When to Part Ways With a Freelancer
Hiring freelancers can save time and money without sacrificing quality, but when is it better to just go your separate ways?
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Hiring a freelancer can alleviate a lot of stress and allow you to rely on services provided by an expert. In the best-case scenario, you hire the perfect freelancer out of the gate and work with them for many years. As a freelancer myself, I have several clients like this, including one entering their ninth year having me on retainer. Scaling your new or existing business is much easier when you have an expert on your side.
However, that best-case scenario doesn't always happen, especially if you're hiring certain kinds of freelancers like writers or virtual assistants. All too often, a client with the best of intentions ends up frustrated and behind schedule due to hiring and sticking with the wrong person. So how do you know when it's time to throw in the towel and move on?
Most common reasons for firing freelancers
There are a few things that always seem to come up again and again as issues with independent contractors on teams, including:
- Turning work in late (or not at all) .
- Difficulty with communication,
- Low quality of work.
- Refusal to understand or follow instructions/procedures.
Another harder-to-capture but equally important reason I'll call "freelancer drama." One freelancer I managed in the past would send an invoice and then reminders two hours later with notes that he needed to pay his rent and wanted to know if the bill could be paid immediately. It was just unprofessional. As a business owner, you get to decide what does and doesn't cross that personal line for you. If a freelancer brings too much drama, let them go.
No matter what the issue is, the best proactive step to take is the one to protect yourself in all contracts. Using a termination clause with clearly written notice terms gives you the chance to end a relationship that is not working out despite your best efforts.
Ask if you've done your part first
Sometimes, a freelancer just isn't a fit and you need to end the relationship and move on. In other cases, though, you might be able to take some lessons from the situation and apply them to your future. Aside from obvious transgressions (total unprofessionalism, ghosting you, etc.), give the freelancer a chance to correct the situation.
Follow this list:
- Have you asked the freelancer why things aren't working out? When they answer, do they have an appreciation and understanding of the issues you've raised?
- Have you provided them with instructions and documentation that make it clear what you're looking for?
- Have you given them good feedback in a timely manner?
- Have you given them a chance to correct the initial issues raised?
Leave room for the uncertainties of working online. Text communication can be read in a few ways, and it's not always easy to capture the essence of what a client wants upfront, whether it's a blog post, social media strategy, website or logo. A good give-and-take relationship involves a freelancer who knows to ask the right questions and uses your feedback to make revisions.
Document, document, document
Even though you're not in a traditional employer/employee relationship, make sure you have a place to document the feedback you've provided and your attempts to correct the situation. This is best done in writing, such as on project-management boards or in emails. This is helpful for you to reference with the freelancer, but it also gives you confidence to terminate the contract because you know you've made a good-faith effort to fix things. Here are some examples of how you might document a few issues in email:
- "Per my message from January 31, there are a lot of typos in the submitted blogs. At that time, we requested you take an extra close look at work before submitting or use a tool like Grammarly. The most recent submitted article has similar typos. As I mentioned before, it's important that work comes to us with minimal edits required. Please advise."
- "I'm a little concerned that we're using fonts for this logo that are not professional enough for this company. As we noted on today's call, we'll need to stick to fonts that convey our experience and prestige. Feel free to let me know if you need any further help or guidance on that."
- "We rely on deadlines with you to meet our marketing objectives. The last two projects have been turned in six days late; in the future, please advise immediately if you're not able to meet the deadline."
Determine how much time you're wasting
Whether it's low-quality work that takes hours for you to fix or just the frustration of not knowing when a project will be delivered, it's time to put some numbers to the relationship. How much time are you wasting? One big reason to work with freelancers is to save time and leverage outside talent. There's a point, however, when you're putting in too much effort.
If a freelancer just become too difficult to deal with, it's time to part ways. Knowing that you've done your best to communicate and address the concerns gives you license to end things when corrections aren't made.
Don't burn bridges with someone unless there's a true reason for it. Remain professional and firm when ending a relationship.
Here are some tips for how to conclude:
- Determine how you'll handle any work in progress.
- Decide on a final date/deliverable.
- Be prepared to revoke password access quickly just to protect yourself from any other actions taken by that freelancer.
- Communicate that you're ending the relationship. Don't get into details unless you feel like you need to. Statements such as, "We're going in a different direction" can help to avoid any potential conflict. However, if you have honest feedback, it's fine to state this clearly.
- Have a backup plan for any work in progress. When you terminate a relationship, there's a chance the freelancer doesn't deliver or doesn't deliver high quality.
Always give written notice of when and how the relationship will end, especially if you have a contract with requirements for doing that.
Freelancers may not be full-time staff, with all the attendant expectations, but there's no reason to accept a working relationship that's below your overall standards. Hopefully these tips will help you identify the right, and wrong, help for your business.