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Small Business Tips

5 tips for managing freelancers and independent contractors

Justine Rabideau

Some have compared managing freelancers and independent contractors to herding cats. They wouldn't be far off.

Here are some proven tips for managing freelancers and independent contractors.

1. Set expectations early on

Every freelancer and contractor has stories of nightmare clients. When the time came to finish, the clients were furious the outcome wasn't what they wanted.

Don't be that client. Set your expectations early on. Sit down with your freelancers in whatever medium you intend to use to gather information.

Speak clearly to your freelancers about what your desired end result. Then, rather than telling them exactly what you want them to do, invite them to ask you questions.

Ask them what details they need from you to be successful in this project. You hired them for a reason.

Rather than attempting to dictate processes you may not understand, be open to letting them direct the conversation. Keep everyone is on the same page about your expectations.

2. Establish agreed-upon business hours

Unless they're working directly from your office during business hours, your freelancers and contractors may be anywhere in the world. They may be on wholly different schedules, based on their time zone and availability.

The first thing you should do is establish your business hours, their hours of availability, and when you expect a response to communications. This will avoid any delays or panics when someone is unavailable. You should also let your freelancers know what your average response time is, and what hours you're available for direct inquiries.

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3. Get everything in writing

It's not enough to just agree on hours of availability or expectations. You should outline everything in writing. Include your project scope in the details of your contract. Don't forget to cover your bases! Ensure provisions exist to cover scope drift, overtime or work outside the agreed-upon parameters.

A formal contract protects both you and the contractors, preventing mistakes about expectations, pay or commitment. Your contract should cover pay scales, delivery dates, deliverables, availability and any other expectations mandatory for the project. It is also a good idea to go over the details of the contract with your freelancers to ensure mutual clarity.

For those who use platforms such as Upwork, on-site agreements will help to iron this out. If you're handling your contracts on your own, you may want to retain a lawyer to proofread and refine the final details.

4. Maintain clear lines of communication

Communication problems in your project workflows can be like an avalanche. They may start off small, but the longer they roll along the more chance they have of becoming massively destructive. Even if you set early expectations, lack of communication with your freelance team can be catastrophic.

Make sure your contractors know they can come to you at any time with questions, concerns, or ideas. Keep an open-door policy so that you catch any problems early on. This is a great way to avert bottlenecks that grind the entire project to a halt.

Check in with your team periodically. Don't nag, but ask for periodic status updates. At key stages, make a point of holding team meetings to discuss progress and issues.

Remember, communication, clarity, understanding. Strive for these three goals, and you can't go wrong with your contractor teams.

5. Don't be a helicopter manager

You may have heard the term "helicopter parenting." A helicopter parent is that overbearing parent who monitors and controls every aspect of their child's lives. Helicopter parents often mean well. They're trying to engineer their child's future by ensuring good grades, a solid education, a good career and promising relationship prospects.

They're also driving their children completely out of their minds. If you're the kind of micro-manager who helicopters over his or her freelancers, you're probably driving them just as crazy.

You hired your freelancers and contractors based on their expertise. That means should trust that expertise, stand back and let them do their jobs. If you've set out a good process for collaboration and communication, then you should have a clear framework for monitoring without hovering.

This includes processes for tracking milestones and adjusting direction. Employees, no matter their employment status, often work best when given time to work independently. Stop hovering and give your freelancers the freedom to get the job done.

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