The Freelancers Are Coming: 4 Tips for Managing Outside Talent

No matter where you work in the creative world, you're probably rubbing elbows – or at least emails – with more freelancers.

And a majority of creative professionals we surveyed for this year's Creative Team of the Future project said they expect to partner more frequently with outside talent in the near future. Fifty-two percent of in-house respondents told us corporate creative departments will rely more on freelancers in the next few years, and 65 percent of agency respondents expect to see more consultants pitching in on projects.

What's driving this trend? The creative professionals we surveyed cited heavy workloads and the need for specialized skills as the primary factors. Amy Marshall, talent manager at Hornall Anderson, is seeing the same thing. The agency taps freelancers to address these challenges as projects ramp up. During the busiest times, freelancers might make up 10 percent of the agency's staff and support various departments, including design, production, client services and strategy.

Are you, like Hornall Anderson's employees, collaborating with consultants to get work done? If so, these four tips can help you build more productive working relationships with freelance staff:

1. Start with clear expectations. Even the best consultants need time to acclimate to your organization and business processes. Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group, recommends setting aside time to go over the basics with freelancers on day one. "Review the project schedule, double-check the freelancer's availability, and outline key milestones and deliverables. And ask if the consultant has any questions for you. This will keep you on the same page and avoid miscommunication down the road."

2. Make time for formal introductions. It's important to make freelancers feel welcomed and comfortable approaching full-time employees with questions, no matter how long they'll be on assignment. To help make that happen, Andy Kurtts, design manager of Brand & Marketing Communications at The Fresh Market, arranges face-to-face meetings (when possible) for freelancers and team members. "The most value comes from freelancers who can meld themselves into the in-house team, even if they are not actually in the office," he says.

3. Laser-focus on communication. "It's amazing how much misinformation is out there," says Terry Lee Stone, a writer, strategist and design manager, and author of the Managing the Design Process book series. "It's like a game of telephone – too many layers between leaders and employees." Start with a good creative brief to get everyone on the same page and then keep it updated. As the project progresses, make an effort to communicate with each team member, freelancers included, in the way that's most natural for him or her. It might be quick questions via instant messenger or longer scheduled phone calls.

4. Create cheat sheets and style guides. Running into the same issues with freelancers time and time again? Document your process and create guidelines. Bernice Curtis, supervisor of Creative Design at GEICO Marketing, ran into road bumps with consultants who weren't adequately familiar with the print production process. To avoid hours spent quality-checking files, her team put together a print checklist to share with external designers.

Do you manage freelance talent? What's your best tip for fostering smooth and productive relationships?

Want to learn more about the Creative Team of the Future? Read our latest Creative Team of the Future posts.