Small businesses often rely heavily on individual freelancers or outsourced work groups to supplement their workforce and supply essential skills. Keeping this disparate group on message with your company brand, values, and ethos can be a challenge. When freelancers work remotely, possibly in different regions and time zones, the challenges increase. A clear strategy for managing freelancers and outsourced work teams or contractors helps keep these important team members updated, motivated, and able to contribute to your business success.
Aims and Expectations
Your freelancers need a clear understanding of your expectations for the work you commiss. Make sure you agree on a service contract that specifies the deliverables and the timescales. Clarify the format you’re expecting and any company style they should adopt. Your contract should also include details of compensation. Depending upon the nature of the work, you might also want to add finer details, such as confidentiality clauses and ownership of the work produced.
Onboarding Freelancers and Contractors
Many small business owners assume that their freelancers are professionals who are self-motivated and simply get on with the given task with minimal support. While this may well be true, it’s as important to onboard your freelancers or contractors as it is to onboard permanent employees. You at least want to be sure they understand your business and are aware of the names and responsibilities of key people.
Paying your remote teams to either attend your offices for onboarding or to undergo one or more video chats is money well spent. Choose the method that works best for you and the individuals concerned, such as Skype or Google Hangouts. In addition to scheduling meetings, make sure freelancers have relevant internal documents that provide essential reference points about your company and the project they are working on. Vital information such as target audience, buyer persona, and examples of recent successful projects can help ensure they’re in sync from the get go. Avoid information overload by delivering instructions and documents in smaller sized chunks.
Part of the onboarding experience should include a clear explanation of lines of communication throughout the project. Freelancers need to know who their main contact is, how they should communicate, and the frequency of communication. Providing an outline of the responsibilities and contact details of key team members can help save your freelancers from wasting time, particularly when they just need a quick answer to a question that’s holding them back.
If your outsourced teams speak a different language, consider using an interpreter for video conferencing and translating key written documents. Try using more diagrams and images to get your message across in a visual format. Also, check whether any team member needs information in an accessible format. Removing any barriers to communication helps you avoid misunderstandings and molds diverse individuals into a cohesive group, all working to achieve the same goal.
Giving Access to Vital Documents and Information
Your outsourced teams normally have the equipment and tools they need to get on with the work, but they may need access to your systems to deliver their work or receive information. Consider which file-sharing systems or VPN operate in your business, and ensure, preferably before you appoint any workers, that they’re familiar with the system. Additionally, check that your admin people can give them access. Granting access can take time, so planning ahead helps avoid unnecessary delays further down the line. Also, remember to keep your teams updated if and when you change passwords.
Working Across Different Time Zones
If your freelancers or outsourcers operate in a different time zone, please be sensitive to this. Avoid sending urgent requests that arrive just at the end of the normal working day or calling workers in the middle of the night. Instead, make use of the differences by taking the opportunity to send through work at the end of your working day, knowing they can have it ready for you the following morning.
Using Project Management Software
Collaborative software gives all your team members immediate access to project data, helping avoid unnecessary delays in requesting information or seeking updates. Examples like Asana or JIRA help keep everyone joined up, let you maintain visibility across teams, and ensure the information everyone is working from is the most up-to-date version.
Agree on a fixed schedule for checking in with your freelancers to ensure all is going to plan. Whether this is daily or weekly, make sure it’s in your diary so you can keep connected. Using Slack or Google Hangouts Chat is a great way to message while also letting you keep track of these project communications. Regular face-to-face contact by video conferencing can also be important in making your remote workers feel more engaged and like part of a team.
Payment and Farewells
Pay invoices promptly. In addition to keeping your freelancers solvent and motivated, this maintains your reputation as a good company to work with. Even if you don’t plan to use these freelancers again, it’s a small world, and there are many ways for disgruntled people to share information that might prevent you from attracting quality workers next time around.
When the project or contract finishes, plan a debriefing for the outsource team or individual freelancer. Thank them for their work, and if you’ve experienced problems with aspects of the work or service delivered, provide honest feedback. In the interest of continuous quality improvement, seek honest feedback from freelancers about what went well and how you could have improved on their experience of working with your company. Always aim to part on good terms.
Freelancers and outsource workers contribute essential skills and expertise that your current workforce cannot supply. Make sure they feel a valued part of your team, and give them access to the people and information they need to complete their work successfully. That way, they remain motivated to help you achieve your business goals, and you can maximize your return on investment.