Freelancers are a valuable addition to companies - and we’re not just talking capacity bottlenecks, but also permanent collaboration. However, working with freelancers is different from working with permanent employees. If companies want to get the most out of their external workforce, there are a few things to keep in mind. These 7 tips can help.
1. Define requirements and budget
Before starting the search for the right freelancer, the requirements should be clear. “I need a front-end developer” or “I need a copywriter” is not enough. Clients should know which skills the candidate should bring to the table, for example, what programming languages they should know or which topical expertise they should have. Is an experienced freelancer necessary, or are the tasks simple enough for a beginner?
The budget should also be determined early on so that there are no unpleasant surprises on either side. This can be the entire budget for one-time projects or a monthly budget for ongoing support. In this way, companies can quickly see in discussions with the respective candidates whether their hourly or daily rate is realistic or beyond the scope.
2. Choose the right freelancer
This is often easier said than done, because there are several elements to consider: Of course, the professional requirements are important, but the personal level is also a crucial basis for successful collaboration. In the initial meeting, clients should therefore also make sure that the chemistry is right and that they connect with the freelancer. This simplifies mutual understanding, for example in briefings and feedback. The working methods and the respective ideas of good collaboration should also be compatible. It is therefore worthwhile to conduct a comprehensive interview that goes beyond purely skill-related aspects.
But where can the right candidates be found? Postings on regular job boards can make the process very tedious. Instead, tips from your own network may point towards the right freelancer. If colleagues or acquaintances have already worked successfully with the person, that’s a good sign. In addition, trusted platforms like CodeControl can help to quickly find the perfect match.
3. Define the legal framework
In principle, a written contract is not mandatory for working with freelancers. However, it does provide more security and commitment on both sides. It can define aspects such as remuneration (flat rate or hourly rate), type of service and period of performance. Questions of rights to the finished product can also be clarified there to avoid later disputes. With a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), companies can contractually assure themselves that no internal information will leak out.
In Germany, there’s also the issue of false self-employment to consider from a legal perspective. The term means that a freelancer appears as a self-employed person, but is treated like an employee. The client is facing additional payments and other legal consequences. So the relationship should be set up correctly right from the start. Our false self-employment test help you identify and exclude any risks at an early stage.
4. Establish clarity with briefings and deadlines
It happens occasionally that a client is not satisfied with the result of a project. In many cases, this could have been avoided with a more precise briefing. Freelancers naturally know less about the background of the project, and details that seem self-evident can be completely unclear to them. It therefore pays to provide them with comprehensive information as early as possible and to clarify all open questions. This saves time and therefore also budget. If you already have precise ideas, you should communicate them instead of letting the freelancer get to work first and then criticizing them later.
Time schedules should also be coordinated at an early stage. Freelancers often have other clients and need to plan their capacities. Even if the final deadline of the project has been agreed on, it can make sense to set intermediate deadlines. Clear priorities for the individual parts of the project also help everyone involved. In many cases, freelancers do not work in isolation, but receive input from other departments. Or these in turn are dependent on their results in order to be able to continue working. For example, the marketing department may need early design drafts from the freelancer for their communication measures. In that case, they should communicate that in advance.
Matthew Knight runs the platform Leapers, which provides a “team for people without a team”, and aims to support the mental health of freelancers. So he knows exactly where the most common problems in collaboration lie. Quite often, it’s about communication, as he explains, “Unclear briefs or project requirements, a lack of communication during the project or no feedback afterwards are among the most common pain points. It can even go as far as outright ghosting, where a client just doesn’t reply to emails anymore.” In such cases, it should be clear that further collaboration is unlikely.
5. Don’t treat freelancers like employees
There are big differences between freelancers and permanent employees. For example, they often have different mentalities: Freelancers are entrepreneurs and consider themselves to be in a partnership with the client. They bring a specific expertise that they want to use to make a project successful. They like to keep adapting to new clients and topics and prefer to work independently. In contrast, employees are completely focused on their companies, they feel connected to them and accumulate inside knowledge.
“Your employees know your ways of working, and they fit within understood and clear roles in your organisation”, Matthew Knight points out. “Freelancers on the other hand have to work this out for themselves really quickly. They usually also bring a wealth of new and varied experience which you can call upon to enhance and extend your team with specialist capabilities which you don’t have on your staff. Companies should make time to help their freelancers understand their working culture. Ideally, they have someone internally who is responsible for the freelancers, and review the policies and process.”
Freelancers and employees - both types have their advantages. However, managers should always consider who they are dealing with at any given time. Demanding small-scale status updates or fixed availability times from a freelancer, for example, can be out of place and cause irritation and frustration. It is also very rewarding to be open to feedback or criticism from the freelancer. They may question existing processes or contribute ideas that go beyond the briefing. The project can thus benefit from their experience.
Apart from that, it is also important for the issue of false self-employment in Germany that freelancers and employees are not treated the same. For example, freelancers should have more freedom in the way they perform their services and should not be bound to the client’s working hours or vacation schedule.
6. Always pay invoices on time
With permanent employees, it is usually a given that they will receive their salary on time every month. Unfortunately, this is not always true for freelancers. However, if you want to keep working with good freelancers, you should always pay their invoices on time. After all, they depend on the money at least as much as your employees.
Matthew Knight says, “Payments are the second area, along with poor communication, where many problems occur. Unfortunately, more than half of all SME invoices are paid late. It’s unacceptable to chase unpaid invoices and have to accept complex clients’ financial processes or excessively long payment terms.”
7. Create a beneficial offboarding process
In many cases, the collaboration is project-related and the freelancer leaves after a few months. Good offboarding ensures that not all knowledge about the project disappears with them. For example, detailed documentation can be part of their assignment. Or they can pass on their expertise to the employees in workshops. In this way, companies can counter their concern that the use of freelancers will lead to knowledge gaps in the long term.
It’s all about respect
Although there are many ways to make working with freelancers more successful for both sides, for Matthew Knight the most important foundation is a question of attitude. He sums it up, “The single thing that any business can do to work well with freelancers is to treat them with respect - this means paying on time, communicating well, and recognising that you have access to a diverse network of talent, rather than just on-demand resource.”
Check out our article “Debunking 7 freelancer myths you might believe” to learn more about common misconceptions about freelancers.