you would get a better signal.
If you want us to come back and work with you, please make this stuff easier - and think about the fact that your clients probably feel the same when they try and fit in a bit of work at your office too!
(2) Pay us on time
This is a really crucial one. I don't want you to think that freelancers are all about the money, as there are a number of things on this list that don't pertain to this at all, but getting paid on time is super important as an independent. Ironically it's the largest companies who tend to be the worst at this. Over time you learn the tricks of making sure you get to know someone in accounts, find out any funny details of the invoicing process, send a reminder email a week ahead of time to remind them that your payment is due, doubly underline your payment terms...etc...etc....but still you end up chasing to get paid. I've had clients who I've stopped working with because of this, because after a while it becomes untenable.
(3) The nicer stuff - involve us in your innovations, your insights and the fun stuff!
One of the challenges of being a freelancer is continuing to advance, educate yourself, and ensure you stay on top of everything that is going on in the industry you specialise in. It's obviously your responsibility to do this, and good freelancers will be all over it, but you do miss the resources available to you when you have teams of specialists, relationships with other organisations, and generally a wealth of information coming your way (much of which tends to get ignored by people when thy do work full-time, which is a crying shame!).
If you have great speakers coming into the company, or some kind of training available, or perhaps a good update of great work you've done - it's great to offer up the opportunity to your freelancers to partake in the information. We don't expect you to pay us to train us, but giving us the opportunity to be involved in our own time is always appreciated (and often reciprocated when we get information that may be of interest to you).
(4) Have a clear definition of what you want us to achieve for you
Sometimes this is simple - you're hired to come in to run a pitch for example and your brief and the expectations behind that are pretty clear. In other scenarios, the requirements can be much more wooly, and sometimes the client is too busy to have really thought about how they might want you to spend your time on the day they've booked you for. We all understand being manic, but it feels awful when we feel like we're wasting our time, your time, and your money - it's all good and well being paid, but most freelancers are also in it to do good work, so before you book someone, get your brief nailed.
(5) Finally, relationships matter!
My best relationships with companies have been when they almost feel like colleagues over a period of time. I don't mean we want to come to your staff meetings (we don't, it's often what we're trying to escape), or that we necessarily want to come to your christmas do (it's lovely to be asked, but sometimes it feels a bit strange when it's with your clients at the end of the day, there is a line..). What it does mean is that meeting up for catch up coffee in between projects; having the odd lunch together, or drink at the end of the day - particularly after you and a team have just finished a project or pitch - these are all important things.
Freelancers probably aren't as dependent on the social side of work anymore (and if they are, they might be in the wrong job), but it's nice to be nice! We all like to work with people that we've built strong relationships with, where you don't feel that you have to start from scratch each time and you build up some kind of communication understanding - and the social side of work is as crucial in building this with your freelancers as it is in getting internal teams to bond together. Lets face it, everyone likes to be invited for a drink at the end of the day.
So that's it - as a starter for ten, it's not complicated stuff - and there will be many ways beyond this via which you can build great, long term relationships with this mythical group of independent workers, but getting the basics right is a brilliant start.
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To find out more about the consultancy services I offer in working better with independents, or introducing a more flexible, creative culture into your company, contact me at email@example.com