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The 6 Rules for a Productive Freelance Culture

authored by Amy Paxson

In these uncertain economic times, many ad agencies, as well as other types of companies, have supplemented their FTE workforce with contract employees. Freelancers give companies the flexibility of having adequate staff when the work is there, and less overhead when it’s not. The ebb and flow of freelancers ensures morale is not jeopardized by rounds of layoffs in leaner times.

But how does a company create a culture that includes a bunch of people who are not actually employees? When we started VOX, it was our vision to build a company with few employees and lots of freelancers. But we didn’t want to be seen as a placement service, or worse, a revolving door. Could we create an environment where freelancers would make us their priority, we wondered? It turns out the secret to creating freelance loyalty is in creating a productive freelance culture.

Here’s how:

  1. Hire the right freelancers
    There are “committed” freelancers, and there are people who are between jobs. Big difference. Committed freelancers have made a decision to be self-employed. They understand that they are only as valuable as their last performance, and they give you their best.
  2. Include them
    Make your freelancers feel every bit as much of the company as your FTE’s. Include them in company outings, have them attend team meetings. Freelancers should never feel like the agency stepchild.
  3. Reward them
    Good jobs, whether done by your employees or freelancers, should not go unnoticed. Thank them for a job well done. Include them in your holiday bonus pool. Make sure they feel valued.
  4. Embrace the reciprocal relationship
    If there is only one thing committed freelancers dislike about their line of work, it’s finding the work. If you take that away by providing a steady stream of projects, their appreciation is enormous.
  5. Let them know your intentions
    Managers tend to under-communicate, even with their employees, not to mention contractors. Let your freelancers know about potential upcoming opportunities. Let them know that you want to continue working with them. Talk to them about their future availability, even when they are between projects.
  6. Pay fast
    Nothing endears you more to someone who is technically self-employed than paying them quickly. Our freelancers submit their invoices at the end of each month and are paid within net 7 days. As a business owner who is currently hounding a client for an outstanding invoice that is now 80 days past due (I won’t name names, but you know who you are), never chasing a check is bonus.

At VOX, we’ve made the freelance culture one of our top priorities, and it has paid off. Many of our freelancers have been with us for most, if not all, of the 11 years we’ve been in business. Our turnover rate rivals any more traditional company’s. And even when business is slow, freelancers who haven’t worked for us in a couple years still come to the company holiday party – because they feel part of our organization.