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Rein in Your Freelancers

Freelancers (at least the good ones) have their pick of projects, and you have to work hard to keep them engaged. Here are a few tricks of the trade.

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In our last column, we talked about how important it is for a small-but-growing business like Altruette to find talented, capable freelancers and consultants to work with. Working with freelancers, though, isn't quite the same as dealing with people on staff. Freelancers (at least the good ones) have their pick of projects, and you have to work hard to keep them engaged. Here are a few ways we've tried to do that at Altruette.

Build your relationship slowly.

Like the best romantic relationships, we've found that great consultant relationships are best built slowly and over time. Yes, we admit, there have been times when we've fallen head over heels with a new talent and thrown a huge project their way without vetting them properly, but that usually doesn't end well. Each time we work with a new freelancer we try to start with a small, manageable project that doesn't have a crazy deadline. If that goes well, we build from there, getting a good sense of how the individual's pace and capabilities as we go.

Be as flexible as possible.

The first thing to understand if you want to work successfully with freelancers and consultants is that you're not the only game in town. They're juggling multiple projects and you have to understand that. We'll ask upfront about a person's other commitments so we can understand what we can realistically expect from them. Several designers we've worked with have had fulltime day jobs at prominent brands. Sure, it means that projects they work on move at a slower pace, but it also means we're privy to all the trends and industry know-how they're picking up during the week. We always plan ahead and are usually able to cut our freelancers a lot of slack if they have big deadlines or need to travel. And once you've shown you're willing to be flexible, it's amazing what they will often do for you. We vividly remember scrambling to get signage done for an event and our graphic designer (who was on a family vacation in Texas without Internet access at the time) had his mom drive him 20 miles to the nearest spot with Wi-Fi so he could send us the file!

Find out what they're really good at.

Julie is especially good at ferreting out what someone is really good at. And sometimes, it's not what we originally hired them to do! Recently a woman we hired to do some social media work for us had great ideas about selling our charms at retail so we asked her to work up a whole presentation about that, even though her background was in advertising.

Make them feel like they're part of the team.

The biggest challenge with freelancers is that you're not in face to face contact with them everyday, so it can be a challenge to make them feel like they're really part of your company. But we do two things regularly: Ask for (and value) their opinions. Now we do this because the freelancers we work with are really, really smart and we need their advice and expertise. Recently we were going to ask the factory we work with to change the type of clasp they were using on a new line of charms we're producing from a lobster style clasp to a spring ring clasp. But we asked a freelance designer her opinion first, and lucky we did. She told us that in her previous job with a major brand, whenever they used spring ring clasps they had horrible problems with breakage, and as a result, had tons of returns. She steered us away from making the change and we listened.

Secondly, we are generous with praise when someone does good work. Being a freelancer can feel somewhat lonely--there's no boss patting you on the back every morning and no coworkers applauding your ideas. So we go out of our way to thank freelancers who go above and beyond and let them know that we really value their work.

The best thing we've found about working with freelancers is that they bring so many varied experiences, talents, and inspirations to our company. One day we hope Altruette will have a full-time staff of hundreds, but right now we're thrilled with our hardy band of "some" timers!

Last updated: May 11, 2012

LEE CLIFFORD AND JULIE SCHLOSSER: Lee Clifford and Julie Schlosser are the co-founders of Altruette. They make a line of classic charms that each benefits one of 35 different charities. Previously, they were both editors at Fortune magazine.
@AltruetteCharms




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