Freelancers are already an affordable, flexible, and efficient resource for many businesses. However, you can increase freelancer productivity even further by being strategic about your relationship and project management systems. Helping your freelancers grow and become more productive is a win-win situation; you end up with more productive work in shorter time frames, and they earn more.
Increasing freelancer productivity makes business sense, because:
- They can turn work around more quickly
- You spend less time managing inefficiencies
- They can take on more of your projects
- They can help you with urgent pieces
When done well, you’ll enjoy higher quality and output for lower costs, even if you give your freelancers a raise!
We’re sharing some tips and tools below to help you help your freelancers increase their productivity in no time.
Tools to increase freelancer productivity
The benefit of freelancers is that you give them a brief, and they take it and run. You can use the tools below to keep everything organized and provide clear communication channels, decreasing administrative time and enhancing output.
Collaboration software enables you to share work, give feedback, make changes, and answer questions, all without leaving the project your freelancer is working on. This allows your freelancer to concentrate their time and attention on your work, rather than dealing with emails or managing version control.
The best collaboration software depends on the work your freelancer is doing. Popular tools include:
Google offers a plethora of free tools, including Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Their workspace brings together all of this and more so you can easily share documents with your freelancers, control access levels, and work within the same doc at the same time. The downside is that your freelancer must have a Gmail account in order to access Google Docs and other tools.
Zeplin offers a sleek workspace for web developers, designers, and copywriters to collaborate. It borrows designs from Adobe XD, Photoshop, and other programs and translates them into code so teams can easily view them as code snippets, specs, assets, and style guides. Zeplin is free for one project and costs up to $12 a seat per month for unlimited projects.
InVison is a prototyping tool used by Twitter, Netflix, and many other notable companies. It was created by designers for designers, and is praised for making it incredibly simple to create an interactive mockup of a design. It offers a variety of products and plans that range from free to $100 per month.
Figma acts as a whiteboard, workspace, and asset library all at once. It’s similar to InVision, except you don’t have to export designs from an external program like Sketch or Abstract. You can design, prototype, store, and collaborate on files all from Figma. Prices range from free to $45 per user per month.
Adobe XD is sometimes described as the “better version” of Photoshop. Photoshop has much more extensive capabilities. However, for designers who are looking for a quicker, simpler solution, Adobe XD could be more useful. Adobe XD additionally lets you share file links, collect comments, and prototype projects easily. Prices range from $9.99 to $52.99 per month.
BugHerd allows users to make comments directly on a live website, so you can pinpoint specific areas and webpages that need work. This is especially useful because freelancers can comment on live and staging websites without making changes, to call out fixes and suggestions. BugHerd starts at $39 per month for five members.
Project management tools
Project management tools are ideal for allocating, scheduling, and tracking freelancer work. They also auto-generate a clear schedule of tasks and deadlines for your freelancers so they don’t have to do it themselves.
You can go one step further and create workflows to channel tasks through a review process that alerts you or the freelancer when action is needed. This standardizes administrative tasks and removes email chains from the equation.
There are many powerful project management tools, but some of the best ones include:
Trello is an intuitive Kanban-style tool. It’s recommended for smaller teams that need a simple, agile way to assign tasks, track progress, and take notes (among other benefits). It’s praised for being user friendly, no matter what device you access it on. Trello is free for personal use and costs around $17.50 per user per month for enterprise teams.
Asana’s project management suite includes boards, lists, and other ways to visualize tasks. It’s an affordable option, ranging from free to $30.49 per month depending on the features you need. Asana also provides clear reports that track who’s working on what, and who may have too much on their plate.
Smartsheet is a powerful dynamic project management tool that can help automate your workflows, build Gantt charts, create forms, and more (in addition to the standard project management task tracking and assignment functions). Their pricing starts at $14 per month when billed annually.
Basecamp has been described as “the perfect solution for remote teams.” It includes tools to manage schedules, message team members, check in, and share docs. They have a free plan for personal use, and a business plan for $99 per month.
Monday offers a clean workspace for planning, tracking, and assigning work among multiple freelancers and/or team members. You can even track time, budget, and approvals directly in Monday. Plans range from free to $16 per user per month.
ClickUp lets you manage everything from project timelines to subtasks and time tracking. It has many robust tools and customizations, which can feel overwhelming, but once you get the hang of it, it can be a powerful solution. ClickUp offers a full-feature plan for free, as well as a plan for $5 per user per month.
Facilitating instant two-way communication with your freelancers is crucial to provide them with the necessary information to do their work, and you with a quick way to answer questions. Think about it: the more time they spend composing emails, leaving voicemails, and waiting for a reply, the less time they’re working.
Speaking from the POV of a SME who leans toward action, it’s also frustrating for the freelancer to sit on their hands waiting for approvals.
Luckily, many of your existing tools already have instant communication functionality, such as:
- Chat areas in Google Docs and Slack
- Messenger on Skype and Microsoft Teams
- Video conferencing apps like Zoom and Google Meet
Knowledge is the bridge to efficiency. The more your freelancers know, the less time they spend researching and asking for information.
Facilitate knowledge sharing by giving your freelancers a cheatsheet of all the essential information they might need. This could include your mission statement, top keywords, top-ranking URLs, style guide, boilerplates, brand colors — anything that prevents your freelancer from reinventing the wheel.
