Managing freelancers doesn’t have to be daunting. In this article, we’ve outlined five key processes to master for effective freelancer management—so you can outsource tasks without creating extra work for your team.
Freelancers are self-employed workers who aren’t committed to a single organization long-term. They’re often experts in their craft, honing their skills across different companies and projects.
If you have lots of specialized work but not enough bandwidth, freelancers can help. Building and maintaining a freelance team can help you reduce overwork without the commitment of hiring additional in-house employees. And with the right workflows, you can manage contractors without creating more “work about work”—tasks like communicating about projects, searching for information, and chasing status updates.
That’s where freelancer management comes in.
Freelancer management is the process of building and maintaining a team of freelancers. It includes everything you need to do to keep your freelance engine humming—from administrative tasks like invoice tracking to managerial duties like onboarding and communication.
At its most basic, freelancer management comprises these five responsibilities:
Sending and receiving assignments
Tracking invoices and budget
Managing freelancer relationships
Managing freelancers is different from managing in-house team members. That’s because you typically hire freelancers for a specific task or project. Plus, freelancers often choose to contract with multiple companies at the same time, so your work isn’t their only focus. For that reason, they often work more flexible hours than regular employees—focusing on deadline-driven assignments rather than being available during specific work hours.
On the other hand, full-time employees fill an ongoing role that may evolve over time. They’re more of a long-term investment, requiring a significant onboarding period to get them up to speed on company processes and culture. Thanks to that upfront investment, in-house employees have the knowledge and resources they need to learn, grow, and take ownership of complex projects. On the flip side, freelancers have a more specific focus and should come into a project with the skills they need. For them, onboarding is much less intensive and focuses more on understanding the assignment you’ve hired them for.
Managing freelancers can be daunting, especially if you haven’t dealt much with contractors in the past. But while there are a lot of moving parts, you can break freelancer management down into five concrete steps—which, when mastered, will help you rev up your freelance engine in no time.
Finding the right freelancers can be tough, but it’s easier if you know where to look. Here’s how to start searching:
Use your network: Ask colleagues about freelancers they’ve worked with in the past. Are there any contractors they can recommend?
Ask your current freelancers: If you already work with a contractor and are looking to hire more, ask if they have any colleagues who are open to taking on more work. Freelancers tend to know and work with other freelancers, so they’re an amazing resource for referrals.
Post on social media: Advertise your freelance opening on LinkedIn, Twitter, or another platform. Sites like Facebook often have groups specifically for freelancers to connect and share their craft—for example, groups for freelance writers. Try joining and posting your opening there.
Outsource your search: Thanks to the gig economy, freelance platforms like Upwork and Fiverr are growing. If you’re in a time crunch and need help fast, these specialized platforms help connect you with freelance talent around the world.
When reaching out to potential freelancers, it pays to be very specific about the project you’re hiring for. To set expectations and avoid miscommunications down the line, be sure to communicate an overview of the role, required qualifications, and a rough project timeline. For example, here’s a sample outreach message from a company looking to hire freelance copywriters:
Acme Company is looking to bring on additional freelance copywriters in anticipation of increased project demands. We’re specifically looking for individuals with experience writing content within the software industry who can match our company’s tone and voice. This is an ongoing freelance opportunity, with the potential for 40+ hours/month of consistent work.
Copywriters must be able to:
Provide clean copy in line with our style guide and company voice.
Write emails and UI copy for mobile apps.
Incorporate feedback from product managers.
If this sounds like something you qualify for, please send your resume and any relevant samples to email@example.com.
When you’re doing cold outreach, it’s a good idea to ask for references, work samples, or a brief sample assignment. That way, you can verify that freelancers have the required qualifications before bringing them on board.
While freelancer onboarding is less intensive than employee onboarding, it still takes some upfront effort to get contractors up to speed. Creating a standard freelancer onboarding process can save you time and stress in the future. Instead of starting from scratch each time a freelancer joins, follow a predefined process to ensure new contractors have the information they need to successfully execute your project requirements.
Here are some key pieces to include in your freelancer onboarding process:
A contract: This is a written agreement that outlines project deliverables, payment terms, and your project timeline. Having freelancers sign a detailed contract helps avoid misunderstandings down the road.
Invoicing instructions: Every company handles freelancer invoicing a bit differently. To make the invoicing process seamless, provide instructions for how and when freelancers should submit invoices, plus how to send necessary tax forms and payment details. You can also include an invoice template to ensure contractors provide all the necessary information.
A project brief: Your brief outlines all the information a freelancer needs to know in order to get started on a project. It should include a project description, a list of deliverables, the project deadline, guidelines for executing the project, and instructions on submitting finished work. The more information you provide about your expectations and requirements, the more likely it is that freelancers will be able to produce what you’re looking for.
When it comes to hiring freelancers, templates are your friend. For example, you can work with your internal legal team to create a template contract and project brief, then fill in key details for every new freelancer. It’s also helpful to templatize onboarding communications to minimize back-and-forth and ensure you’re giving contractors all the information they need.
