Marketing Freelancers Management 101
The working world is rapidly veering in the direction of the distributed model. Learn how to manage your marketing freelancers for superior campaign results.
Published November 18, 2023.
In a world increasingly veering towards distributed working models, managing freelancers has become as important as managing employees -- for most businesses.
Hiring freelancers makes sense: rather than seeing company teams sitting around a single boardroom table, employees are becoming freelancers and cubicle compatriots are transitioning to remote work - from their homes, their private or shared office, their favorite coffee shop; you name it.
But while the company’s management does take pride in knowing its team is happier in their new work environment, turning to freelancers and service providers to complete their marketing activities can lead to significant management, communication, synchronization and measurement, and other issues.
How is the modern marketing manager to thrive?
Today, we’re taking a deep dive into the world of managing and supporting your distributed marketing freelancers, so your company can create and launch winning campaigns that drive sales, every time.
What are freelancers?
In short, freelancers are professionals who offer their services to many companies instead of being employed by just one. They are usually self-employed and have the freedom to choose which projects they want to work on. Furthermore, they charge either hourly or project-based, and they frequently work with companies for shorter periods of time.
Examples of freelancers include content writers, web developers, graphic designers, virtual assistants, SEO consultants, and more.
Advantages of working with freelancers
The number of professional freelancers in the US has grown from 57.3 million in 2017 to more than 70 million in 2022 -- and specialists say this number will reach 90 million by 2028. Clearly, if the gig economy is on the rise, there must be good reasons to hire individual freelancers, as opposed to full-time employees, right?
Right. More specifically, working with freelancers is beneficial from these points of view (at the very least):
By hiring freelancers, you can access a large pool of professionals with different skillsets and areas of expertise that you may not be able to source with full-time employees alone.
With freelancers, you can easily scale up or down depending on the specific project requirements. Need an extra set of hands to finish a project in time? No problem. Just hire a freelancer and you’ll be good to go.
With fresh eyes come fresh perspectives -- which is actually a very good thing, especially if your internal team has hit a wall. Freelancers can provide insights and ideas that your team may have not thought of before, which can open up a new range of possibilities.
Payroll cost reduction
Let's face it: hiring someone strictly when you need them is less expensive than keeping someone on the payroll, even on low-productivity times of the year. Even when you hire top-rated freelancers, you can still end up spending less than you would if you had an employee on the payroll.
Access to a wider talent pool
Talent doesn't care about geography. So, why limit yourself to hiring in your city or country when you can access a pool of skilled professionals worldwide? With freelancers, there are no limitations in terms of geography and you can easily hire the best person for the job - regardless of their location.
Freelancers are usually independent and require little to no supervision. This is especially beneficial for smaller teams, where it may be difficult to take the extra time to manage them. Freelancers can take ownership of the project from day one and deliver results that exceed your expectations.
Hiring an experienced freelancer means you don't have to go through the recruitment process, which can be quite time-consuming. After all, recruiting and interviewing candidates for full-time positions requires a lot of effort and resources. With freelancers, you can hire someone within days -- or even hours.
Disadvantages and challenges of managing freelancers
Working with freelancers isn't all rainbows and butterflies - unfortunately. Still, it's important to understand the potential challenges that come with managing freelancers, so you can prevent and address them before they grow into problems
#1 - Distributed model, distributed attention
Problem: When working with freelancers and service providers, some of your hires will work in-house, while others will opt to work remotely. How can you effectively manage all your digital marketing freelancers, oversee their tasks and performance and ensure the lines of communication remain open and clear between everyone, at all times, when you might be dealing with different work hours, work environments and time zones, some of which are less conducive to conference calls?
Solution: Believe it or not, managing freelancers is very much possible no matter how distributed the entire team is. Async communication, clear guidelines, and project transparency can go a long way.
#2 - Synchronization despite displacement
Problem: When tasking multiple freelancers and service providers with the same project, like a new marketing campaign, how do you ensure that those independent marketing freelancers working from diverse and remote locations remain up-to-date and in sync with your brand’s language, identity, latest materials, and other relevant content and information?
