In over a decade of freelancing, I’ve had clients tell me a lot of stories about their businesses. Some of these stories were about the bad experiences they had previously had with freelancers.
They weren’t discouraged by those setbacks, but many others are dissuaded from hiring freelancers when they hear the horror stories.
My aim today is twofold:
- To explain why the most common arguments against hiring freelancers are wrong.
- To help you avoid bad experiences.
Freelancers are unreliable
The most common freelance horror story features a freelancer suddenly disappearing mid-project, never to be heard from again.
The question to ask yourself is: why would someone disappear before finishing the job?
The answer, almost always, is one of these three:
- You paid someone you don’t know in advance and they turned out to be unethical.
- Your relationship with them was terrible.
- They had a personal or family emergency.
In the first case, just don’t do this. Sometimes it makes sense to pay half in advance or use an escrow service. But never pay someone in advance unless you already have a very trusting relationship with them.
In the second case, it is usually a problem of communication. Most problems of communication are two-sided — there is no way your communication/management skills are perfect and it’s all the freelancer’s fault. Examine what went wrong. After all, you’re the one who hired this person — either your hiring skills can be improved or your management skills. Or both.
As for the third case, I have a story to tell.
About six years ago, I was working on a strategy game as part of a team of freelancers from around the world. One day, a guy on my team disappeared and we didn’t hear from him for a month.
What happened was: his wife left him, he got divorced, depressed, and escaped to Bali. You can call it unprofessional but it wasn’t malicious. When he sorted out his family situation, he returned apologetically and offered to work for free for a while to make up for the problems he had caused.
We all agreed to put him back on the project and it worked out very well.
No matter the cause of the freelancer’s disappearance, this is less of an issue with traditional employees because you have leverage over employees. Full-time employees depend on you for insurance, their mortgage payment, and next month’s rent. Freelancers tend to have multiple clients and view each one as a partner, not as an omnipotent boss.
That’s why employees are less troublesome. But ask yourself: is forced compliance what you want or do you want a healthy relationship?
You want your business to have the best possible bottom line.
The freelancer you hired wants to extract as much money as possible out of your business.
You are both rational players in this game. Peter Thiel called this a problem of misaligned objectives. Of course, Peter Thiel also said that ignoring your family is a prerequisite for startup success, so he’s not one to appreciate work-life balance.
Jokes aside, he has a point. With two forces pulling in opposite directions, the resulting vector tends to go nowhere — or at least move slower.
With employees, the objective problem is solved inherently to an extent — if the business fails, the employee ends up without a job. Freelancers aren’t normally too perturbed by this possibility. Further, employees often have additional incentives such as stock options, equity, etc.
I’ve got some good news for you — nothing’s stopping you from giving equity to freelancers. And it needn’t be unconditional — you can write a contract that ties the equity to certain performance expectations, or duration of the project, etc.
It’s easy to align your objectives with someone if you’re fair and generous.
You reap what you sow
When I teach freelancers, I advise them to take maximum responsibility when problems arise. I tell them to always fix their own flaws first and blame the client last.
I say the same to you today — when you have problems with a freelancer, always ask yourself what you could have done differently first.
- Can you communicate better?
- Can you be more understanding?
- Can you write a less ambiguous project brief?
- Can you motivate your freelancer to have your company’s best interests in mind?
- If it’s really the freelancer’s fault, can you improve your hiring practices so you find a better freelancer next time?
And always remember — a freelancer is not an employee. Many freelancers have escaped 9-to-5 employment precisely to have more control over their time and better work-life balance. Jeopardize this at your peril.
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