See below for an example onboarding message, but always check with your internal HR and legal teams before implementing any contracts.
Hi [FREELANCER NAME],
Excited to have you join the project team for [PROJECT NAME]. [BACKGROUND INFO AS NEEDED].
BRIEF + ASSIGNMENTS
Here’s a link to the [PROJECT BRIEF], which you also have access to via Google Docs. Your assignments can be found in the Asana project linked [HERE].
The estimated completion rate is [#] minutes per piece, which puts you at [#] assignments (roughly [#] hours) total for this month. Does that sound manageable?
[$] per piece, which equates to a slightly increased hourly rate of [$]. Here’s a link to our [INVOICING INSTRUCTIONS].
[DATE], [TIME, TIME ZONE].
[PRIORITY FOR THIS PROJECT, AS NEEDED]
See [A] and [B] of the brief for examples.
Let me know if you have any questions. If you need to get in touch, please send me a message in Asana.
Sending and receiving assignments is a big part of freelancer management. To make things run smoothly, set up a standard process that all freelancers can use to see their tasks and submit finished work. For example, in Asana you can share a project with your freelancers and then assign them tasks with specific deadlines, so it’s crystal clear what needs to be done by when.
Creating an assignment management system helps avoid extra communication and work. Instead of sending separate emails for every new assignment, you can just add and assign work in your task management tool. Then, contractors can attach their finished work to each task. As an added bonus, this also gives you a bird’s-eye view of which tasks are assigned and completed—so you can see project progress in real time.
Budget tracking is a mainstay of freelancer management. You need to be able to determine how much money you have to spend at the beginning of each month—then assign freelance work accordingly. And at the end of the month, it’s equally important to compare invoices against your projected budget to make sure you’re not overspending.
Creating a standardized budget-tracking process helps you check all these boxes each month. Here’s how to get started:
Determine your invoicing cadence. For example, you can have freelancers submit invoices bi-weekly or at the end of each month. When all freelancers submit their invoices at the same time, it’s easier for you to predict and keep track of spend.
Create a project budget document. This should have space to track projected vs. actual spend for every invoicing period (every two weeks if freelancers submit bi-weekly invoices or every month if they submit monthly invoices).
Send assignments based on how much money you have available to spend. This is easy to calculate if you pay freelancers per deliverable or project. If you pay hourly, be sure to provide guidance on how many hours freelancers should be working.
Remind your freelance team to submit their invoices at the end of each invoicing period.
Collect invoices and use them to document how much you’ve actually spent, compared to the estimated spend in your budget.
Freelancer workers have the flexibility to pick and choose which clients they want to work for. That means it’s in your best interest to cultivate a strong relationship with contractors—because the better your relationship, the more they’ll want to work with you.
Here’s how to build rapport and trust with your freelance team:
Practice emotional intelligence: Emotional intelligence helps you understand how others feel so you can collaborate more effectively. When you apply emotional intelligence skills to your interactions with freelancers, you can communicate with empathy and build stronger relationships over time.
Don’t micromanage: Freelancers work on their own schedule, so it’s not realistic to expect them to be available all the time. It’s ok to check in occasionally, but ultimately you need to trust that freelancers will complete their work on time.
Build feedback into the process: Nothing is perfect on the first try. When working with freelancers, it’s important to build at least one round of feedback into your workflow. For example, have freelancers submit a first draft so you can provide any necessary notes before the project moves forward.
Create communication guidelines: Be clear about which communication channels freelancers should use, how they can get in touch with you, and how you plan to share information with them. For example, you might use a combination of email and instant messaging—or consolidate all communication in one project management platform. This is especially important if you manage a remote team and can’t meet with freelancers face-to-face.
Set concrete deadlines: Clarity is extra important when dealing with freelancers, because miscommunication can waste time and money for both parties. When starting a project, be very clear about when work is due and how freelancers should submit assignments.Read: 8 tips for doing macromanagement the right way
When you put so much effort into building strong connections, it’s important to keep track of all those relationships. That way, you can easily reach out to contractors you’ve worked with in the past when new projects come up.
Creating a freelancer database helps you build and track your freelancer network. It’s a single source of truth where you can see everyone you’re currently working with, individuals you’ve worked with in the past, and any potential new freelancers you haven’t worked with yet. That way, you can always find the right person for a particular assignment.
Here’s what to include in your freelancer database:
Each freelancer’s name and contact information
Strengths and areas of expertise
Projects they’ve worked on in the past
Managing freelancers doesn’t have to be a daunting process. As long as you have the right processes and infrastructure set up, you can build and maintain a healthy freelance team. All it takes is a bit of planning and a hefty dose of confidence.
Managing freelancers can get complicated when you have to communicate via multiple platforms and tools—like email, Slack, Google Drive, and more. Instead of splitting collaboration across multiple apps, consolidate your work in a single project management tool. That way, your freelancers always have a single source of truth for project information and assignments.Try Asana for free