How to work with a Freelancer

Working with a digital Freelancer is a little different from walking into a store and buying products. It’s also different from working with other trades like electricians and plumbers – though some of the principles are the same. In this industry, there are a few different types of clients. Some are a dream to work with, they listen, provide feedback along the way, and do their part. Others are happy to just let you get on with it, doing what you think is right whilst still doing their bit to support the project. Others are the polar opposite. They don’t listen, don’t provide feedback, don’t read your communications and contracts, provide obscure information at best, and are usually quick to blame you for their own failings.

A recent experience to forget

Around 2 years ago, I took on a web design project for a local shop. It seemed simple enough. Their physical shop sold prints of local artists’ work, they wanted to be able to sell the same prints online. The initial conversation was really promising. It sounded like they had a really good idea of what they wanted along with all the information I’d need to make it happen. I quickly realised that this project wouldn’t be a walk in the park.

Without going into too much detail, the project ended badly. With both parties not happy. I ended up having to waste time dealing with something that I thought was finished and signed off, they ended up with a website that they didn’t feel was complete (even though they waited 12 months after they personally signed the website off to tell me they didn’t feel it was complete). A number of things went wrong, and without trying to play the blame game, it was mostly on their side. The aim of this article is to hopefully help prospective clients of any freelancer understand what they can do to make the entire process a little easier, for both parties.

Communication Is Key With A Freelancer

It’s no secret that one of the biggest problems in any business is communication. It’s no different in the freelancing world. Communication between clients and freelancers is so important to get your project right. And we’re to just talking about verbal communication, this goes for all communications. It’s not enough to just listen or read, as a client, you need to understand (the same goes for the freelancer).

The first tip here is to decide on your communication channels from the offset. Once they’ve been decided, stick to them. Don’t suddenly decide to send a message on Facebook one day and WhatsApp the next if you’ve agreed on email and phone calls. All this will do is disjoint the conversation and make it more difficult to stay up to date. I promise you, your freelancer will not thank you for it. It’s also a matter of respect. Your freelancer may not want work things arriving in their Facebook messages.

Once you’ve agreed on the communication channels, you should also agree on how frequently you’ll stay in touch. Take some time out to really think about what you need to communicate about, and get it all down at once. Don’t send an email, remember there were 5 more things, second another, remember there were yet more things and send another. Your freelancer won’t thank you for sending multiple emails one after the other.

Know Your Part

Whenever you approach a freelancer with a potential project, you’re always going to have a part to play. It’s important that you know what your part is and you do it. When I design websites, I generally don’t write the content, name the products, take pictures. That’s usually outside the scope of any project I take on. Instead, I always tell the potential client that content needs to be provided, especially written content. Most freelancers will ask for this content in a specific form, for me, it’s always digital. I always ask for written content to be provided in a word document, good doc, PDF, or something I can pull up on my computer and easily copy and paste. The reason? Typing content that’s been handwritten (or even printed out) takes time.

Most freelancers will also have a review process that involves you. Looking at my own process, I will ask the client to review the work completed at every major milestone and give feedback. Providing feedback at these milestones is pivotal to getting your project done on time. While it’s okay to go back and change things that were done on previous milestones, it’s often frustrating if the client didn’t bother checking when they were asked.

There’s often a lot more that falls to the client, so always know what your part in the project is.

Deadlines Work Both Ways

A point I can’t stress enough. Deadlines work both ways. If you want a project completed within 3 months, that’s awesome, let’s do it! But remember, there are things you’re going to need to do to make that deadline happen. Any delay on your part will lead to a delay in the project. That’s not the freelancer’s fault. Whenever I start a project, one of the first things I’ll do is agree on the deadlines for major milestones and inform the client of exactly what I’ll need from them, and when I’ll need it to make those deadlines. I’ll also always tell the client that any delay, will naturally lead to the project being delayed.

Delays have bigger consequences than you may initially realise. I work on a really tight schedule and often have more than one project lined up. If you miss a deadline, it might mean your overall project is delayed because I’ve had to move on to another project to ensure I don’t miss deadlines on that one. So pay attention to those deadlines, and stick to them. If there’s going to be a delay, let your freelancer know as soon as possible. They’ll be able to tell you what the impact is going to be so you can both realign.

Understand The Contract

Contracts can be tricky things. Working with a freelancer often involves a contract, be it written, verbal or implied. You need to understand that contract, what it includes, and what it doesn’t include. Remember to read the fine print. The contract I use is written in plain English, there’s no technical legal mumbo jumbo. It outlines the project, the agreed timescales and deadlines, payment process and more. You need to read it and understand it. There’s almost always going to be a clause in there about how long you have to come back and say you’re not happy (or something to that effect). You shouldn’t expect to be able to come to your freelancer a year after a project was signed off and claim it wasn’t finished unless it says you can in the contract.

Remember that a contract doesn’t have to be written on paper. If you meet with your freelancer and agree on work, timescales etc, that all adds to a verbal contract. So remember what you talk about, take notes if you have to, and remember that you can’t just decide to go back on what you’ve said because you forgot you said it.

Signing Off a Project With Your Freelancer

Every project will eventually come to an end. In most cases, there will be a sign off process. For me, this is usually in the form of a final meeting. I sit with the client and go through every aspect of the project, comparing it to the agreed scope. This is the final opportunity to speak up if you think something isn’t right. We’ll look at the site in real detail, explaining how things work, looking at individual pages, design elements, setup and more. At the end of the meeting, I always ask if the client is happy to sign the project off as complete, or we agree on a timescale for remedial work.

If the client agrees to sign the project off, then the freelancer you’re working with will take that as a sign you’re happy and consider the project complete. Understand what you’re doing and pay attention. If you don’t understand or aren’t happy with something, this is your final opportunity to speak up. Additional work after this point will almost always be outside of the project’s scope, and billable. The golden rule here, if you’ve said the project is finished and you’re happy with it, but later change your mind, expect a bill!

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