Solution: Deploying async tools and communication techniques can help you ensure everyone is on top of their tasks, no matter where they are.
#3 - Multiple freelancers in a single funnel - how can you measure success?
Problem: When you have multiple marketing freelancers and service providers working on the same funnel, how do you know to whom to attribute successes and failures? Can the metrics and measurement criteria used for in-house team performance and KPI assessment apply to the displaced model?
Solution: When working with freelance teams, you need to create a clear framework for evaluating their performance. This should include both qualitative and quantitative criteria, as well as a scoring system that can be used to measure success and failure. Additionally, it’s important to set project expectations ahead of time, so everyone understands what they're supposed to do (and how success looks like.)
#4 - Complex payment processes
Problem: And with several freelancers and service providers now on your payroll, each demanding fees according to their pricing practices, not your company’s traditional salary scale (a major advantage of going freelance for the worker), how do you keep track of who you owe what and when, and do so in a timely fashion?
Solution: The best way to manage multiple invoices and payments from your freelance team is by using a specialized software (ideally, with all your freelancers enrolled in it, to avoid discrepancies and complicated payment processes.)
#5 - Motivating from afar, is it even possible?
Problem: Motivation is the key to any team’s productivity and success. But when your hires are outsourced, how can you keep them on task and motivated? Must you resign yourself to the “honor system,” trusting that they’ll get the job done, or can you find a way to light a fire in your hires’ hearts and drive them to succeed?
Solution: Motivation is not about physical proximity. Sure, good vibes spread easier when people are in the same building -- but that doesn't mean you can't create a motivating environment for your marketing freelancers and service providers despite the distance.
#6 - Security concerns, a (seemingly) never-ending worry
Problem: According to the latest FBI report, more than $10 billion were lost to cybercrime in 2022 -- and with teams either hybrid or completely distributed, cybersecurity is a growing concern. It's not that employers don't trust the people they work with (freelancers or employees). It's just that far from the "mother ship" (office) and without proper rules set in place, drifting away from cybersecurity good practices is a lot easier. A simple cat video can turn into a malware that infests the entire network and ends up costing the company thousands of dollars.
Solution: Cybersecurity should be a top priority for any distributed team. Make sure your remote workers are knowledgeable, protected, and trained. Provide resources and tips, set up virtual protocols (e.g., mandatory password changes), and use state-of-the-art encryption technologies to ensure you do everything in your power to avoid becoming the target of cybercriminals.
How to choose good freelancers
Hiring a team of freelancers is great, and most problems related to managing freelancers are solvable. But nothing can fix hiring freelancers that aren't a good fit from the get-go, so here are some tips to help you make the right decision.
Set expectations from the start
Freelancer management begins with good and open communication. Speak clearly with your freelancers about the scope of the job, the depth, and breadth of the work expected and the level of ongoing and open communication you demand. Also important, ask your hires to explain their expectations, and what they need from you, to be able to succeed.
For a comprehensive list of the questions you should ask any new candidate to determine best fit and set expectations, read this blog post.
Establish clear management practices and protocol
Explain how the company hierarchy works, how you expect them to report to you on progress, and what your role as manager entails. Make sure to get everything in writing, to limit future misunderstandings and to ensure your freelancers management process is documented.
These can include:
- Using task management software to track project status and timelines
- Sending out periodic (per task/daily/weekly) reports to management vis-a-vis project progress
- Proper etiquette and deferment to superiors
- And more.
Maintain clear and regular lines of communication
Check in with your hires regularly, to assess their progress, determine whether they need any help, and provide motivation from afar. Freelancers management is also about encourage hires to speak with one another, to make them feel part of the team and improve the results of their marketing efforts. To do this, explain that you (and they) will be using:
- Real-time messaging apps for real-time communication
- Emails for larger content transfers, task assignment, etc.
