Getting the best from Freelancers, by freelance corporate PR consultant, Matt Flanders
26th September 2013
There is a risk involved for any PR agency that is considering using freelance support. Are they going to be worth the money? And will they work hard enough for your business? Before taking the decision to spend the money, an agency should consider the following questions:
What's the point of freelancers and do I really need one?
It's important to start by de-bunking a myth about freelancers. We don't all want a permanent job. Many of us have our own businesses and prefer the freedom that freelancing brings. Not that hiring a freelancer who is keen on a permanent role with your agency is a bad idea, but it is important to remember that many freelancers consider themselves specialists. They provide short- to medium-term support and, therefore, have to quickly become part of the team and get up to speed on what your agency and your clients need.
Freelance support can be invaluable when unforeseeable circumstances arise such as a maternity or sick leave, or if a new project from an existing client or an influx of new clients leave you under-resourced. This may be a nicer problem to have than making people redundant, but it is still a major issue that needs to be addressed, especially if your team is regularly working 15-hour days to pick up the slack.
How much experience do I need my freelancer to have?
This is one of the biggest mistakes that agencies make when it comes to spending money on a freelancer. You may have lost an account director, but will you trust a freelancer with the same level of work and responsibility?
While most freelancers are happy to pitch in wherever they are needed, an agency may resent someone that they are paying £250 per day to just write press releases and work their way down a call sheet.
What could/should you trust a freelancer to do?
Any freelancer worth their salt is used to being thrown in at the deep end. There just isn't the time to settle as there might be with a permanent role and we are used to hitting the ground running. As such, it is a good idea to have work ready for your freelancer from the moment they arrive. Otherwise they could spend a lot of time twiddling their thumbs while people are too busy to give them work – not an uncommon occurrence.
To get the most work and the best value from your freelancer be as prepared as possible. Know what clients they will be working on, at least to begin with. It is also worth considering help on new business as often staff can find it hard to find the time for this in between day-to-day client servicing.
Will the freelancer be client-facing?
This will often depend on the length of time a freelancer is with you, as well as individual clients. If you have a short-term project then it is certainly helpful to have an experienced freelancer manage the client relationship. Also, some clients are always going to be more understanding than others and will not be concerned by another name added to the email list, even if it is just for a month or two.
However, there will always be clients that do not like a lot of personnel change or may become confused by emails from a random person they have never met. In these situations it's best to keep the freelancer in the background supporting the team wherever possible.
If you are introducing a freelancer to a client it is best to be open and explain that they are not permanent staff to avoid future confusion. This can also be beneficial to a freelancer who can work to not only impress the agency, but also the client to try to secure more work in the future.
Every agency uses freelancers differently. We are adaptable and tend to fit into whatever system is in place without too much difficulty. However, you need to think carefully about how and where you want to use a freelancer in order to avoid wasting money.
An ongoing relationship between a freelancer and an agency yields the best results. Repeat contracts are the holy grail for a freelancer and an agency that knows someone's strengths is going to know exactly when, where and how to deploy them.
Freelance Corporate PR consultant, Matt Flanders