Here’s a content project brief I put together to capture all the details needed for freelance articles!
Even better, turn this into an editable document for your freelancer to update with their own quick-reference information.
Techniques for increasing freelancer productivity
Tools are fantastic, but there are also simple things you can do to enhance the productivity of your freelancers (and yourself).
1) Open up lines of communication
Freelancers are people too; they have vacations, children, dinner, burnouts…all the usual life admin that makes certain times, days, or weeks less manageable than others.
Nurture your freelancer relationship by establishing one point of contact and opening up the lines of communication. This helps them feel comfortable coming to you about any issues that might hamper productivity, and helps you learn how to better allocate and manage their workload.
2) Provide complete briefs
This cannot be stressed enough. The more details you provide when briefing your freelancers, the less time they spend coming back with questions or needing work corrected.
Drive efficiency in your briefs by clearly outlining the project, including relevant information, adding useful links you’ve come across, and sharing any ideas you already have. Don’t create more work just for the sake of it.
Tip: Grab my content project brief among my content templates.
3) Share style guides
Whether you’re working with a designer, developer, or writer, it’s important to share your style guide with your freelancers so they know how to best represent your brand. Your guide should include things like your brand colors, logo, personality, and tone.
This should serve as a resource freelancers can refer to time and again while they’re working on projects for your team.
4) Set up meet-and-greets
Let your freelancers meet other people on your team. Too often, freelancers work in silos or are left in the dark when their main point of contact is unavailable.
By introducing them to your larger team, your freelancers can learn who to turn to for different information, and become a part of your team. Making them feel like an extension of your team is especially important to keep them motivated, connected, and fully invested in the wellbeing of your company.
5) Schedule an orientation and product demo
It’s easy to forget that freelancers don’t have all the information and context about your company. They may lack valuable insight, such as how your company originated, what it strives to achieve, your roadmap, and your internal processes. Too much obscurity in these areas can lead to frustration or low-quality work.
Share this information with your freelancers through an orientation or product demo. Greater transparency can give freelancers a deeper sense of purpose, ownership, and clarity of how to best represent your brand.
6) Set realistic deadlines
Setting deadlines establishes expectations and allows your freelancers to allocate and schedule work when they’re most productive.
Be open about soft and hard deadlines, and be realistic about what your freelancer can achieve by when. For example, setting a very short deadline probably means your freelancer must work late into the evening or weekend, when they’re naturally less productive. Sometimes, short deadlines are unavoidable, but often they’re out of desire rather than need.
7) Give and receive feedback
Productivity is a two-way street — you need to give and receive feedback to boost it.
If your freelancer spends a lot of time on something you don’t really need, tell them. If they make common mistakes that you have to correct, bring it to their attention.
On the flip side, if you’re doing something that hampers their speed, your freelancers should be comfortable bringing it up with you.
Everyone learns through feedback, but be sure to present it from a place of empathy, with the goal to become the best team possible.
8) Pay well and on time
Timely and consistent payments guarantee you the finest freelancers, who are more productive and require fewer revisions and edits. It also means your work isn’t pushed to the bottom of their pile or saved for the least efficient part of the day, in favor of bigger spenders.
If you respect your freelancer’s skills and time, they will respect your work in return.
9) Expose them to new projects
The last thing you want is for your freelancers to feel bored or burned out. While they may have their recurring tasks and projects, make sure to mix things up every once in a while. Keep the excitement alive by asking freelancers to help on new projects.
Freelancers can serve as a sounding board and even take an active role in the project. Extending the offer cuts through any redundancy and keeps individuals on their toes.
Tip: Ask your freelancers what interests them most. They might be looking to expand their skills into a role you need anyway.
10) Build an authentic relationship
Go beyond a transactional relationship and build a stronger bond with your freelancers. Treat them as true team members whom you want to get to know, not just temporary workers.
Check-in meetings or occasional meetups in person can help. Even a casual message asking freelancers about their day can go a long way toward making them feel cared for and excited to “show up” for work every day.
11) Don’t point fingers
The hope is that you don’t run into any issues with a project. However, if and when you do, refrain from immediately accusing your freelancer of messing up. (There’s no better way to burn a bridge than to accost the people who are trying to help you.) Freelancers, like your full-time employees, deserve respect, appreciation, and empathy to stay motivated while working for your team.
If things go wrong, open up a dialogue and listen to what your freelancer has to say. If there was any miscommunication or error on their part, work towards finding a solution rather than shaming them for the mistake. Remember to stay attentive to their individual needs and to equip them with as many resources as possible to help them perform to the best of their abilities.
12) Express your gratitude
When you’re moving a hundred miles an hour each day and hopping from one project to another, you may forget to thank your freelancers. Like any other employee, they need to feel appreciated.
Consider sending them a card, small gift, or company swag as a token of your appreciation. Let them know you’re thinking of them even during the busiest seasons.
Wrapping up – Increase freelancer productivity with smart relationships, systems, and processes
Your freelancers bring invaluable efficiency that’s impossible to create in house (no time spent hanging around the water cooler, taking leisurely lunch breaks, or writing the Friday office quiz), but that doesn’t mean you can’t drive their productivity further.
And, when you increase their productivity, they have a happier work-life balance too — a win for everyone involved.
Published: July 6, 2020
Updated: August 9, 2021