The freelance lifestyle is on the rise. In fact, according to Intuit, the gig economy accounted for an estimated 34 percent of the workforce in 2017. Nowadays, many indys work with corporate clients on a contract level, without the schedule and oversight of traditional employment. While this type of arrangement can offer freelancers an exciting look into how a big brand operates, it often leads to a frustrating struggle with bureaucracy, insufficient processes, payment holdups and poor communication.
As freelancers, we want to do all we can to build successful working relationships. But, of course, it’s important to remember that relationships are two-sided. Here are the four main things I look for from my corporate clients:
1. Strong Initial Communications
Before you even accept a project from a client, pay close attention to how they communicate with you — because it’ll be the first clear example of how they conduct business. For instance, I once noticed a lot of red flags in my initial conversations with a potential client. They made appointments and canceled at the last minute. They took well over a week to respond to my emails, but were frustrated when it took me 24 hours to respond to theirs. Then, when it came time to sign a contract, they dodged me until I finally told them we couldn’t work together.
Of course, this experience isn’t typical of every client. But if you do pick up on any red flags, take them seriously. It’s the one way to protect yourself before agreeing to a long-term contract or project. A client who clearly and consistently communicates with you in the initial stages of a project will be a much easier contact to work with for the duration of your contract.
2. A Team Environment
Every freelancer wants a client who treats them like part of the team — even when they’re not working on site. Unfortunately, many corporate clients often forget that they need to develop specific, position-based onboarding strategies for their freelancers, just like the orientation they do for their full-time staff. Once, a client hired me to write for them, but provided no information on what they were looking for in their content. There was no style guide. No strategy. Just a “looking forward to seeing what you come up with” note, and the expectation that I was a mind reader. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the client’s faith in my skill set, but the project would have been smoother for both sides if we formed a partnership from the start.
Mallika Malhotra, a brand photographer and strategist, agrees. “When I work with bigger companies, they are surprised when I ask them to schedule time with me to talk,” she explains. “[But,] in order for me to create visuals to bring their business to life, my process includes face time where we dive deeper into their story, mission, values and culture.”
Overall, as freelancers, we want to be able to collaborate with our clients as necessary to better understand their goals and how we can help to achieve them. “A brief or email with their objectives isn’t enough,” explains Malhotra. “We need to brainstorm together to best strategize and be creative for their brand. It’s a partnership and a process — not something that happens in one meeting or overnight.”
3. Consistent Payments
One of the biggest complaints freelancers tend to have about working with corporate clients is that they often receive late payments or bounced checks.
“Prompt and streamlined payment procedures are a win for both sides,” stresses writer, Theodora Sutcliffe. “Many multinationals expect small businesses to jump through the same accountancy hoops as major suppliers working on multi-million dollar contracts, which can be a major time-suck.”
Miranda Miller, a freelance writer, has had a similar experience. “I wish all clients understood that writing is my profession, not a hobby,” she explains. “When I send an invoice, I expect to be paid in a timely manner. I shouldn’t have to call or send email after email, hoping they’ll reply.”
I encourage all my fellow freelancers to spend some time during their initial assessment of a potential client determining how payments will be transferred, when you can expect to receive them and if you will levy fees on late payments. Communicating clearly from the start will help you establish the necessary payment expectations.
4. Respect for My Expertise
One of the reasons corporations hire independent workers is to be able to tap into a contractor’s level of expertise without having to bring them on as a long-term employee. But, sometimes, these individuals don’t get the respect they deserve.
“I’d like corporate clients not to think of freelancers as short-order cooks who simply create with the given specs,” says writer, Sarah Wildberger. “We can do that, but a good freelancer can be a great consultant and contributor to the whole enterprise.”
In order to build a strong working relationship, clients must treat their freelancers like on-site employees — showing that they appreciate their time and understand the demands of the indy’s role.
“Respect me as another professional,” adds Nancy LaFever, a freelance writer. “That means my work schedule (which may be just as booked as yours), deadlines and processes need to be acknowledged and factored into our collaboration.”
If your clients aren’t taking your time and effort into account, be direct and remind them of your needs and how you prefer to accomplish the work. Don’t let the problem fester into something bigger.
Moving Toward Positive Change
Remember: Freelance workers are an asset to any company. And as an indy, you can only perform your best when you are given the tools and information you need to succeed. Your clients have to do their part in building a strong partnership by being clear, communicative and respectful.
And any clients who are falling behind will have to change their ways soon, as the number of freelancers is growing faster than ever. In fact, the Intuit data reports that freelancers are expected to make up 43 percent of the workforce by 2020.
We’re in demand, and more and more corporate clients are starting to recognize that fact. They’re beginning to recognize the unique benefits of working with independent professionals. They’re working harder to attract us to their opportunities. And they’re beginning to develop specialized onboarding processes and payment programs that meet our needs. The tides are turning, and I’m super excited to see the indy workforce continue to grow and evolve.