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Getting clients is critical for agency success, but running an agency is a two-sided proposition because clients won’t stick around if the work quality is subpar. Many agency owners lead with a client-first mentality, using freelancers as a means to an end. Instead, agencies must now compete for freelancer attention. Freelancers are not employees, and they don’t want to be treated like employees, either.
At least one in five freelancers is making six figures. Many others are perfectly happy with a part-time work schedule with full-time earnings. Freelancers these days aren’t interested in hanging around for scraps, and they’ll simply fire an agency and move on to another client if the work environment isn’t conducive to the freelancer’s best interests.
Now that I’ve been freelancing for 10 years, I’ve seen quite a few changes in the marketplace. As a teacher and coach to thousands of freelancers, I’ve also seen what’s driving a lot of the self-employment surge. More and more freelancers want to work only with clients they respect and also get respect from.
Much like the Great Resignation, freelancers are claiming a power position in determining what they want their business and workdays to look like. Simply being offered a role with an agency isn’t enticing enough for many, and I’ve witnessed some agency owners get shocked when a freelancer turns down a role or exits the relationship entirely for what the agency owner perceives as minor issues. These are not minor issues, and they are the key decisions behind many freelancers who opt-out to get more picky with their client roster.
Related: Employee or Freelancer Which One Do I Need?
Tip 1: Make payment easy
There is no reason to use net 90 payment terms or pay by check in 2022. There’s no reason at all, and it only serves as frustrating for freelancers. Having that one client who pays in an outdated or slow method causes cash flow and administrative issues because we have to remember to check back in on the payment. Beyond that, if there’s a processing error, no freelancer wants to wait through another 90 day period.
Pay by ACH, PayPal or credit card. Most freelancers use online invoicing systems to make this simple for their clients. Turning around invoices at least once a month is expected, and we appreciate invoices paid even more frequently.
Tip 2: Use guidelines, but don’t hit us over the head with them
An agency once sent me a 46-page writing guideline document to read in order to write two blog posts per month. I didn’t even make it to page two. Seeing another 45 pages to go was enough for me to realize that this was far too difficult for a very small amount of work. It was also a red flag that the client/agency would be too difficult to work with. Another client wanted me to watch an unpaid two-hour video about their process and take a quiz. They ended up being a nightmare to work with, and I should have trusted my gut.
Guidelines are great — when they make sense and make our lives easier. Checklists, good and bad versions of final products, and general expectations to keep things looking and sounding the same are important. They give us nice guideposts.
I keep my own client files with their personal preferences, too. I have one client who only wants two sentences per paragraph and another who hates adverbs. Both these went into my client files with their overall writing guidelines to make it easier to work with a big team.
Tip 3: Provide timely reponses and edits
No one should have to wait months for their work to be reviewed. If that happens without freelancer buy-in, the freelancer is unlikely to honor the edit request. Come up with realistic timelines and responses.
This is especially important in online marketing, when a client who fails to activate the Facebook ads campaign or publish any of the turned-in blogs can then blame the freelancer for a campaign failing to perform. If the company doesn’t publish or stick to an agreed-upon schedule, it puts unnecessary pressure on the freelancer.
Trust me, freelancers are busy. If you circle back months after something was turned in, that freelancer has already forgotten your project and moved on. They’re working on other things right now, and it’s not their fault you waited this long.
Related: Why Digital Freelancing is the Future of Work
Tip 4: Provide enough work to make it worth their time
Freelancers don’t want to learn your guidelines, invoicing requirements, specific project management software or sign in to a special Slack to spend two hours a month on your project. It’s just not worth the overhead administratively for a freelancer to take that project on.
As freelancers, we have to keep a lot of things organized behind the scenes — emails, admin, invoicing and your personal preferences. We want to run a streamlined business too, and it’s easier to work with a handful of clients than 10 different ones with smaller projects.
Especially if the payments are slow or the edits/revisions process is cumbersome. More freelancers will choose to walk away simply because the project size is too small.
Tip 5: Back your freelancers
Freelancers don’t like when clients treat them poorly, and that’s no different when there’s an agency in between. If you choose to constantly side with abusive clients, eventually your freelancers will part ways with you no matter how nice you are.
It’s true that you’re walking a fine line between keeping the client happy and keeping good freelancers on your team. But use your own best judgment and company values to decide when a client is being unreasonable.
Even if you don’t condone a client’s bad behavior, if you’re continuing the relationship at the freelancer’s expense, you’re putting a stamp of approval on it. Don’t count on freelancers to tolerate toxic behavior because you’re desperate for the client’s business, especially if the freelancer is taking the brunt of the abuse.
Make your agency a great place for freelancers and you’ll have top choice of the best digital talent out there. Make it too hard and you’ll struggle with turnover, which can ultimately impact your own client’s happiness.