February 15

TRUST Part 3: What Your Freelancer Wants to Tell You (but can’t)

trust3meSure, there’s a glut of freelancers out there. We’re practically crawling out of the factory-style refinished woodwork.

And yet, and yet… Finding talent suited to your business is ridiculously difficult. But then, you already know that.

As a seasoned freelancer, I’ve spent years separating the wheat from the chaff, so believe me when I say it’s just as difficult for us to find well-suited clients. Having said that, I will walk away from lucrative work if I’m unhappy. Most freelancers will if they can.

Here’s why:  We have no forum in which to discuss conflicts and build the relationship. There’s no HR, no intermediary, no contract, and often, no trust: Just the freedom to walk.

For the young me and every up-and-comer out there, here are the top things your freelancer wants to say to you but can’t:

Pick on someone your own size

You have all the power. When you make ridiculous requests, like giving unrealistic turnaround times or asking for revisions based on vague mean-spirited criticisms, just because you can, you’re being a bully.

Worse for you, you’re setting us up to fail, which is a waste of your time and money. That’s dispiriting for your freelancer, which affects the quality of work.

Use your words

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve poured heart and soul into a project without receiving any feedback. Or, the times clients have stopped calling without any explanation.

But I get it. It’s not always intentional, sometimes it’s just a matter of “out of sight, out of mind.” Or maybe there’s bad news and you don’t have the heart to share it.

Either way, put your freelancers out of their misery. Tell them what happened so they can stop obsessing and stabbing that voodoo doll in your likeness.

Pay us what we’re worth

Sick days. Vacation days. Retirement. Overhead. Dental care. Slow periods. On and on! Your freelancer pays for all of it without the benefit of a security net. Freelancers enjoy none of the same benefits or protections as your employees. They are business owners, just like your electrician or lawyer.

When you ask them to lower their rates, you are asking them to devalue themselves. That sucks.

Remember that the power differential makes it impossible for younger freelancers to say “no.” You might get work done and save a few bucks, but it will cost the relationship.

Cage matches are mean

An agency once asked me to think up some ideas for a campaign. When I returned to present my concepts, I was ushered into a boardroom where the creative director and a team of five employees sat waiting, at which point I was informed that an internal team was given the same challenge.

I presented my ideas and…crickets. Then the internal team took the floor and with every concept presented they went wild, wooting and pounding the table.

My concept won, but I left feeling humiliated and determined never to work for them again.

Don’t say it if you don’t mean it

We are crazy enthusiastic. If you tell us we will be working on the next big thing, we believe you, and we count on it. So, don’t say it if you don’t mean it. If I had a nickel for every promise that didn’t come to fruition… Let’s just say I’d have enough for a fancy latte, biscotti on the side.

Shit in, shit out

You say you don’t know what you want. You want us to amaze and astound you. Here’s how that’s going to end: You will be disappointed and you will resent paying that invoice. And your freelancer will struggle to respect you now that they’ve been set up to fail.

This is business and not high art. There are specific solutions for your problems and you should understand what they are before hiring a freelancer. Providing scanty information won’t work either. Because, in the end, you get out what you put in.

The most efficient way to work with a freelancer is to provide a thorough brief that includes background information, objectives and timelines. Bonus, it will help you deepen your understanding of the project.

(Freelancers, you also need to know what’s in a brief so on those occasions when a client doesn’t provide one, you can ask the relevant questions necessary for getting the job done.)

I confess: My clients are gold. Each of them understands the value of our relationship and, I like to think, they are just as delighted as I am when there’s an opportunity to work together.

But it was not always thus. I’ve had to do a lot of walking to get here. Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather stay and build a relationship with you. And when we have integrity and communication, I’m all in. Without that opportunity, walking away is the right thing to do.