I saw a thread of people complaining about terrible freelancers they had worked with, and I was shocked how many of them had neglected even the basic, common sense things that would have spared them all the stress and heartache. It made me realise maybe these things are not basic and common sense and that a blog post about them might be helpful.
Despite working with friends, strangers, people overseas and people without former clients, I have never had any problems with freelancers. Some might say it is luck, but I think it has a lot to do with the following guidelines. The first is most important of all, and if you are only going to pay attention to one part of this, make it the first part.
If you are working with a freelancer, regardless of what they are doing for you, or how much it costs, you should have some sort of contract. Even if they are a friend and always, always, always if money is involved.
You don't need to be scared of contracts. They don't have to be like those hellish 300 page terms and conditions none of us read or can understand. A contract is just a document that states what is happening, who is getting compensated what and what you will do if things go badly. Both parties should understand it and both parties should be protected by it.
A contract should contain the following information:
- What service are they providing?
- What are the costs?
- When do they have to be paid?
- What happens if you are dissatisfied with the service?
- Timeframe, and what happens if deadlines aren't met?
Don't sign anything you aren't willing to abide by. And never listen to anyone who says: 'that will never happen' or 'if that happens we'll X, it doesn't need to be in the contract'. If X will definitely happen, there is no reason not to put it in the contract.
Remember, a contract should protect BOTH of you, so make sure you are covered, and don't be a complete shit-heel about the stuff that is protecting them.
Word of Mouth and References:
Anyone can write a testimonial and put it on their website. If you are looking for someone with a skillset that doesn't have an easy to view portfolio (EG: editing, as opposed to cover art), I suggest asking around. Some freelancers may have previous clients who are willing to talk to you. You can also contact state associations for recommendations (EG: The Queensland Writer's Centre or Editors Queensland INC).
Ask in facebook groups, on forums and google anyone you are considering using to see if you can find any complaints against them. Ask other writers you know who they recommend and, if possible, ask to see samples of the freelancer's work.
Obviously if you don't like someone's samples, portfolio or what you heard about their practises, don't hire them. There are literally hundreds of thousands of freelancers in the world. Don't go with the first one someone suggests. Round up at least five people who come highly recommended and go from there.
Samples, Sketches, Rough Drafts
When working with freelancers, it’s a good idea to check in on them throughout the process. Ask to see sketches and drafts during the process, so if there are any issues, you can address them early. I commissioned an artwork of myself recently, and while I was very happy with the art, in the sketch phase I realised the artist had forgotten my glasses! It was an easy fix, but one we were both glad I had caught before the inking and colouring phase.
Depending on what sort of freelancer you are hiring, seeing sketches and drafts may be difficult. When hiring copy editors, for example, I believe it is work paying for them just to edit the first chapter to start with. And if you like their work, then hire them to do the rest of the book.
Don't ask for them to do samples for free. You wouldn't ask a hairdresser to give you a free trim so you can decide if you want a full cut and colour. Pay for the time you are asking for, but don't over commit by sending them the whole book up front, then finding out they are sloppy.
This is a bit trickier if you are looking for structural edits, since no one can do structural edits for a novel after only seeing the first draft. It may be worth paying for structural edits on a short story, before you commit to the expense of a full novel. It could save you money in the long run, finding the right structural editor for you. Alternatively, with some freelancers, you might just have to rely on word of mouth and the samples they have on their websites.
Never hire someone if you haven't seen some of their work, in some capacity—be it a sample, a smaller project you have paid for, or examples provided by someone else who has worked with them.
Don’t be an asshole. I feel like this should be a given, but a lot of people seem to have very unrealistic expectations of how freelancers spend their time. Remember that freelancers are human, they have other clients and probably another job. They are not home all day, doing nothing but working on your project.
To that end, stick to realistic time frames. It's okay to ask for proof things are happening, but don't badger people. Ask them when they can get it done, discuss and schedule and make sure it is outlined in the contract. If you need it by a set date that is set in stone, make sure that is in the contract too (and ideally tell them the set date is a week or two before the ACTUAL set date). Keep communication channels open and ask them to please tell you if anything comes up that is likely to delay them.
Furthermore, don't be difficult to work with. Communicate clearly, without criticism. Return phone calls. Answer emails. Be polite. Don't make them chase you and don't make them guess what you want. Unless you are hiring a psychic, they have no idea. Be clear and concise.
Keep A Recording Of Correspondence
Mostly to cover your own ass, it is a good idea to keep a record of all correspondence. If they are smart, they are doing the same thing. As much as possible, I like to communicate via email. Because then both people have a clear record of what was said and when.
Sometimes phone calls and in person meetings are necessary. However, in those instances, ALWAYS make notes of what was said and follow up by emailing those notes to the freelancer you are working with, so you can both be sure there have been no misunderstandings. EG:
'Thank you for meeting with me today at Café Ver. I was very pleased with the progress you have made and loved the sketches. As discussed, I would like to see the crumbling tower moved from the left to the right side of the image, as I feel this will balance it better. And I have made a note of the new delivery date as per the extension you requested. I am looking forward to seeing the finished product on the 8th of June.'
After receiving an email like this, the freelancer can either respond with an agreement, or a clarification. Even if they don't respond, if something breaks down in the process, you will have the email to forward them in the case of a dispute.
You Get What You Pay For
There is no getting around this. You get what you pay for. The only time you might not get what you pay for is if someone is ripping you off, or you are ripping someone else off. And I would hope, if you are a friend of mine, these are equally unappealing.
When you hire a freelancer, you are paying for someone's time, education, equipment and materials, and creative flare. And whatever they are doing for you, it is probably harder than you think it is. Or you would be doing it yourself, right?
Have money put aside before you sign the contract, or even begin looking. This is for two reasons: 1. You then know what your budget is and 2. When it comes time to pay, you don't have to scramble to find the funds. They are there, ready to be sent.
Don't ever make people chase you for payment. If they have done the work, and you are happy, PAY THEM. The stress and heartache freelancers' stuffer chasing payments is the worst part of the job. Don't inflict that on someone else, particularly someone who has been working hard producing something just for you.
If you follow all this advice, even if things go pear-shaped, you should be covered. After all, what happens when things go pear shaped is covered in the contract you signed, right?
So that's it. I hope that has helped you and given you a clear reference for the future. Working with freelancers doesn’t have to be stressful and it certainly shouldn't be a waste of money. Follow these guidelines and hopefully you will enjoy many successful and rewarding partnerships with others. Also, never become one of these guys: https://clientsfromhell.net