Freelancers for charities

Five tips on freelancer management – THE new skill that leaders need!

By Alexander Stevenson

Freelancers aren't exactly new but they are proliferating - there are now almost five million in the UK.  Freelancers are of course not a different species but there are some ways in which working with them is different.

So here are my top tips on how to work with freelancers in order to get the most from this growing pool of talent:

1. When is the best time to hire a freelancer?

All the usual prompts apply: if you suddenly lose a key person, if it is a particularly busy time of year, or if a project comes up that you have neither the skills nor capacity to fulfil – the 'deploy a freelancer' light will flash…

But I really like this acid test suggested by one of our Blumers who used to be a charity CEO:

  'Can you justify hiring a freelancer to your colleagues?' 

 If you can explain why hiring an outsider on a day rate will improve the organisation and make lives easier then you’re probably onto something. 

2. Where do I find a freelancer?

Word of mouth continues to be the best way - nothing beats an enthusiastic recommendation from someone you trust.  But if you’ve exhausted your networks then it is worth coming to Blume and other agencies dedicated to freelancers.  They (we!) are increasingly sophisticated at guiding you through the process of selecting and hiring talent.  On which subject…

3. What should the hiring process be? 

In a word: proportionate.  One of the advantages of hiring freelancers is that you can spend less time on recruitment.  If you find yourself assembling squads of trustees to interview candidates or writing and then rewriting increasingly long job specifications, then you may be squandering this advantage (and risk losing the freelancer as they get started on a project with a more nimble organsisation).  

However, you should be ruthless about getting answers to the one question that really matters: ‘Have you done this work before?’  You are not hiring a freelancer for their potential or cultural fit (though that would be nice). You are hiring them to hit the ground running and deliver something that needs doing, so it is highly reasonable to make sure they have the right experience.

4. How much should I pay?

Roughly a third more than you would pay if they were salaried staff members. 

Remember that freelancers don’t get sick pay, holiday pay, pensions, or other benefits, and they need some spare time to find work too. 

So don't begrudge them the day rates and, if approppriate, explain the numbers to your colleagues internally so that they don't begrudge them either. 

5. How should I manage my freelancer?  

Very clearly! 

Well of course you should manage everyone very clearly, but freelancers require particular clarity.   First of all, they are likely to be working on other projects, so you and they need to be clear about when you need their time.  

Secondly, remember that they do not have the institutional knowledge that you and your colleagues do.   

Thirdly, if things change – as they often do – you will need to brief them so that they incorporate these changes into their planning and possibly alter the project. 

And one final tip….once a freelancer has finished working for you, keep in touch with them. You will make the freelancer feel wonderful and appreciated - most freelancers get very invested in the charities they work for so want to feel involved.  And of course good freelancers get around and can be great champions and opportunity-spotters for you throughout the sector particularly if they know what you're up to.

Alexander Stevenson is the founder of Blume.  If you've made it to stage 2 (as above) you can book a chat with him to discuss your freelancing needs.