Modern business is almost nothing like the business our grandparents, or even our parents would imagine. Gone are the days of sharp suits, stuffy offices and endless meetings. While there may still be a hierarchy in many businesses, we understand that great ideas can come from anywhere and everyone has something to add.
As the business world has increasingly transferred itself into the digital world, the way we interact has changed. For a start, you probably don’t have a large permanent staff working with you, but a constant orbit of freelancers supporting your business remotely instead.
While this is great in business terms, there is still much to be learned about managing people who work like this. By definition, freelancers aren’t employees and may fire you in the same way that you can fire them. There is no clear hierarchy and no clear stream of management.
So how should you manage a network of freelancers?
Get the Basics Sorted
When you first start working with a freelancer, it is important that you get the most basic parts of your agreement settled before anything else happens. This means sorting out how much you will be paying for their services, at what intervals you will be paying and what you can expect in return.
Though freelancers often thrive on having the freedom to work as and when they choose, they also like stability to a degree. In other words, they want to be certain that you are going to uphold your end of the agreement and they won’t have to chase you for payments or work. An accounts payable automation system is highly recommended if you are really busy and liable to forget!
A Production Line
Though there may not be a strict management structure, if you want a group of remote freelancers to work together, you need to at least establish a sort of production line. For example, let’s say you want to produce a guide to using one of your products. You would need a copywriter to create the content, a designer to put it together, your website manager to upload it and a PR/ social manager to promote it.
In an ideal world, you should be able to set the ball rolling with the content writer and then let your freelancers essentially pass the work along. However, you need to establish this connection with everyone first. Since this team is unlikely to meet face to face, a brief conference call is the best way to introduce the project, get to know the team and then establish a timeline for the best results.
Ultimately everyone will still answer to you but hopefully, this hands-off management style will encourage everyone to get on board. And if not, you can still step in
Use Software and Online Communication
When everyone is in the office together, having a natter by the watercooler is a surprisingly good way to catch up and see where everyone is up to. Unfortunately, the digital world doesn’t come equipped with a water cooler but there is software you can use to bring people together.
Project management software like Trello is really handy for allocating tasks, creating lists and keeping track of a project with lots of contributing parties. You can use labels to make searching for particular cards easier and you can tag people so that they get a notification of your actions – just what you need to pass a project on.
You should also use apps to encourage your team to talk amongst themselves. While Facebook Messenger is great for friends, you might find that many freelancers object because they want to keep their personal life private. A good compromise is something like WhatsApp or, even better, Slack. This app can be linked in with other apps, like Trello, but also provides that water cooler area the digital world seriously lacks.
Though all the freelancers you employ answer to you, it is important that you encourage them to get to know each other and network amongst themselves. Team building might not be as simple over the internet but growing any professional network is an important business skill. Similarly, you should encourage all the freelancers you work with to help and support each other.
Use the Same Team Over and Again
The main reason that most businesses use freelancers is that it is cheaper to hire someone for a specific project than it is to hire someone on a permanent basis. However, it would be a mistake to assume that you should not hire the same freelancers over and again. In fact, hiring the same people time and again is usually a fast track to success as you don’t need to explain your business and ambitions every time a new project starts.
When you hire a freelancer, you should always make sure that they don’t just have an understanding of your business but they have an active interest in its success. Just as you would want an employee to act as a brand ambassador, your freelancers should feel the same. You should also see how they work with the other freelancers you rely on. Remember: you are still building a team.
Once you are happy with the quality of work a freelancer provides, you might like to consider going on a retainer. This means that you will commit to paying them a certain amount each month and they will commit to doing a certain amount of work. In a sense, a retainer is the middle ground between employment by your business and freelancing as it provides greater security for you both. This is highly recommended if a freelancer is in high demand.
The secret to being a good manager is true whether you are working with a team in an office or a group of remote workers. It is your job to bring out the best in everyone whether that means checking in regularly or leaving someone to it until the job is complete. With freelancers, you are much more likely to be told how they want to be managed. If you take one piece of advice from this blog it is this: listen.