It’s an oldie but a goodie: several years ago, a software developer outsourced his entire job to China way back in 2013.
It worked for awhile. In fact, he was seen as the best developer in the building. And he gave the Chinese firm $50k while earning close to $200k himself.
Clearly there’s a right and wrong way to go about outsourcing to freelancers. His was strategic but not collective; effective but not mutually beneficial.
So what does building a freelance partnership look like?
In my first post for Growth Collective, I focused on how freelance contracts can help you tighten up your budget and see more effective work. If you’re convinced, this next one's for you.
From a great project description to effective communication, you can take specific steps at every stage to ensure freelance partnerships work well for you. That’s what we focus on here: the specific path to freelance partnerships.
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Gig Work vs. Freelance Partnerships
Before moving forward with the steps below, take time to assess what you want out of the freelance contract.
Yes, there are times when you’ll need a VA for a one-off manual task or graphic designer for a single logo design. But those engagements don’t constitute a partnership; it’s gig work.
Gig work is fine for certain circumstances, but it’s not what will tip the scale on your organization’s growth, efficiency and creativity. Instead, look for these qualities in a freelance partnership.
- Trust: The foundation of any successful partnership, freelance and otherwise. Start small, with crystal clear expectations and deliverables, then build from there.
- Ownership: Once a freelancer proves themselves with initial deliverables, try extending responsibilities beyond simple delegation of individual tasks. Ask them to own goals and trust them to communicate with others on your team.
- Expertise: You don’t want a writer that can just churn out 5k words a week or a designer that can hack together a WordPress page. For specialized mobile app projects, it's advisable to hire Flutter developers for their expertise and efficiency. You want someone who will dive deep into your industry niche and do better work than anyone internally could. If you want to increase traffic, hire a content marketer, not a copywriter. If you want a winning landing page, hire a designer and developer, or a web development services company.
- Independence: You should only be concerned with cost, deliverables and ROI. Otherwise, it’s up to them. Upon completion of the work, they will provide you with a professionally formatted freelance invoice.
- Scope: Freelance partnerships work well for projects that can scale as they see success. Once the work is proven, you can look for ways to further leverage their expertise.
7 Steps to a True Freelance Partnership
I’ll be honest: hiring a freelancer is pretty simple. You can create a profile on a freelance platform, string a few words for the job description, and hire the best (or cheapest) pro that applies.
But that approach rarely turns into a productive project. Instead, consider taking your time to walk through each of the below steps to turn gig work into a true freelance partnership.
Choose the right platform
There is no shortage of online freelance platforms where you can find online jobs to explore. But that’s not necessarily a good thing for employers looking for high qualified marketing freelancers. You don’t need more options. You need better options.
You have 3 options for finding freelancers online. I think you know which I’ll recommend.
The Freelancer Platform
Platforms like Fiverr and Upwork give companies access to hundreds of thousands of freelancers, each with their own niche. But sorting through those profiles is time consuming at best and quality is sub-par. With no vetting process, clients compare talent purely based on price. This drives prices down and pushes the top talent off of the platform.
As a result, you simply won't find the top marketers on these platforms. In hundreds of interviews with elite freelance marketers, Growth Collective has found that less than 5% accept projects from Upwork or Fiverr.
The Vetted Freelancer Site
Sites like Growth Collective will help you bypass the deluge of unqualified responses you’re bound to receive on free-for-all freelance platforms. Instead of allowing any freelancer to sign up, these sites pre-vet each member of the network and hand-match you with the right fit. This solves the quality issues present on open platforms.
Typically, these sites focus on a particular vertical. Growth Collective, for example, focuses on marketing. Toptal, another popular site, specializes in web and software development. If you're in the energy sector, there are freelancers who specialize in custom energy management software development, ensuring you get a solution tailored to your specific requirements.
Your Social Network
Referrals are a tried and true method of finding top talent both for full time positions and contractors. This remains the most popular way of finding top freelance talent, though it limits your potential hiring pool to your own network. With this, you will need to use pre-employment screening tools to ensure the referred freelancers meet your specific criteria and standards.
LinkedIn has become the best way to drive awareness within your own professional network. A post there can kickstart your search. Using LinkedIn for recruitment can also expand your reach, including professionals beyond your immediate network.
Write a winning project description
Just because you’re looking for a freelancer doesn’t mean you should take shortcuts with the candidate search.
