Whether you’re first starting out in your business—or maybe you just want to keep your team small and flexible—freelancers can be a fantastic asset alongside an in-house agency team. Benefits to you and your agency include: only having to pay on a per-project basis instead of being tied into an ongoing salary; being able to choose different freelancers with different specializations; and hiring and ‘firing’ as you need to.

illustration of a guy with a laptop jumping
design by BATHI

Of course, there are also challenges: freelancers won’t be as familiar with your brand; they are often remote and won’t be present in face-to-face meetings; and you can’t easily switch their priorities around as you would with someone in-house. When you have a diverse team made up of all kinds of different backgrounds, languages and locations and limited or no in-person contact it’s incredibly important to learn to manage your team effectively.

Here are our 9 tips on managing a remote freelance team:

Before you hire your freelancers

If you haven’t gotten your freelancers together yet, here’s how you can set them (and you) up for success:

1. Get organized

sportswear production infographic
Documenting how things work in your team and business will save a lot of time and hassle as things get very messy. Design by LittleFox

When you’re starting out as a solopreneur or small team, you usually just get on with things. You don’t stop to think about why you’re doing them or how. As you start working with more people, whether they’re remote freelancers or in-house team members, you need to get all that stuff out of your head and down on paper (well, on virtual paper in Google docs, at least). This can include your business processes—think editorial calendar, sales funnels, customer FAQs—as well as your internal systems, like meetings, ways of working and so on. Get started with a simple list where you note down the steps you’re taking as you do them and you’ll soon find you’ve got a nice set of documented processes!

2. Hire carefully

yeti campfire illustration
You want people on your team who you’d be happy to have a drink with. (Even when you can’t because they’re far, far away.) Design by BATHI

Trust is going to be key when you work with a remote freelancer team. You’ll want to be super clear on the kind of person you need and what they’re going to be doing and be sure of their competence, experience and communication skills before you bring them onboard. Even though they won’t be in your office—or maybe especially because they won’t be in your office—you’ll also want to find people you click with and who you know you’ll have fun with! You can use sites like 99designs to vet people, especially if it’s just for a one-off job. These pages screen designers so you can be assured that there is already a good level of quality and trust.

Getting started with new freelancers

3. Do a proper onboarding

web page design entry for Aborda
All aboard! Design by 1NS@NE Media

Make sure you invest time and energy in onboarding any new freelancers and you don’t rush straight into the details of all your urgent projects. If it’s just for a one-off project then you can do this quite quickly but if you plan to work together over a longer period then that means spending time getting to know them, introducing them to other team members and explaining your company values and culture. It also means agreeing on principles like how often you’ll check in with each other, how best to communicate (e.g. email, phone, Slack, etc.) and being super clear on what your expectations are.

4. Brief them on your brand

Rocky Mountain Stoneworks Ltd logo
Design by Design House

Before you let them run wild with your designs and projects, you’ll also want to take your new freelancers through your brand strategy. Depending on their role, you’ll want to spend more time on some elements than on others: if it’s a graphic designer, then you might focus on your style guide; if it’s a copywriter, then make sure they understand your tone of voice. Of course, you’ll also need to give them access to all the materials they’ll need, like logos and other brand images and content.

5. Set clear expectations

Illustration for a 99designs newsletter
The best working relationships and outcomes are when you balance clear guidelines for working together with the freedom to be creative and have fun! Design by LittleFox

What specific goals do you have for the relationship? What tasks are included and not included? Do you have a preference for how you want things done? Be as clear as possible with what absolutely has to be included or done in a certain way and where there can be more flexibility. Creative work requires freedom and space to explore so don’t be too prescriptive unless absolutely necessary (and, if so, it helps to explain why!).

Managing your team ongoing

6. Set reasonable deadlines

clock packaging
Packaging design by FORTUNA Design

Good work, and especially creative work, takes time. Don’t be a tyrant with last-minute deadlines that’ll mean working outside normal hours. In any case, freelancers will have multiple projects going on, so they might not even be available to work at all at the last minute. This also means that you need to stick to your own deadlines—if they need something from you on a certain date and you don’t deliver, then you can’t expect them to either.

7. Use tools to your advantage

Man wearing virtual reality goggles
A truly virtual team? Via Pixabay.

The whole idea of a virtual team is made possible thanks to technology, so use that technology to make your lives easier. Effective communication and collaboration are so important when you’re working in a virtual team. For instance, you might consider a project management tool like Asana, Trello or Basecamp, or something like Skype or Zoom for doing video chat. Emails and texts can often be misunderstood so try to speak to each other as much possible. Find smart ways to make working together easier—and more fun!

8. Set up a tracking and feedback system

C02 Commonwealth Games graphic
Setting clear goals and tracking progress against them will help to keep your team—and your projects—on track. Design by LittleFox

Since you won’t be directly overseeing their work and you can’t just have a quick chat by the water cooler, you’ll need to find a way to track how each team member is performing. This is just as important for them as it is for you. With clear expectations and deadlines set ahead of time, you can check in regularly to make sure things are on track and catch any issues before it’s too late. A quick call once a week is a great way to have the personal contact, if it works with time zones. Otherwise, you can use something like Telegram or Slack to stay in touch. Emojis, gifs and stickers keep the tone lighthearted when you’re communicating only in writing.

9. Make them feel valued and supported

Illustration of a rapper sandwich on a plate
Try a feedback sandwich: one positive piece of feedback, then an area to improve and then finish with another positive! Design by Warlourd arts

If you find a good freelancer and you want them to stay—or if you just want to be a good employer and an all-round decent human being—then you need to make each member of the team feel valued. Be an inspiring leader even from afar and involve them in your vision. Be a good manager and give them mentoring and coaching to help them improve and grow, just as you would your direct reports. Give them regular constructive feedback on what’s working and what can be improved, while allowing them to do the same to you. You’ll reap the rewards in the form of a stronger and happier team and some good karma doesn’t hurt, either.

Are you ready to manage your remote team?

Some of these steps can feel a bit tedious and overwhelming the first time you do them—especially documenting your processes and putting together an onboarding pack—but the good news is that when you’ve done it once, it’s all there when you need it next time! Getting organized, choosing the right people for your team and being clear on how you’re working together will make things run so much more smoothly. You’re likely to see benefits not just working with your new freelancers but also with your in-house team. Soon, you’ll wonder how you did it without them.

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