While it often makes sense to engage with a freelance team or temporary workers, three creative SMEs tell what needs to be done differently – and what should remain the same – to get them working efficiently.
Whitefox is a publishing services company started in 2012 in London that helps traditional book publishers, individuals and brands who want to take their book content to market. The business, which has eight staff, has hundreds of freelancers on its books, ranging from editors and designers to indexers and recipe testers, who it calls on to collaborate on each book project.
Frequent communication is a must
When a team of freelancers work on a whitefox project together, their briefs, schedules and deliverables are managed by a project manager – either someone from whitefox or a freelance project manager, who regularly updates whitefox on progress. “Some of our freelancers have now worked together on many similar projects, which means they have a good rapport,” said co-founder and CEO John Bond, saying it makes for a more efficient and effective collaboration.
Making time for regular communication with a freelancer is supremely important in making sure that the brief is clear, that deliverables are clearly defined and that progress is being made. “It’s a two-way process to ensure both client and freelancer have realistic expectations and are satisfied with progress,” explained Bond. Establishing interim deliverables is also recommended as a way for both sides – and the client – to review the quality of the freelancer’s work and give feedback.
One challenge to managing freelancers that’s impossible to prevent are unexpected obstacles like illness, a computer breakdown or childcare complication, added Bond. They can put a client’s expectations and deadlines at risk. To mitigate against this, whitefox’s freelancers are sometimes given a false early deadline to create a few days’ buffer for project where the client’s deadline is immovable. “We encourage freelancers to alert us immediately if something unexpected happens that may impact their work so that we can give the client plenty of forewarning and find a solution that keeps everyone happy,” said Bond.
UK freelancer stats
- £119bn – contribution to UK economy in 2016
- 42 per cent – proportion of self-employed population
- 66 per cent – increase in 26-29 year-old freelancers since 2008
- £394 – average day rate in Britain
- 2.8 – Number of weeks not working per quarter
Nene Parsotam is senior art director at brand strategy agency VINE Creatives, which was founded in 2014 in London and has six employees. VINE Creatives clients are entrepreneurs and businesses in the African diaspora and companies with an African focus, for which it provides visual branding and investment consultancy. The business has around 20 freelancers on its books, including photographers, videographers, UX/UI developers, graphic designers and illustrators.
Parsotam – a freelancer for a decade before starting the business – believes the key difference between managing and motivating freelance teams is to ensure that they produce the work in the timeframe allocated to it. “Unlike with in-house employees, whose time is always covered, freelancers are billed by the project or the hour depending on the brief, so it’s important that their time is managed so the work is completed to schedule, doesn’t run over time and impact on the budget.”
“It’s also important that a new freelancer understands how you communicate and the level of the work that needs to be produced,” Parsotam explained. “In-house employees have had far more time to integrate into the company and understand its values. Freelancers normally have to hit the ground running in that sense, but I have found that their breadth of experience with different companies equips them to be able to do that,” she said. Technology has made communicating remotely easy, with VINE Creatives using Skype for meetings, Invision to manage client briefs and Slack and Ryver for conversations.
Find the right freelancers
Bond described his in-house team as being largely made up of experienced editors and project managers who have worked at large publishers and have been used to dealing with freelancers for many years. Part of their talent is spotting the right freelancer for the job. “We minimise difficulties by vetting our pool of most trusted freelancers – through recommendations, references and for editorial services through testing”, Bond explained. “Sometimes, counter intuitively, it is good to have freelancers who turn work down rather than accept too much work and end up with substandard quality. In our world, no one wants a quite good proofread or an ok cover design,” he added.
Staff at VINE Creatives are trained in how to manage freelancers. “Because we see our freelancers as individuals, the way we do it is to look to understand their working and communication style before we book them or introduce them to one of our core team members. This is so we can find the best way of communicating to them about how we work and what our expectations are,” said Parsotam.
Show your freelance team you care
Parsotam believes that freelancers need and deserve to be treated like any other member of the in-house team. “I don’t see an issue with giving them some of the nicer perks that come with working in-house – within reason of course – such as team lunches or trips. If you treat your freelance staff well, they will be incentivised more to do a good job which will mean you continue to hire them on a regular basis.
“It’s more stable work for them and you have freelancer who understand you and your business and produce the quality of work that you need. It’s a win-win.”
Jellyfish Pictures is a visual effects and animation studio that employs more than 100 staff across three locations. It worked on the last three Star Wars films, Netflix’s Black Mirror and the Beano’s Dennis & Gnasher: Unleashed. HR director Sarah Tanner explained how Jellyfish Pictures has a flexible workforce – a core permanent non-artist team is supplemented by artists and producers working on project-specific roles for fixed periods of time, ranging from a one-month contract to a 12-month contract. Freelancers are hired for ad-hoc specialist roles such as motion graphic artists.
“We only have ad-hoc freelancers from time to time for specialist short term or one-off needs. Ninety-nine percent of our teams are employed, albeit on fixed term contracts, so we are all one team. It is an important part of Jellyfish’s culture to encourage and develop strong working relationships and collaboration across our studios regardless of role/contract type,” Tanner explained.
Around 60 per cent of Jellyfish’s team are on fixed term contracts of a year or less, and they – like its permanent staff – are given a company induction. “This ensures those on shorter contracts are fully integrated into the Jellyfish way of working, helping new-starters to feel comfortable and therefore work to the best of their ability,” says Tanner. “Communication and engagement are really key for everyone, demonstrating that you value both the flexible part of your team as well as your permanent team. Everyone has their own part to play and contribution to make, albeit in different ways. It is important to respect that and in return people appreciate this and are loyal.”
Find out how engaging with remote working helped three SMEs thrive.