Monday, January 27, 2014

5 Outsourcing Tips: How to Effectively Communicate & Work With Contractors and Freelancers

As a freelance copywriter, many times I work with clients who just don't have any idea what they want or need when it comes to their writing objectives. In the copywriting and design world, these strategic instructions are called "creative directives."  However, that doesn't mean it's impossible to figure out my clients' needs or wants. I just completed a fast turn-around project, and it was a new industry that was unfamiliar to me. However, the project flowed smoothly and I was able to complete the project quickly. It also helped that it was a former colleague. Since we worked together in the past, we knew each other's work ethic and are both very detail-oriented.

Last year, I took on an outsourced blogging project for a copywriter friend, and it was a seamless project as well. Why were these projects successful? Because they were both very clear with directives and what I needed to do. The blogging project involved a lot of research (also, it was another industry that wasn't familiar territory), and the article angles were very specific. I also work for a fast-paced marketing & design agency with multiple projects and clients. Everyone involved in the project needs to be on the same page in order for projects to succeed, and to make our clients happy.

Even if your project is challenging, that doesn't mean it's impossible to get what you need/want from the contractor. If you have outsourced projects or plan to work with contractors and/or freelancers in the future, here are 5 outsourcing tips you need to know BEFORE hiring independent contractors.

1. Do not expect the contractor/freelancer to read your mind. You need to have somewhat of an idea as to what you want.That's the purpose behind holding initial strategic planning consultations, phone interviews/meetings, etc.  For example, don't approach a web developer with: "I need a new website by next month." Why do you need a new website? What's the purpose/objective of your website? Don't answer with the standard "I want more clients, make more money, etc." Who doesn't want to have new clients and make more money? Don't be vague. Be specific about your project goals. Also, don't forget to communicate on a regular basis with your contractors. If you aren't an email person, let the contractor know up front that you would rather talk to them via phone or Skype, etc. or vice versa. Establish SPECIFIC project details from the very start! Contractors aren't mind readers - that's not their job. If you don't understand something, don't be afraid to clarify and ask questions (even if you think they are silly!) Remember to answer contractors' questions in a timely manner. If the contractor has to wait for you to answer their questions, remember that delay holds up YOUR project and THEIR deadlines.

2. Put everything in writing from the very beginning and don't proceed until you have a signed contractual agreement. After sending you a proposal/quote and when you agree to the project details, the contractor usually draws up the contract. However, you can also create your own contract for them to sign. In the contract, outline (point-by-point) the details of the project, fees/rates, and your directives (goals, objectives, etc.). If you are working with multiple contractors on one big project, include a project plan and clearly outline each players' roles, deadlines, etc. in the project. It's important that everyone involved knows what's going on with the project--the left hand needs to talk to the right!

Make sure to include a clause in your contract that states you can "kill" the project at any time and dissolve the contract. Sometimes what looks good on paper doesn't translate in the real world. As a copywriter, I pride myself on completing projects on deadline and communicating effectively - and on a regular basis - with my clients via email, phone, text, and Skype.  However, not every freelancer out there is ethical or even qualified. Carefully vet contractors before you hire them, and ask for testimonials and professional references. You want to have an "out" if the contractor just can't meet your goals and/or you have a personality conflict. You will still need to pay a contractor for ALL completed work up until the point you dissolve the contract. If you ever run into a bind with a contract dispute, consult an attorney for assistance.

3. What you see is what you get...or expect to pay more money. If you change your mind about the direction of your project and decide you want a different website design (and the website is in the final stages of completion), be prepared to start from scratch. Most contractors/freelancers are flexible with changes mid-stream (dependent upon contractual agreements), but time is money for independent contractors. If the project is near completion and you decide you want to create a new concept/idea, then you're looking at a brand new project strategy which means a new budget and contract. This seems like a no-brainer, but I've experienced this issue first-hand and it happens quite often.

4. Leave your ego at the door. Don't pretend or think you know MORE than the contractor you hired. This can turn into a nightmare. I actually "fired" clients for this very reason. It works both way. An unhappy contractor can immediately dissolve the contract with you as well. There is a reason you hire a professional that knows more than you do. Let them do their job, and don't be micro-manager or a know-it-all. Obviously, if the contractor gives you a smoke and mirror show and has no clue as to what they're doing, you have a legitimate reason to fire them and hire a more qualified person.

5. Heartfelt compliments and rockin' testimonials don't hurt either. Freelancers and contractors find a lot of their business through word-of-mouth, so if you are pleased with their work please let them know (and let others know too). Testimonials and good references are a huge selling point for independent contractors. Also, if you have it within your means/budget, throwing a few extra dollars their way for a job well done doesn't hurt either. If you need this contractor's services in the future, this is a great way to establish rapport and a solid working relationship. A small bonus is always nice, but even a simple thank you and heartfelt compliments can go a long way.


  1. Put everything in writing - oh yes, definitely! I have a contract even if I agree to proofread a blog post. And your post and my last client made me realize that my website and my contracts need to be a little more specific about how many times I'm willing to read through an MS. And laughing - you firing a client. I have done the same thing, numerous times! Sometimes I realize that THAT client is not worth the money - they argue about every suggestion, they make excuses for their bad grammar, they say their mother loves it the way it is. I pick and choose my clients - I don't make as much money editing, but oh well.

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    1. Karen, thanks for adding your editorial perspective. Thanks for bringing that up about drawing up a contract for "proofing." Time is money. As a copywriter, I laughed when I read your comment about "making excuses for their bad grammar." How can one argue about that and make excuses? That's when I would suggest starting over and suggest that the writer take a creative writing class, or start with a refresher English grammar class. In the long run, a high maintenance client isn't worth it. The same holds true for a contractor or freelancer who doesn't cut the mustard. An unreliable contractor holds up the project and frustrates a lot of people! Thanks for sharing your advice and experiences. :)


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