- Conference calls for remote communication between multiple team members
- Scheduling apps to set fixed and emergent times for one-on-one update and review calls
Trust your hiring decisions
Do not micromanage your freelancers and service providers. Once you’ve established the foundation for successful marketing activity, give them space to create the campaigns and content you know they’re capable of. A little breathing room goes a long way in creating a positive and productive work environment, especially in a distributed model. Practically speaking, this freelancers management route involves the following process:
- Assign the task and provide necessary instructions
- Ensure the task is understood and provide time and space for questions to be asked
- Step aside and allow the freelancer to work on the task, uninterrupted
- Check in at pre-set times/intervals to assess progress
- Upon completion, review the project and make suggestions for improvements, as necessary
Give constructive feedback
Feedback, constructive and positive, is essential in motivating your hires, as well as in ensuring they’re up-to-date with your company’s content and needs. Continuous feedback is also a great way to motivate your freelancers and assure freelancers management that is built on long term relationship.
Tell them what they need to hear, to get the job done right. Here are some practical tips:
- Use the sandwich approach - positive comment, negative/improvement comment, positive comment
- Provide suggestions for improvements
- Ask what the freelancer needs to be able to modify the project successfully
- If time is of the essence, offer the help of another teammate without making the freelancer feel that they cannot get the job done on their own, for any reason.
Own your project
As a manager, you are in charge of your project’s success or failure. But that doesn’t mean letting your freelancers get away with poor performance. As you are responsible for the final result, it is up to you to constantly go over generated marketing materials as soon as they’re handed in. That way, you can immediately identify and contact the provider responsible for sub-par work, and make any necessary changes, without haste. You’ll need to:
- Organize task delegation
- Ensure all team members understand their role in completing the task
- Ensure all team members know they can contact you with any questions or concerns, and that you’ll be checking in from once in a while to assess progress.
- Review the final product on micro and macro levels
- Contact the team member/service provider responsible for sub-par results
- Ensure adequate results are obtained
Choose the right platform
Not all freelance platforms are created equal. Some of them have grown too crowded and not all of the users are actually professionals. To ensure you’ll be working with someone trustworthy, research which platforms offer top freelancers, as well as those that offer better rates and more payment options. Here are some good ones to start with:
Create a realistic schedule
No matter how much you pay, you can't expect someone to deliver quality overnight. Give your freelancers enough time to complete their tasks and never leave the planning up to them. If a project requires multiple stages, then organize the timeline in a way that makes sense -- for you, the team, the freelancer, and the business goals.
Ask for references
While not infallible, references can help you get a better idea of who you'll be working with and what they're capable of. Ask potential freelancers to provide contact information for previous employers or colleagues, so that you can confirm the quality of their work and get an idea of how they work in a team environment.
Check the availability
No matter how much planning you do, make sure you're not expecting someone to work outside of their normal availability. If the freelancer is located in a different time zone, then make sure to account for that difference.
Ask for work samples and testimonials
Aside from references, checking out work samples and testimonials from previous clients is a great way to get an idea of what you can expect from the freelancer, and whether or not they will be able to meet your expectations.
Be flexible with pricing
You wouldn't buy a pair of $5 sports shoes and expect them to be as comfortable and as sturdy as a pair of professional running shoes, right? The same goes with the freelancers you work with: if you want the best quality, then be prepared to pay for it. Negotiate with potential freelancers to come up with a fair price that suits both your budget and their pricing.
How to manage and motivate your freelancers
So, how do you turn a freelance collaborator into a partner in "crime" that's ready to deliver their very best for your business? Here are some tips for that too:
Freelancing can frequently feel like a very transactional experience. You want something, the freelancer offers it, you pay, and maybe you leave them a review or a testimonial at the end. Beyond that, however, we're still humans - and humans tend to work better when they feel appreciated. So do make sure to show your freelancers that you appreciate their work, and build a strong relationship with them in the process. It's priceless.
Be clear about project details
We can't stress this enough. To ensure the project runs smoothly and to reduce the chances of misunderstandings, make sure all parties are aware of all the details and requirements. Help your freelancers out by providing clear instructions and setting realistic project deadlines.
Provide them with documentation
The more documentation your freelancers have, the easier it will be for them to get a grip on the project. From briefs and guides to user manuals, provide them with all the material they need to get up to speed quickly and deliver quality results. If your documentation is sensitive, do make sure to have your freelancers sign an NDA before you give them access to the information -- other than that, though, the more information, the better.
Be clear about expectations and budget
If you want to get the best out of your freelancers, then make sure they know what's expected from them and don't be afraid to communicate your budget. The key is to be clear and honest about what you can offer, and make sure both parties are on the same page.
Make communication easy
Provide your freelancer with easy access to you: via email, Slack, phone, regular meetings, or whatever other forms of communication you prefer. Whatever it is, make sure they can easily get in touch and ask you anything they need to know.
Use time tracking tools
This is especially important if you pay your freelancers on an hourly basis, but you can always choose to work on a trust-based system too (especially if you've worked with a freelancer before.)
Some of the best time tracking tools include:
- Clockify - they even have a free version with plenty of features, and allows your freelancers to track their time per task/ project, as well as mark it as "billable" (or not.)
- Time Doctor - this tool helps you monitor the productivity of your freelancer and can also be used to track time per task/ project.
- Harvest - this tool not only tracks time but also allows you to easily track budgets, expenses, and more. Harvest is free for one seat and two projects, and it will scale with every seat you add to your account.
Use project management tools
Project management tools are invaluable for managing your projects and keeping an eye on progress. They also allow you to store all the files related to the project in one place and enable all the team members to the transparency everyone needs to perform well.
Some of the most popular project management solutions include:
- Trello - albeit a bit old-school, Trello is still one of the most popular project management tools out there. It's user-friendly and allows you to create boards for your projects, assign tasks, and keep track of progress.
- Asana - Asana is a more modern and complex project management tool, perfect for remote teams that handle bigger projects with sub-tasks and stakeholders.
- ClickUp - A real all-in-one solution for project management and documentation, ClickUp has it all; you will need some advanced knowledge to set it up like you want, but overall, using it is intuitive and easy.
- Notion - Although more focused on documentation, Notion can be used for project management as well. The modularity of this tool and its clean design makes it a preferred one for many categories of people.
Include freelancers in team buildings
Although freelancers are not part of the main team, they are still important and should definitely not be overlooked. Make sure you include them in team buildings (even if it's virtual!) and make them feel like they are part of the team. This will encourage them to do their best work, and ultimately deliver better results.
Create an onboarding process
Just like with regular employees, onboarding processes can make or break your relationship with your freelancers. Create an onboarding process that is focused on familiarizing the freelancers with your team, project, and workflow. Make sure you cover everything from the project objectives and timeline to communication protocols, code of conduct, and more.
No one likes their boss looking over their shoulders -- even if just virtually. Freelancers tend to be even more particular about this, as this type of behavior is likely what they've been running away from when they chose a freelance career. In other words, managing freelancers is not about asking for project updates every couple of hours -- it's about allowing them to work freely.
How can anyone know if you like them or not, if you don't give them feedback? Make sure you provide your freelancers with honest feedback on their work, both when it is great and not so great. This will make them feel appreciated -- and thus, more willing to deliver quality work.
Pay well and pay on time
If you are looking for top-notch freelancers, make sure you pay them well and pay them on time. Nothing can damage a relationship with a freelancer more than missing payments or not paying them what they deserve.
Set regular (but not very often) meetings
Regular meetings with your freelancers are important for maintaining a good relationship and monitoring project progress. However, don't overdo it by scheduling too many meetings. Try to keep them at a minimum and as concise as possible, so that both you and your freelancers can have time to do their jobs.
Show appreciation and recognition
Nothing works as magically as "well done!", "good job!", and "thank you!" Be generous with your praises (when they're deserved, of course.) Share them publicly. And make sure your freelancers see it: a company that values its freelancers is a company that everyone else really wants to work at.
Hiring and managing freelancers may not be the easiest thing in the world -- but then again, management isn't easy either. Keep your head leveled, be honest with your freelancers, and always ensure that you keep a good relationship with them.
And if you need to find the best and most successful freelancers in marketing or eCommerce, from the get-go (without going through the time-consuming process of actually recruiting talent), contact Mayple and learn more about why we're a better option than freelancing sites (spoiler alert: we only work with a freelancer database of vetted marketing pros and we have a smart system to match each client with the perfect consultant or agency.)