While the pandemic was hard on the economy in general, the one group of people that seemed to thrive during this turbulent time were gig workers, also known as freelancers. According to MBO’s 2021 State of Independence, the number of gig workers grew 34%, as 51.1 million Americans now report that they’re working independently. While tech and programming might be the most up-and-coming field for gig workers, their talents range from creativity in design or writing to consulting, financial planning, and more. As early as 2017, roughly 33% of Fortune 500 companies outsourced work to freelancers – so chances are that you have a couple on your payroll as well.
You’ve posted on Fiverr, Upwork, or even LinkedIn, or maybe you’ve tapped into your network and got your new gig worker from a friend. However you found your freelancer, they’ll end up being the bridge between your company and your company’s following. Gig workers are the ones who make your websites, your content, social media presences, and perhaps even a blog post or two. And the management or oversight of a gig worker under your purview could make or break your relationship with them in the long term.
1. Know their style
One of the best things to know about a freelancer that you’re working with is their style of conducting business. Some prefer a more hands-on, teamwork-style approach to completing a project, others just need a short description, and they’ll come back at you with a polished, finished product all on their own. Some enjoy meetings and excessive feedback, some find it time-consuming. As each freelancer is their own boss, personal assistant, and HR department, each freelancer has their own way they like to conduct business. Some say you have to find a freelancer who runs their operation exactly like you do to make a good team – others, not so much.
Freelancers refer to the companies they partner with as “clients,” much like a lawyer or an ad agency could because they’re looking to serve your needs for a particular project to the best of their expertise. Consequently, a freelancer will work however you want them to, especially if you’re an antsy client who double- and triple-checks work just to make sure it fits the company’s brand voice. But that doesn’t mean that you’re getting them at their best, it just means you’re meeting them where you are.
2. Know their limits
A freelancer can only do so much, and if you don’t know their limits, you might be setting yourself up for failure. A client’s responsibility is to provide clarity on their expectations. Otherwise, you’ll end up going back and forth half a dozen times with comically ludicrous edits that will make you frustrated and bitter, and may make your freelancer laugh you off of their future client list. While it would be convenient (if not a bit awkward) for a freelancer to read your mind, they can’t build an entire project based upon a few nouns or adjectives.
No matter what freelancer you’re using, you need to have some form of structure for them to reference. Provide a style guide, a brand voice guide, or a set of assets (suitably cataloged, of course). When they have a foundation upon which to draw, they then have the freedom to be creative and work fluidly without getting bogged down by the basics. A freelancer can help you start to build something from scratch, like a blog or a portfolio. But they need at least some semblance of guidance as to what you’re looking for. Otherwise, you’ll get caught in a cycle where the freelancer recommends something and the client shoots it down like Goldilocks without recommending an alternative, as it’s not “just right.”
3. Know your own limits
The next thing you need to know to properly oversee your freelancer isn’t just their limits – it’s your own. Chances are, in addition to managing a gig worker, you’re also working a full-time job, leaving you little time for extra projects. As a result, you might want to circle back on a freelancer’s work or get back to them about a project, and completely forget. If you’re working with freelancers, you have to maintain both a level of trust that they don’t need to be micromanaged and an understanding of your personal time constraints, so they aren’t waiting around for a ping from you that will never arrive.
Accidentally ghosting your freelancer for longer than you intend to isn’t just an irritation for your gig worker, it could impact their livelihood. Non-payment is a freelancer’s biggest issue, and their biggest nightmare, so much so that there are unions dedicated to defending those left in the lurch. Even if you have a trusting relationship, and your freelancer knows that you’ll get back to them eventually, it’s common courtesy to complete a project on your end as fast as your freelancer completed it for you, lest you lose their business in favor of more responsive and responsible clients.
4. Know where they’re at
Freelancers might come off as… well, carefree. And the truth is that they may be living a healthier lifestyle than the average employee in a nine to five job. A study from OfficeNeedle says that 78% of freelancers say they have enough free time, 65% sleep 7 hours or more per night, and 54% engage in physical activity at least every other day. But that doesn’t mean that the freelancer’s life is all fun and games. An Upwork survey notes that 58% of freelancers have more than 5 clients at any given time, and most freelancers don’t have basic benefits, such as health insurance. This can make for hectic days, and even more hectic emergencies.
While deadlines of course need to be met, always remember that when managing your gig worker, don’t be any harder on them than you would a coworker or employee. Even if their benefits and pay aren’t the same, or even if you tend to work with them on a less regular basis, they can still be a valuable asset to you – one who isn’t getting all of the fun perks that working at your company can provide, even if they’re putting a comparable amount of work in. It may go without saying, but if you like your freelancer’s work, be loyal to them, and they’ll be loyal to you in return.
5. Know when you need them
Lastly, when managing your gig worker, a gold-star client always provides a schedule. Many companies that hire gig workers will work on a project-to-project basis, and as a result, freelancers are quite used to having more lucrative and less lucrative months. But if you really want to stand out on your freelancer’s client list, give them a contract or agreement that specifies a certain minimum amount of work each month. Even if you only need them on a short-term basis, make sure they know exactly what the timeline of the project is going to be and when their deadlines are.
While freelancers are great at dealing with adversity (so much so that 67% of full-time freelancers report that the role made coping with the pandemic much easier), don’t manufacture adversity through a lack of planning. A happy gig worker is a gig worker with stability – knowing how much they’ll be working, how much they’ll be making, and how much free time they’ll have. The less time your freelancer spends worrying about where their rent money is coming from, the more time they’ll be able to spend on producing the perfect project for your organization.