Did you know that according to Freelancersunion.org, 53 million Americans are freelancers? If you own your own business, you probably have at least one freelancer that makes a significant contribution to your company’s bottom line.
How do you integrate them into your team? Here’s just a few tips to make your freelancers feel like one of the family.
1. Choose wisely. Hire a freelancer like you would an employee. They should fit just as well into your company as your employees do. They should have a similar set of characteristics that made you hire anyone else. It isn’t all about skills or experience, sometimes its about personality types and work ethics.
2. Communication. Actually, this is a major component of any team, employees and freelancers alike. Its also a major flaw in many companies, we don’t communicate enough and we don’t communicate properly. Create a shared communication environment.
a. Start with email. Each of your employees and freelancers should have an email address that contains the domain of your website. Its very confusing to your clients when they receive an email that isn’t branded with your domain. They can white list you, so that it doesn’t go into their spam folder. Its a trust issue as well, they should know exactly who is sending them an email when it comes from your company. When they leave, disable the email or leave it active if they are a returning resource.
b. Use a cloud based communication tool. I love Slack.com, but there are many others out there. Keeping all your communication, documents, tasks, milestones, and financial information in one place is a great way to keep the team together despite being in another location or another country. Email is great, but everyone has their own copy of ongoing conversations, email gets dropped, lost, deleted.
3. Manage time, money and status on projects continually. This one goes for employees too, but is especially important for freelancers since they are invoicing for payment. You should have a simple process in place that lets you know what they did, when they did it, how long it took, how much longer is it going to take and what are they doing tomorrow.
Hire them, train them, bring them into the team. Let them know how long they’ll be needed and give them additional opportunities within the company when possible. If you can’t use them anymore, give them plenty of time to find another position. Involve them in meetings, invite them to company gatherings, take them to lunch. Don’t treat freelancers like a fair weather friend. Send them congratulation emails, thank you notes, include them in your holiday card list, wish them a Happy Birthday. This should be part of your connection process with them, not something you do only when you need them. Recognize that they may have other clients and they’ll need to fit your requirements and projects into their schedule. There is another side to this. Don’t treat freelancers more highly then your employees. Sometimes a freelancer has a specific set of skills and you hire them because your team lacks them. If you treat your freelancer at a higher level, you’ll foster animosity from your employees toward that freelancer. Every one puts their pants on the same way, being a freelancer doesn’t make them more special.
5. Have a back-up plan. Just like employees, things happen to freelancers. They may decide to leave, get sick, go on extended leave, you may even give them a different role. Every one, employee or freelancer should have a back-up plan that includes a manual that helps them decide what to do and a plan in place that helps you replace them for a temporary period or permanently.
Companies may forget to integrate freelancers into the team. A freelancer that is treated like a member of the team will feel more committed to the company and the project. You’ll find that its not all about money, its about how they feel, how they are treated that impacts how they work for your company.