Onboarding is an expected part of the new hire experience for employees, but when it comes to freelancers, hiring managers and team leads often underestimate its importance.
It’s no secret that there’s sometimes a disconnect between hiring teams and freelancers looking for work. Freelance content writer Masooma Memon writes on LinkedIn that, anecdotally, “8 out of 10 content managers…say it’s hard to find reliable freelancers.” Meanwhile, even for established experts, finding high-quality freelance work is more challenging than ever.
Independent brand designer and Rosie community member Farley White of Farley White Creative believes that onboarding plays a big role in this disconnect. “Making sure that everyone is on the same page and has the same expectations is critical to a project’s success,” Farley says. “It also really strengthens company-freelancer relationships and reduces stress on both sides. I have been lucky to have some great long-term clients, but with everyone navigating relatively uncharted waters of hybrid and remote work, we’re all just doing our best to figure things out!”
Having a good onboarding process that sets freelancers up for success can help: it ensures freelancers can effectively deliver high-quality work, increases the likelihood of building an ongoing relationship, and makes your investment in them worth it!
In other words, you get what you give when it comes to freelancer success on your team. So, how exactly can you onboard freelance marketers and set them up to thrive?
1. Focus on transparency
Taylor Terrell, an account manager at We Are Rosie who helps make sure Rosies onboard to the client and thrive, believes that “transparency is the cornerstone for trust, accountability, collaboration, and success, which is why it is the most critical attribute to a successful onboarding experience and the overall success of a project for independent marketers.”
Taylor goes on to share that this transparency can take different forms in your freelancer onboarding process, including:
- consistent and clear communication from the inception of their hiring process
- outlined expectations from both the project stakeholders and the company they’ve been hired by (in the case of an indirect hire, this is the talent or staffing agency)
- detailed documentation of the team and its most significant processes
- timelines and milestones for the freelancer to reach throughout their project that quantifies what success looks like in their role
“Using one or all of these aspects within an independent marketer’s experience allows them to acclimate to the expectations and culture of their new workplace,” says Taylor. “It also increases their productivity and dedication, which results in higher workplace satisfaction and contractor retention.”
2. Take notes from your full-time onboarding flow
If your team doesn’t have a clear process for onboarding freelancers but does have one for full-time employees, it’s likely you can adapt that process rather than reinventing the wheel. Certain information and requirements (like benefits, compliance training, and standing meetings) may not apply, but a lot of the “heart of the work” information is likely to translate.
3. Get organized before you start the hiring process
Having a process for onboarding independent contractors before you start hiring is just as important as having a job description in hand. Take the pre-hiring preparation phase to work on any internal documents you’ll want to use for onboarding freelancers. Consider including brand guidelines, style guides, company mission and values documents, past project files, team communication methods and best practices, company org chart, systems set up, and anything else that’s important to your team’s best practices.
This step also gives you a chance to update existing documents and figure out what you might need to create to fill in any gaps.
4. Provide examples of past successes
Marketing teams in particular have the advantage of being able to share past campaigns and projects as examples of what success looks like for the team. Many independent contractors benefit from going beyond style guides to seeing actual projects that met the brand expectations and were considered a win. Consider creating an “inspiration gallery” where team members can all take note of the best past projects from the team.
5. Think about the freelancer’s holistic experience
While we encourage a clear and comprehensive process, it’s also important to keep in mind that freelancers or part-timers may have other contracts and commitments for their time, so it’s essential to find the right balance with “just enough” information rather than an overload. The goal is to make onboarding independent contractors streamlined and meaningful, leading to better relationships and work outcomes for all.
6. Consider the circumstances for onboarding remote freelancers
Integrating remote freelancers into a team that isn’t fully remote can be a real challenge. During onboarding, set up time for them to meet any team members relevant to their work on a video call. Think about adding them to your team Slack channel and all-company email list or other preferred methods of team communication. This will help bring them into the fold.
Having been onboarded as both an in-person and remote contractor, Farley White also shared her perspective with us about the importance of onboarding for remote contractors in particular. “I think with remote and hybrid teams, a good project manager is worth their weight in gold,” she says. “They have the ability to make communications, processes, and project flow so much better for everyone! On the flip side, I think sometimes teams that are hybrid or remote struggle to communicate with freelancers, especially if there isn’t a designated person to go to for troubleshooting. They sometimes forget that we don’t have a lot of the context they do about company culture, hierarchy, job functions, etc., so it can be hard to fill in the gaps on your own.”
7. Create a freelancer onboarding checklist
A checklist is a great way to ensure you have a clear process and your independent contractors know exactly what’s expected of them—and that no one misses anything! The checklist can include a list of documents to review, people to meet with, any accounts to create and set up, and even specific project information and deliverables. And, even though you’re probably eager for them to get right to work, be sure to provide time for them to take care of these tasks in their first few days. It’ll help them be more engaged and efficient once they dive into the projects that you’ve hired them for.
Freelancer onboarding is an investment in your overall team
The Harvard Business Review recently highlighted the importance of onboarding for full-time employees’ long-term success: “Companies that implement a formal onboarding program could see 50% greater employee retention among new recruits and 62% greater productivity within the same group.”
Additionally, writers Sinazo Sibisi and Gys Kappers explain that data from Gallup shows that “employees who have a positive onboarding experience are almost three times as likely to feel prepared and supported in their role, boosting their confidence and improving their ability to perform their role well.”
It stands to reason that these insights apply to freelancers too. So next time you bring on an independent contractor or consultant, remember that your onboarding process can help them help you. A clear, intentional, and brand-aligned process that’s on par with what’s offered to full-timers should lead to greater retention, productivity, connection, and success.