How do I manage a freelancer?

If you’re used to having full-time staff at your bidding, managing a freelancer can feel like scary new territory. For one, you’ll have to adjust to a far more hands-off approach than you might be used to. To stay on the right side of the tax office, you can’t do things like give your freelancer set hours or have them work in your office, because then they’ll be considered a full-time employee. So managing freelancers is a whole new kettle of fish, but here are a few ways you can make things run more smoothly.

Joke image about micro-managing where manager is telling employee where to move his mouse.
How not to manage a freelancer

Have a well-defined project brief

You probably need to be more explicit when managing a freelancer than you would be with a full-time staff member. For one, they’re probably not familiar with your company. This means they don’t know the ins and outs of your policies, house-style or brand. Things that you might take for granted with staff should be spelled out clearly.

Make sure you know exactly what you want doing. A vague request to improve your branding is a bit useless when what you really is a new logo. You’ll probably want to have a comprehensive document prepared before you even start the hiring process, and be prepared to have long discussions with your freelancer about the nature of the work. If you don’t know what you want, how on earth will they?

“The more each party can share up front, the smoother sailing it will be. Set expectations from an employer perspective on how fast you’re going to pay someone, and what is required up front.” – Jared Lindzon

Choose the right freelancer

It’s easier not to micro-manage if you hire the right freelancer for your project. Check what experience they have in the work you need doing and if they’re familiar with the tools you need. If you absolutely need InDesign for editorial work for instance, make sure that your freelancer has access to the software and knows it inside out. Similarly, if you’re a musician hiring a mixing engineer, check before you give a deposit that they’ve got the right software. However, equally you don’t want them to be overqualified for the job as you’ll end up paying way more for the work.

Money, money, money

First of all, let’s get one thing straight. Do not ask a freelancer to work on spec or for free. Would you go to work for nothing? Exactly.

Get all the financial details thrashed out before you start, preferably in a contract which outlines what happens if expectations aren’t met on either end. Ask if your freelancer charges an hourly rate, or a lump sum for the project as a whole and in either case figure out how much you want to (realistically) pay. Decide how it will be paid.

When you hire, deposits are a good idea to give both you and the freelancer security. Depending on the scope of the project, you might also want to set up milestone payments when certain elements of the project are completed.

Pay on time. There’s no better way to end up with a frustrated freelancer than late or non-existent payments.

That’s my number one piece of advice. Pay your freelancers on time – Caitlin Peirce (Freelancer’s Union)

This often won’t be the case with freelancers, but keep expenses in mind too. If you’re hiring a photographer to take photos in a certain location, you’ll probably have to pay travel cost. It’s the same if they have to travel to progress meetings too. Do they expect expenses and are you willing to pay them?

Godfather parody image 'The Freelancer'. Speech bubble says
Seriously though

Get the timing right

Although you can’t set working hours, it’s perfectly okay (and expected) to establish deadlines. Set a deadline that gives you enough leeway if things don’t quite go to plan. So if you need packaging for a massive product launch, don’t set a deadline for the day before. Give yourself time to review and rethink if something goes disastrously wrong. It’s a really good idea to not only set a final deadline, but to also arrange interim review meetings where you can see where your freelancer’s at and give feedback on what they’ve done so far. Something that you hate in the beginning stages will only become more difficult to alter later on. It also means you can make sure everything will be done on time and alleviate any worries.

Get started on the right foot with a new freelancer by educating yourself. One common misconception is that freelancers can be held to the same schedules and workplace policies as an employee. They can’t. Respecting a freelancer’s independence from the get-go will go a long way toward establishing a positive working relationship – Rally Team

Be nice

You don’t want to be a client from hell because no one wants to work for a tyrant. Managing should not be dictating. Be reasonable in your expectations and be polite. You don’t have to be “brutally honest” – honesty on its own is better! Keep in mind that they will probably be working on other projects. And don’t be the bane of any freelancer’s existence by having zero idea what you want and giving insubstantial feedback.

Joke image with different types of management styles e.g the know-it-all, the overly fussy.
Some things not do do

Be clear who is doing the managing

Your freelancer doesn’t know the ins and outs of your company, or its structure. Make it clear who is managing their work so they don’t end up reporting to the wrong person. Similarly, make sure they have all the relevant contact details so they know where to go with problems and updates. You don’t want their work to be left floating around the office, never to be looked at again.

Remember when you’re working with a freelancer that you’re not purchasing a one-off project: you’re building an important relationship that you will likely want to grow with time. – Hubspot

Equally, make it clear among your staff who’s responsible for managing the freelancer’s work. You don’t want an uninformed person totally derailing the project by giving out the wrong instructions or feedback. To make communication streamlined, you should probably have one person who is responsible for liaising with freelancers.

Want to learn more about working with freelancers? Download our free Ebook. 




Becca is the Marketing Executive at Twine. She loves literature, music, film and make-up. She spends a lot of time complaining about the mismatched angles of her winged eyeliner and stalking drag queens on Instagram. Otherwise, she’s helping Joe by writing blog posts and keeping Twine’s social media running.