Working with freelancers: Useful stuff business owners + technical people should know

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The pressure to produce written and visual content to connect with customers means business owners have had to expand their repertoire.

Pure technical specialty mixed with operational management just isn’t enough; not if developing a meaningful relationship with customers is important.
No, it seems a core skill base must now include other specialities that don’t necessarily come easily to any of us, least of all people who operate out of the left side of the brain.
Rather than dismissing these ‘other’ skills as less than important or just plain hard work, business owners who need support to develop and share content would be wise to understand the inherent value arising from creative work delivered by freelancers.
And it starts with simple appreciation.
Years spent working in technology commercialisation taught me there is no successful product without the marketing, communication, and sales that facilitate the transformation from concept to commercial outcome. Sadly, this is a fact often overlooked by those who consider themselves more technically ‘superior’. The so-called lesser important marketing, content, design and communication aspects of a product commercialisation are just ‘gloss’. I know because I’ve worked with engineers and scientists who called it just that. Gloss.
It’s a paradigm that’s dated and a perception that is both shortsighted and ill-informed.
The fact is, we need each other. And if that’s the case, it’s necessary for technical business owners to learn how to work with creative, professional freelancers (and agencies) who provide marketing, content, design and communication services, particularly if they want the best project outcomes and to connect with their market.
It’s my opinion – born out of experience – that this requires business owners learn how to work with creative freelancers who support their business, as well as understand what they do.
Want to know why? Read on.

#1 Own responsibility for your project

Website projects are fertile ground for breeding disappointment, distrust, and frustration. Having been involved in projects aplenty, I’ve seen that when things go awry, people default to blame and complain.
Undoubtedly, there are web developers (and other creative freelancers) who’ve earned the wrath of their clients, however like any relationship – business or personal – there are always two sides of the story. In many cases, the business owner played a role in the project’s demise too.
One big mistake I see business owners making when they engage freelancers for a project like a website is they absent themselves of responsibility. I can understand why they do this. In many ways, it’s just easier. After all, the content creator (in this case the website developer) is the expert and you’re paying them to do a job, right? And burying your head in the sand means you don’t need to look closely at what’s going on. Then hopefully one day, the project will be finished and everything will be great, right?
Here’s where that logic is flawed. Right at the moment you hand over responsibility for your project or content. A valuable lesson I’ve learned in life is that handing over your power never turns out well.
If the content you get back from your writer hasn’t hit the mark, double check the brief you provided
When your development website isn’t working the way you expected, go back to the instructions you gave.
If the graphic design for your new logo isn’t quite right, think about whether you were clear enough.

The take-away

If there’s been an oversight in your communication (be honest), there’s a way for you to approach your provider, acknowledging they’re not a mind reader. Your approach to address the situation doesn’t need to involve blaming and complaining. On the contrary, it requires emotionally intelligent communication, that ultimately increases the chances you’ll finally achieve the outcome you envisaged at the start. You may decide to withdraw from the project with that freelancer, however at least that will be an informed decision.

#2 Create accountability

If we stick with the website project scenario, there are numerous points at which we could have set things up for a better outcome.
Here are just a few suggestions.
Before starting the project, research the project process. If you know nothing about it, then it’s time to learn.
  • Do the necessary thinking and research about what you want in terms of look, feel, and functionality, then document this and share it in a conversation and in written format with your developer (graphic designer, content creator, and so on).
  • Create a list of questions to ask your website developer at each stage of the project. By doing that you’re creating accountability for them and it demonstrates you’re more than just financially invested in the project.
  • Dedicate an appropriate amount of time to complete reviews and provide intelligent feedback. I’ve seen business owners who’ve spent thousands of dollars on projects who haven’t dedicated the time to review the work completed for them – and then complained the outcomes were not what they wanted. Don’t be that client.
None of this is rocket science, yet most people simply do not take the time to approach their content creation projects with awareness. They then wonder why it all went wrong.

The take-away

Have a clear understanding in your own mind about what you seek from your project and communicate that clearly so there’s a shared understanding of what the ideal outcome is. Your freelancer might have a process for doing this – or not – however, if it’s your project or content, it’s your responsibility to communicate this in ways that build understanding. Be sure to set up regular check ups along the way. Arriving at the end of a project and then saying ‘It’s not what I want’ is a waste of everyone’s time and effort.

#3 Don’t look away

If your experiences with certain freelancers haven’t been ideal, maybe it’s time for a little self-reflection. Maybe, just maybe, you played a role in all this.

What does that mean? It means that you if you don’t feel confident about the content creation process, your provider is going to sniff that out a mile away. In some cases, they may use that against you. In other cases, if your freelancer has your best interests at heart, they’ll take you on a journey, educating and raising awareness along the way.

But here’s the thing, even if you feel out of your depth, it is possible to communicate that confidently. Business owners can approach these conversations with posture, saying something like:

“Look Mary Joe, I don’t know very much about the content creation process, but I do want to understand what’s going on during my project, every step of the way. Can you explain the steps before we start?”

This level of honesty and vulnerability opens up the channel to better communication between you and your freelancer. You might also ask questions like:

What kind of communication will there be during the project?

What kind of response time can I expect from you?

How are reviews conducted?

Will I be able to speak to you if I need to?

Instead, this is what typically happens. Because the business owner feels out of their depth, they look away, hoping it will all just magically take care of itself. If you’re not tech savvy at all (and there are plenty of us around), the idea of a website project is a nightmare. Just the thought of it can leave you feeling out of control and overwhelmed – never a good basis for starting a relationship, particularly one involving an exchange of funds.

But here’s the thing, if it’s your project or content, you can’t afford to look away, especially if you engage someone else to do the work.

The take-away

Your job is to know just enough about your project. It’s the freelancer’s job to know more and educate you along the way. If that hasn’t happened for you, it could be time to muscle up, do your research – and find the right people to work with.

Want to learn more about working with freelancers? Download the free guide for business owners who are ready to work with freelancers in a more conscious way and realise the best outcomes for their projects.