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My agency works exclusively with freelancers – here’s how you can be a better client

Freelancers can be a very valuable asset

As more workers swap agency shackles for the freelance life, Dan Salkey, co-founder of Small World – an agency startup that works exclusively with freelance talent – explains how agencies can be better clients and partners.

For too long industries have treated freelancers as outsiders rather than team members, threats rather than allies, liabilities instead of assets.

This is particularly prominent in marketing and advertising, where freelancers are called in to do last-minute jobs, toil on pitches or pick up thankless tasks. Agencies adopt this stance at their peril.

Those within the wider business world are beginning to see freelance talent as a way of improving efficiency, while promoting diversity of thought and talent. 75% of business leaders believe it is more efficient to hire a specialist freelancer rather than training up an existing employee. 49% of hiring managers point to highly-skilled diverse talent as the reason to use freelancers in 2020.

This proficient cohort of gig economy warriors is only set to increase. 92% of professionals think now is a good time to enter the gig economy, with 57% looking to take a gig while working. And although plenty of vocal professionals, largely older staff in leadership positions, have grumbled about the pitfalls of working from home, 52% of employees have said they loved the idea of a flexible contract and the ability to work from anywhere.

So, if freelancers are set to take on a bigger role in the industry, how can agency owners make sure they’re doing all they can to attract the best freelance talent out there?

Change perceptions

First and foremost, be a champion of freelance talent within the industry. Shout about them from the rooftops. Change perceptions through communications.

Start by renaming them to reframe what they mean to the world. Use language that makes them feel less expendable and more dependable. This is something the Olympic Committee did brilliantly in 2012 to reframe the role of ‘volunteering’ to that of the ‘Games Maker’. They transformed the perception of volunteering from an incidental role to one that the Games couldn’t operate without.

At Small World, we use Partners and People to communicate that our freelance talent is part of a community rather than a spreadsheet. I’ve seen others such as Liberty Guild use ‘talent’, freelancer matchmaker Genie borrows language from dating to make freelance relationships feel more loving than mercenary, and Fawnbrake’s aptly named Fawnbreakers are made to feel part of a collective.

Love thy freelancer

Give freelancers the same respect you would full-time employees. A freelancer with a great opinion of your agency is your greatest ally because they’re fantastic networkers – they have to be.

This means paying them on time and making them feel part of agency culture when they’re in it. Look to freelancer communities for inspiration on the type of support and benefits that are appealing for gig workers. The likes of Sarah Cross’s Freelancer Magazine is an invaluable resource. Albert de Symons Azis-Clauson, co-founder of Underpinned, is also building a fantastic platform filled with tools and content relevant to freelancers.

Luckily for Small World our culture is built around freelancers, which means our benefits and initiatives are too, whether that’s adding extra cash on to an invoice for local freelancers to join us for a drink when jobs are finished, or our Slack group, a place for current, former and future Small World freelancers to speak about work, life or anything in between.

Trust them

Most importantly of all – trust them. It sounds crazy that this is even a point because nobody should ever hire someone they can’t trust full time. But trust seems to be afforded to freelancers in smaller spades than full-time employees.

Freelancer vetting is important – it’s something we pride ourselves on and we’re always happy to recommend great people to our agency friends. But once you’re past the vetting process, don’t hold back. The most important way of showing trust and tripling efficiency will be to allow freelancers face-time with clients. Telling that to other agency owners often makes the hair on the back of their neck stand to attention.

“But what if the client cuts me out of the equation?” I hear you ask. A valid concern, but you should rate the service your agency offers enough to know that won’t happen. What will happen is that you’ll end the Chinese whispers of client feedback and make your freelancers feel trusted at the same time.

We must be consistent and bang the drum for those brave ones who trust the value of their skills enough to strike out on their own, that risk isolation for the promise of freedom. Their talents are numerous and the benefits to businesses of using them are clear to see.

And if you’re a freelancer reading this, come and join us at Small World. We’re rapidly hurtling toward the cooperation economy. As technology allows us to decouple some of the centralized organizations that exist, it’s easier and smarter than ever for talented people to work together.

Dan Salkey is co-founder of Small World.

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