Take the time to write out qualifications, responsibilities, expectations and more. Then turn that into a project description that will attract top talent. “I’m looking for a writer to create our weekly blog” may be technically correct, but it’s not going to easily turn into a successful project.
You may get a ton of responses by going light on the details, but that just means you’ll have to sort through dozens of irrelevant and unqualified candidates. Instead, make a project description that is:
- Attractive. If I don’t see something interesting, relevant or promising about a project, I don’t apply. Pure and simple. Include the reasons why a top tier freelancer would want to work with you.
- Detailed. What will the project entail — and why do you need a freelancer for it? What are the goals, deliverables and timeline?
- Productive. Ask applicants to include something specific in their subject line or pitch — then simply weed out those that don’t follow instructions. Make the next steps crystal clear to keep your hiring process streamlined.
Congratulations — with this approach you should have a handful of promising freelancer candidates in no time.
Once you make your hire, it’s time to dive into the project. But now is not the time to just throw everything at the wall to see what sticks.
Before beginning the project, make sure you and the freelancer are on the same page from the beginning. Run through this ‘expectations checklist’ as you get ready to assign the first deliverable — preferably face-to-face over a Zoom call.
- Communication. Determine how and when you’ll check in: daily, weekly, with calls, Slack, email, etc.
- Turnaround. Do you have everything ready for your freelancer to begin work? When do you expect the deliverable after giving them what they need? What if things need further clarification?
- Quality. Give examples of what you’d like to see, whether it’s a designed image, a blog post or a landing page.
- Revisions. Any freelancer worth their salt will revise their deliverable until it’s up to snuff. Make sure this is clear from the beginning.
- Payment. It doesn’t have to be awkward. If it’s a project-based budget, payment should be clear enough. If it’s hourly, ask for an estimate and provide a ceiling. Determine how you will pay the freelancer before work begins.
Detail your deliverables
Projects should nearly always be deliverable oriented. Define deliverables that set the entire project up for success. They should be:
- Time-bound. “First draft by Thursday so we can edit and review by Monday.”
- Specific. “A 1500 word blog post on employee advocacy with LinkedIn optimized for SEO.”
- Realistic. You could probably find a freelancer able to turn around 10,000 words in 3 days. But you’re not going to get good work. Start small and grow from there.
Set up feedback loops
Even with the clearest brief and most experienced freelancer, it can take a little time for everyone to fully understand the project. Leave some room for feedback, both on your end and theirs.
Instead of endless email chains, I recommend using the tool best suited to the deliverable. For content, this could be a combination of Slack, Google Drive and Monday.com. For visual content, InVision App works great for collaboration and feedback.
It’s better to course correct sooner rather than later. Provide more specific feedback on the first few deliverables so that it’s less work for everyone down the line.
Monitor performance and make the choice
As your freelancer starts to submit their work, you’ll have a choice to make: either continue working with them and scale the project, or pull back and find a better contractor.
Good communication and following the project details should be a given for any good freelancer. But to determine whether to scale the engagement to a full partnership, look at how the freelancer’s work is contributing to your goals. Are their blog posts driving traffic? Are their HubSpot emails getting clicks? Do their social images get shared?
Those are the things that matter. As a freelancer proves that they will help you achieve your project goals, you can start to look at expanding the working relationship.
Give and take in the partnership
These are a few ways you can go from cut and dried gig work to a true freelance partnership:
- Ask if they’re interested in taking on more of the project. If you started a content marketer on the blog posts, see if they can take on the editorial calendar and topic generation.
- After the first few months, offer to provide a reference for their professional profile. Testimonials are golden currency for freelancers.
- As you need additional work in different niches, as them for referrals. Working within their network could be beneficial to both them and you.
- Loop them in with the team. Get on a call every now and then to connect the person with the work.
Making the Jump to Hiring Freelancers
This is more of a roadmap than a hard-and-fast guide to freelance partnerships. You’ll have to find your own way as you navigate budgets, proposals and initial deliverables.
Finding the right tools will help: the right freelancer platform for your needs, the right collaboration tool, the right kind of contract.
But the tools you use aren’t nearly as important as your approach. Remember two things:
- Trust is the foundation. Trust your team to manage and the freelancer’s expertise (once they prove themselves, of course). Everyone (including you) will be more productive.
- The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Just because you trust doesn’t mean you can’t check work against results. Look at traffic, revenue, expenses, engagement, and any relevant metrics. If you find the right fit, a freelancer will almost always be worth it — and the numbers will show it.
What’s stopping you from exploring your first freelance partnership?