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November 13, 2008 / davebirss

How to use freelancers


Freelancers are an absolute necessity in the communications industry. When times are really good you need them to handle all the extra work you have on. And when times are bad you need them to temporarily fill the gaps made by redundancies. Without them the ad industry would be in big trouble.

I’ve spent much of my career as a freelancer. And in recent years I’ve been the dude who decides to get freelancers in. And having lots of experience on both sides of the fence, I thought I should share my experiences to tell agencies how best to use this vital resource – because it’s clear that very few of them know how.

Show me the money!
The first (and biggest) issue is paying freelancers. In recent years the finance men have had far too much power in the industry. And they very often see freelancers as simply suppliers and therefore hold off as long as they can on paying them. I can’t tell you how wrong this is!

The freelancers are doing the job of your staff and should be treated as such. They are performing the skills you have in-house; doing the stuff you told your clients that you can do; and helping to create the product that builds your reputation. If you’re not happy to tell your employees to wait 90 days before you pay them, don’t do it to freelancers. They are just individuals with bills to pay, not corporations.

If you’re an agency that has a bit of pride in its product, you want the very best freelancers. They’re the ones in demand. And if you disrespect them financially, they’ll not be as willing to do the work for you next time. If, instead, you pay them right away, they’ll drop what they’re doing to help you out and go the extra mile. Which do you think is the better use of cash?

Use them for their skills

A strange one this! I was talking to a planner the other night who has years of good experience in the industry. She was taken on by an agency who ended up using her to create financial plans, do invoicing, answer phones, make coffee and buy biscuits. That’s an expensive office junior!

I also had an experience a few years ago when I was hired as a copywriter. The agency found out that I could draw and decided to use me as a visualiser instead. I was probably the highest paid and least talented marker jockey in London that day.

Timing is everything
It’s never a good idea to leave your hiring to the last minute – but that seems to be the way that most agencies do it. Plan in advance and make a firm booking with your freelancer, if you can.

One of the worst practices is ‘pencilling-in’ a tentative booking. That puts a freelancer in a terrible situation. They feel as if they can’t chase for more work the way they normally would. And if someone calls them to offer them work, they can’t say yes right away because they feel they need to call you first to see if the job’s still on. It’s disrespectful and it sucks. Either book a freelancer or don’t.

Finding the right freelancer
See every freelancer that contacts you and make notes on who was good and who was awful. If you don’t have your own contacts, ask for recommendations from people in the office. Get the portfolios in (or look at them online) to see which ones you like. Then talk to the people – you want to enjoy working with them. But it’s not a train wreck if they turn out to be a bit crap – you’ve not made a commitment and don’t need to hire them again.

Be prepared
It always surprised me how most agencies just weren’t ready for me when I arrived. They were paying me to sit around reading a magazine in reception while they found me a desk, sorted out a computer and got ready to brief me. Very often this would take all morning and would have wasted a lot of money. Crazy!

Are you in or out?
If you don’t need a freelancer to work from your office, don’t ask them to. They’ve probably got their own setup that they’re familiar with and can get on with stuff faster without the distractions of getting to know new people.

Well, I think that’s about it for agencies. Feel free to pass this post around and share your own wisdom in the comments area below.

Next I’ll be sharing my advice with freelancers.


Leave a Comment
  1. Stan Lee / Nov 14 2008 11:49 am

    Excellent piece Dave, especially the bit near the start about paying them like suppliers.

    I was about to share the link with all staff then I remembered the WPP email I got that has seen us clear the decks of freelancers and take on more work than ever.


  1. How to be a good freelancer « The Dictionary of Specific Generalities

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