objective advice before using a freelancer

Working with Freelance Creative Professionals; An Objective View of Independent Contractors

by John Fineberg, Ability Communications

Corporate America has been operating lean and mean for years. But, while they’ve been trimming the fat, many companies have been using a form of dietary supplement to remain healthy.

Freelance writers, designers, illustrators and photographers have proliferated to meet market demands. Corporate communications, marketing and public relations departments are just a few of the areas that require outside services.

Some companies outsource projects daily. Others call for help only when they lack the time or expertise to complete a particular project.

Comparing with agencies

Many people make the assumption that an agency can provide greater services than a sole proprietor. But a well-connected freelancer can act just like an entire agency, from conception to the final product.

The freelancer, with significantly lower overhead, can also afford to complete a project for considerably less money than an agency. And, with an independent contractor, you’ve got greater control over the entire process. In most cases you’re talking with the CEO, the sales rep, the creative talent and the bookkeeper — all at once.

Selecting a contractor

For some creative professionals, expedience is the goal and cutting corners is the norm. For others, fine quality is the goal and attention to detail is the norm.

Meet with a prospective contractor to see if you’re compatible. Take a close look at samples to make sure you like his or her style.

Inquire about any areas of specialization that are relevant. However, hiring a “generalist” is often an equally wise choice. By definition, a generalist must be versatile.

If possible, conduct your interviews during the “calm before the storm.” That way you’ll be more rational in your decision-making. In your preparation for the unexpected, you’ll be able to build a stable of contractors, ready to meet a wide variety of needs.

Negotiating rates

When asked, most independent contractors will quote an hourly rate. But comparing hourly rates, without considering other factors, is practically meaningless. The bottom line can’t be accurately computed without also looking at speed and quality of work. It’s easy to see that buying the “cheapest” can turn out to be the most expensive.

To feel more comfortable in delegating work, many clients prefer to ask for a per-project estimate. Although a bid sometimes appears to be an arbitrary figure picked out of thin air (and sometimes it is), it’s still more realistic than simply comparing hourly rates.

As the employer, you can simply tell a contractor what you have available in your budget for a project. If the contractor agrees to that ceiling, you have a deal.

Another alternative is to put a contractor on retainer. If you expect to require creative services on an ongoing basis, a fee can be negotiated to “retain” those services in advance.

Protecting yourself

Your company may require that you have a signed contract. Make sure the contract covers as many scenarios as you can imagine.

In many cases, however, a simple letter documenting an oral agreement may be sufficient. For those who already feel comfortable together, trust may be all that’s required.

Distinctions between an independent contractor and an employee are somewhat complicated. It would be in your best interest to familiarize yourself with the legal criteria to make certain you will not be caught off guard and forced to pay employee taxes later.

Reducing your expenses

While you would never pay a full-time employee at this rate of pay, using independent contractors only as you need them actually helps to keep your expenses down. They are not on your regular payroll and you pay none of the Social Security, pension, vacation or other benefits you’re expected to cover for an actual employee.

The freelancer, on the other hand, trades away the security of a regular paycheck and benefits for an intangible sense of freedom.

Ability Communications — © 1998


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