How to Retain Good Freelance Talent

Your firm’s reputation isn’t valuable only when it comes to winning new business and keeping new clients; it’s also a critical factor in recruiting and retaining the best freelance talent. While most businesses have a public-relations department whose job it is to maintain the organization’s status, your interactions with individuals outside the company, particularly creative consultants, can be equally important. For example, a firm that regularly pays freelancers late will eventually find a smaller talent pool from which to draw. Following are five actions you should avoid to ensure your company enjoys a sterling reputation with contractors.

1. Failing to tell consultants they didn’t get a job. It’s frustrating for a freelance professional who applies for a consulting position not to learn that the job went to someone else. Consultants put significant effort into preparing their pitches. Failing to follow up demonstrates a lack of respect and makes it less likely the creative professional will be interested in future projects with your firm. Hiring managers should call individuals to let them know when contracts or projects have been awarded to someone else and, if possible, give the reason. Your explanation may help a consultant with future pitches, and you’ll establish some good will if you decide to eventually bring this person in on another project.

2. Not returning a portfolio. Not giving a consultant back his or her book is bad form—and bad karma. If you kept a consultant’s book while you were making a final decision about whom to hire, return it as soon as you’ve made your choice. Don’t delay—a portfolio is a creative’s lifeline to new projects.

3. Being unpleasant to work with. Just as difficult contractors aren’t asked back, high-maintenance clients—even those who pay well—may lose their best freelance designers. For a working relationship to be effective, there must be mutual respect. No matter how much stress you’re under, don’t take it out on your creative consultant. It’s OK to demand excellent work, but don’t demand 2 a.m. changes or make other unreasonable requests.

4. Not paying your bills on time. From a freelancer’s perspective, nothing can cause more damage to your company’s reputation than a late check. Contractors depend on prompt payment, just as you depend on a timely delivery of projects. Do your part to make sure each invoice is paid as soon as possible. Little things, like making sure a new contractor is in the system before his or her invoice arrives and following up on payments, can help you establish a solid working relationship with your freelance staff.

5. Not meeting them halfway. Consider the following example: On a recent project, you offered a consultant little direction on the creation of a website. You weren’t happy with the final product and had to ask the designer to develop a new version with different positioning. In situations like this, be sure to not place all the blame on the consultant for the end result: You’ll only make him or her feel defensive, which could set up an antagonistic relationship between the two of you for the remainder of the project. Instead, recognize your role in the misdirection and think about what you both could do differently to prevent a similar miscommunication in the future. You might, for example, let the designer know that you’ll do your best to provide clear instructions, but the individual should always ask for additional insight from you if necessary.

In the end, it comes down to the Golden Rule: Treat contract workers how you would like to be treated and you’ll not only inspire them to produce top-tier work, but you’ll also establish professional relationships that last.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and Web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms.