Communicate Better with Freelancers: Part 2

To create a successful video when collaborating with freelancers, it’s important to understand the business side of hiring these talented people. You need to establish the parameters of the project and set the creative expectations. The more you have planned, the better the overall experience will be.

In Part 2, I’m sharing a few tips for effectively handling the business side of hiring freelancers.

Define the Project Scope & Timeframe

Set your expectations up front so you limit how many “surprises” you throw at someone. If you’re hiring an editor, and you’re expecting them to create some graphics, select music tracks, and do some basic sound design, be specific and clear that’s what you want them to do. There’s nothing worse than hearing “Oh…I didn’t know you wanted me to do that, that’ll be extra.”

Make sure you discuss when work will take place, the deadlines, and delivery dates. Freelancers need to know how much time to devote to your project so they can plan accordingly. If you don’t know exact specifics, push your client to settle on deadlines. It’s amazing how far the phrase “We can’t move forward until you decide on X” will go.

Make sure you’re clear on specifics. It’s very common now to communicate with freelancers via text, and honestly you just can’t have in-depth discussions over text. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but talking things out in-person or via phone/Skype is a lot easier and fewer mistakes are made. You need to know what you want your freelancers to do, because if you don’t know, then they won’t know, which leads me to my next point…

Create an Agreement

It’s so important to have some written documentation as to what you’re asking a freelancer to do and what the payment terms are. It’s doubly important if you’re working with someone for the first time. The agreement doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It might be just an email with the rate, booking dates, and a description of the scope of work.

If you want to create a very basic booking agreement, include the following:

  • Description of project
  • Days booked
  • Rate (project or day rate)
  • Payment terms
  • Overtime policy
  • Cancellation fees

It’s better to have terms in writing just in case something goes wrong. Nobody wants conflict when it comes to money, and having an agreement usually mitigates that possibility. Disagreements regarding money are the easiest way to earn a bad reputation in your market, so do everything you can to avoid confusion by having a written agreement.

Have a Backup Plan

Stuff happens. People get sick. Family emergencies come up. Editing systems go down. It’s all part of life in this business, so having a backup plan in case something happens is critical to maintaining good relationships with freelancers.

If possible, build a few days into your production schedule for unexpected events, that way if your freelancer gets sick or has to go to a funeral, you’re not behind the eight ball. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but planning for problems makes things run smoother.

If your DP gets sick on the day of production, have a few other freelancers you can call in a pinch. Ask your other crew members if they know anyone who can step in. Most freelancers will offer up other talent if they have to bow out of a production unexpectedly.

On the post-production side, make sure your freelancers have critical files and media backed up. Use a cloud solution like Dropbox or OneDrive to store project files. Keep a copy of all media in case you need to turn the project over to another freelancer. Having backup plan is never a bad idea.

Remember, You Don't Own Them

There’s often an assumption among Producers that a freelancer will work as long as you want them to. Don’t take it for granted that they’ll always be there to bail you out when a client sends you changes at 5pm and wants to see them in the morning.

I see lots of Producers who expect that if they book someone for a day, they’ll stay well past the end of business, often with no overtime. Freelancers have lives, families, and kids too. Sometimes they would rather go home and get something done, but often they’re guilted into working long hours.

Don’t be that Producer. I find that it’s more beneficial to push back on client requests and say, “well, we can’t have your changes by 9am, but we can have them by lunch.” Most of the time they’ll say “no problem” without any questions. As a Producer, you obviously need to maintain client relationships, but you also need to watch out for the freelancers you hire. It’s better (and more cost effective) to keep them happy, than it is to burn them out and constantly find new ones.

If you know your project might require long days or odd hours, be upfront about it when hiring a freelancer. Discuss availability and rates at that time, not in the middle of a looming deadline.

Pay Well and On-Time

This is probably the easiest and simplest way to get great work: Pay freelancers what they’re worth and pay them on-time. If you’re a Producer, you might have complete control over this or you know who can make it happen at your company.

We all have to work within a budget and it’s important to hire the freelancers who fit into that budget. No freelancer likes it if you constantly try to haggle them to lower their rate or use the old “we’ll pay you your full rate next time” trick. It’s just bad business. If a project has a small budget, you might have to get creative on how to get things done.

Think about ways you can be more efficient or hiring talent that fits within your budget. There are freelancers at every skill level. Not every job requires a 25 year veteran who’s more expensive. Save that person for the job with a bigger budget instead of haggling their rate.

The best way you can gain a reputation as a great person or company to work for is by paying market rates and paying on-time. Don’t use the “we can’t pay you until the client pays us” excuse either. If you or your company doesn’t have enough funds in your bank account to pay your crew, you probably didn’t adequately negotiate terms with your client.