Getting the most from a freelancer requires advanced planning: while skilled professionals and experts know how to do their job, they likely don't understand how to navigate your work style and place. Is your business optimized for freelancers? Whether you’re seeking talent to fill a gap on your team or just trying to access specialized skills that your company needs for a one-time project, odds are good that you'll consider working with a freelancer in the near future. The question now is how can you make it easier for the freelancers you work with to succeed? Freelancers, also called independent contractors, are sole proprietors who specialize in a single business function and are hired by businesses to work on small projects where their skills are needed. You may hire a freelance writer, photographer, web designer or developer to spruce up your website, or a freelance accountant to oversee finances or help at tax time. Realize, however, that freelancers don’t actually replace employees: if you need someone to work on your website full-time, that’s an employee (the IRS has strict guidelines around this: ensure you review them carefully before proceeding). Getting the most from your freelancers requires advanced planning. While skilled professionals and experts know how to do their job, they likely don't understand how to navigate your work style and place. So, before you turn to the design guru down the street, spend a little time setting up your own shop to help the freelancer succeed. Step 1. Document Your Processes Freelancers need to understand your business processes. If you’re like most companies, that information isn’t written down, which means it walks out the door when your employees quit or even if they go on vacation. “Ask Jill. She knows” only works if Jill is there to answer the question. Therefore, now is the time to document business processes and build an internal knowledge base. At a minimum, write that information down or add it to an electronic knowledge base. Who are the key stakeholders that need to weigh in on decisions? When do specific tasks need to occur? What systems and tools do you already use? This is just some of the information to include. Hardly anyone enjoys documenting, but the good news is that documentation forces you to review what you do and why. This simple task also opens the door to improving processes, as it takes workers off autopilot mode—no more doing a task just because “we’ve always done it that way.” Step 2. Embrace Outsider Knowledge Shake off the top-down management mentality and get ready for questions—and feedback. Freelancers can offer a fresh perspective as they share how other clients have solved similar problems to yours. But you have to be open to hearing about new opportunities and nicely wrapped versions of “that’s the wrong way to do it.” That external viewpoint might include a big win, or it could mean a series of small victories that improve process efficiencies, like setting up email auto-responders. The good news: a freelancer may be more willing to suggest process improvements than an employee who wants to avoid rocking the boat. Step 3. Plan for Fierce Competition “The growing trend of employees making it on their own as freelancers rather than salaried workers will undoubtedly have consequences for businesses across a variety of industries,” George Santos, director of talent delivery and head of marketing at 180 Engineering, told Forbes. “For instance, it may mean competing with other businesses for someone's time, facing uncertainty when it comes to the manpower at your disposal, and not being able to tackle tasks on short notice.” Translation? Plan to extend project deadlines and start networking now to build up your list of freelancers. A larger freelancer pool doesn’t necessarily mean instant help when you need it— you’ll be competing with other businesses for some of the same freelancers. A big budget may not always win you a contractor, either. Freelancers want to work with reasonable clients and perform work that they enjoy. This means that they may not always choose the highest bidder for their services. So how can you ensure freelancers want to work with your business? First, treat them as partners. As Stefan Palios, a freelance writer, told Forbes, “It’s simple: as a freelancer, I work in partnership with my clients. I’m an expert at what I do and they are an expert at what they do. We both have a part to play, and that’s great.” Second, pay promptly. Palios continues with, “I can’t tell you how nice it is to simply know a client will pay you and not have to expend mental energy chasing them down.” Remember, freelancers are small business owners too—and they don’t enjoy chasing unpaid invoices any more than you do. Step 4. Learn to Manage a Remote Team Most freelancers are remote workers—they work in their own space and on their own time (if you’re asking a freelancer to act like an employee, you’ll want to hire an employee instead). If you don’t already manage remote workers, start learning how to manage a remote team, including determining the needed collaboration tools, including meeting apps, shared documents, feedback methods, and communication channels. That last part is essential: working with freelancers also means improving your remote-team communication skills. Don’t leave freelancers wondering what’s going on. Ensure you’re available and communicative. Providing feedback and clear directions are what every freelancer needs, no matter how experienced, recommended, or brilliant they are. Step 5. Talk to Your HR Team Human resources should be your new best friend as you juggle employees and freelancers. No, your freelancer won’t be employed by your HR team, but consulting with your human resources department (or outsourced HR professional) can help you find the right freelancer and keep you out of hot water in terms of classifying a skilled worker as “employee” vs. “contractor. Ask your HR team how to manage your freelancer pool. Hiring a freelancer requires due diligence, including relationship management. HR can vet freelance candidates and manage the ongoing conversation to keep your list of potential freelancers up-to-date. They can also guide you on the boundaries associated with using freelancers. It’s a mental shift to utilize freelancer talent, including deciding when to work with an independent contractor versus hiring an employee. But with a bit of preparation, you can use freelancers successfully to grow your business. Step 6. Remember Your In-house Team, Too. Freelancers can’t do everything: you still need a strong in-house team to manage the freelance relationship and to ensure you’re getting what you want from your freelancers. So take steps to keep your valuable employees from jumping ship. Competitive pay, additional benefits such as mental health coverage, and industry-standard (or better) perks are essential to retaining employees. It’s well known that people leave managers, not companies—which means that you (and your managers) need to also be the bosses that people want to work for. That includes adopting a coaching mentality, listening to your employees, and modeling healthy self-care, such as taking vacation time. Freelancers are dependent upon your team to succeed. Your team, however, is dependent upon you. Disclaimer: The information provided in this post does not, and is not intended to, constitute business, legal, tax, or accounting advice and is provided for general informational purposes only. Readers should contact their attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor to obtain advice on any particular matter.