I employ freelancers a lot, for artwork, layout, editing, copywriting, sword-making and all sorts of things. Basically, anything I need to get done but lack the skills to do myself. In the light of the recent grotesque Fiverr advert, a platform that connects freelancers with clients (like me- I found the person who transcribes my online course videos there) let me lay out for you Guy’s Three Laws for Employing Freelancers:
1) YOU ARE NOT THEIR BOSS. Unless you are paying a full-time living wage plus benefits, your freelancer must, by definition, have other gigs and have other things going on in their life in addition to your super-important job.
2) Pay on time. Money is always tight, and so I prioritise paying all bills in proportion to how much difference my payment is likely to make to the person I’m paying. Small freelancers tend to have a very tight cashflow; my paying them on time makes much more difference to their quality of life than it does to the shareholders of big companies.
3) Agree everything in advance, from delivery date to payment schedule. Never haggle, never rush them. I expect my freelancers to stick to whatever agreements we make, but I would never rush them to get a job done early. When it comes to their fee, do not haggle.
There are some freelancers who are crap at their jobs and unreliable. True. You might get burned- I remember one sword maker who I will never commission work from again even though his swords are excellent, who lied over the phone to me. He assured me the swords (that were 8 months late) were packed and ready to go, so I paid the final instalment… and waited another three months. I got them eventually, but lying to me is an absolute deal breaker.
But most freelancers in my experience are in their line of work because they love it, they care about it, and they are only occasionally gifted with good business sense. It’s up to us clients to nurture them so they can do the work we love, and make a living from it. Where it's appropriate to do so, leave feedback or a review; it makes a huge difference to picking up new clients. Your goal in every transaction should be they hope you'll order things again.
Now, freelancers, here's an idea, and a tip:
The idea: you can segment your client base into four groups: ok and not okay, sophisticated and unsophisticated. An ok client pays on time, and the proportion of hassle to money is worth it for you. Some clients are sophisticated; they understand a lot about your art, they've ordered things before. Others are not; maybe it's their first time ordering a sword, so they have no idea how long it takes and what to expect. They may still be ok clients- but sophisticated and unsophisticated clients will need to be treated a little differently. The absolute worst client is the one who thinks they are sophisticated, but actually knows shit. This is the kind of client who will specify rockwell hardness at different points along the blade for a hand-made sword, or send you specs to the 1/10th of a millimeter as if you were a CNC machine.
The tip: fire your not-ok clients. It's really not worth the time, hassle, and pain for the money- if they ever pay you. It takes nerve to fire clients, especially when you're short of cash, but you absolutely must if you're ever going to be able to make your ok clients happy.