What’s the best way for agencies and freelancers to interact?
There’s nothing better than an agency-freelancer relationship that goes right. There is a mutual respect, with big wins for both sides, and there is the satisfaction of a job well done. These are all attractive treats.
Yet… we so often screw this up. Why?
During my career, I had the chance to work from both sides of the fence. But the largest part of my experience comes from project management. In this role, my responsibilities included selecting and interacting with freelancers. During the course of my work, I had great, not so great, and downright terrible experiences with freelancers.
My main concerns were missing deadlines, unresponsiveness, and poor quality, of course. But I have to admit that I have too been guilty for my fair share of blunders when dealing with freelancers.
Where does it get so complicated? In my experience, the issues usually start with misaligned values and unmet expectations. And here lies the problem. The agency and the freelancer usually expect different things from the collaboration. They tend to place value on different things as well.
From the freelancer’s perspective…
- It is important that their effort is valued. They are not treated as a commodity. And they have a point! There are tons of talented and prolific freelancers out there who have a wealth of diverse knowledge and experience. They know how to bring it home when working on a project.
- They value companies that act professionally. And they define professionalism as respect. They prefer working with agencies that respect previous agreements on rates and availability, and that provide appropriate support. And, of course, they prefer agencies that pay on time. And can you blame them?
From the agency’s perspective…
- Quality is the obvious mandatory requirement. It is the norm, and yet sometimes it is easy to forget that quality must be defined. Quality requirements can vary from client to client and even from project to project.
- Price is always a factor, of course, but should never be the top priority for a good agency. Yet, it is extremely valuable that the freelancer is flexible enough. Just in case push comes to shove and a there is a need to renegotiate.
Finally, there are two important factors that both freelance translators and agencies value. They are:
- Having a trusting relationship
- Great communication
Is there a chance to bridge that misalignment? Certainly! How? There is one simple answer to that question.
It’s all about communication!
- While negotiating specific project details.
- When communicating with the project manager; or other team members throughout a project.
- Also during the post-project review; specifically in situations when changes or inquiries have to be discussed, or when giving feedback.
Great communication will also benefit the agency. When the channels of communication are open, it is easier for the freelancer to provide the agency with feedback, comments or solutions for different issues or situations.
The agency must lead the way by example. The project managers should also be open for communication and discussion. This will show the way to open communication.
This is also how great partnerships are formed. Good communication builds trust as well. Communication and trust are the keys to creating an ongoing and fruitful freelancer-agency relationship.
Good communication acts as a fail-safe against misunderstood expectations. It helps to prevent incorrect assumptions. It’s important to never assume that the other understands what they have to do just because it’s a given.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – Bernard Shaw
To get the work done, both the agency and the freelancer have to be on the same page. How do you accomplish that? Here are 3 steps easy to remember:
- Develop Some Communication Rules
You can save yourself lots of problems if you develop some communication rules.
You can agree on availability time for calls if you are located in different time zones, for example. You can also agree on an acceptable delay in answering emails. We all know it’s not nice to sit by the phone or the computer waiting for an answer. If you are going to ask for progress reports, it is a good idea to agree on their time and frequency.
By the way, years of working both as a freelancer and with freelancers have taught me that written communication is the best! Yes, it does take a lot of time to put everything in writing; but at least for the major decisions about a project this should be a must. Sometimes there are language barriers that you have to consider.
Regardless, the truth is that you can never be sure if what you try to communicate is being received by the other in the way that you intended it. With oral communication, misunderstandings are common. It is also very easy to forget what was agreed. These problems, either accidental or on purpose, are gone when you can go back to the written message to double check.
- No Need for Total Control
Micromanagement doesn’t work. More often than not, it is a waste of time and effort.
Freelancers usually love having more freedom. Be prepared to give them their task and hear from them once a day.
Of course, you can adjust this depending on your project and your needs. But better than total control is to go back to step one and set some ground rules and expectations.
And while we are on this topic: there is something as too much communication. Don’t waste time with meaningless communication. Keep your communication efficient and to the point. No need for endless Skype calls or emails every hour. Freelancers are usually efficiency-oriented, and for them time really is money.
- Plan with milestones
Milestones and progress reporting are common sense in project management. These prevent unpleasant surprises just before the deadline.
If your project is small then you might not need them. For large projects, it’s too risky to get started without milestones and rules for progress reporting. Progress reporting rules will eliminate many delays and help to early diagnose potential problems.
Make sure you have your project plan ready before you hire. Don’t have freelancers in downtime waiting for you to get your plan together. By the same token, you should plan around a potential lack of availability too.
Communicating your expectations for deadlines and availability can prevent major issues from the start.
Effective communication with freelancers will help you avoid frustration, lost time, and lost money.
Invest in the relationship with your freelancers.
This will help you share with them a deeper understanding of your motivations, objectives, and working practices.
If you focus on creating a sustainable partnership, you will build trust, confidence, recognition and ultimately, loyalty.
Happy freelancer, happy agency, happy clients.
How do you choose freelancers? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts!