Australian freelancers are not your sounding boards

australian freelancers
Stock photo by Gratisography (not a real act of violence)

There seems to be a wee trend sneaking into the Australian business sphere. And that is treating Australian freelancers as email accountability partners.

What do I mean by this?

Well, I’ve noticed an influx of invites to attend chats, brainstorming and (as one person put it) ‘sounding out’ sessions. I checked with a couple of freelancers I know who nodded in agreement.

This is instead of making a commitment to your own business idea. Rather than coming to us with ideas that need work, you’re asking us to work on the ideas.

There’s collaboration. And then there’s picking someone’s expensive brain for free.

And there’s having a business idea. And then there’s spending more than a trip to the toilet contemplating next steps.

I get it. Once you ask someone about something, you feel obliged to move forward. It’s a way of motivating yourself to take action on an idea that you’ve thought about for a while but not done anything with yet.

What I object to is involving a freelancer when you haven’t actually worked out if this spaceship is gonna fly yet.

Here’s what us Australian freelancers often hear that makes us wonder whether you’re using our inbox to test your idea. And what you can do to avoid making the same mistake.

I’m from XX Agency and we’d like to have a chat about this great idea…

There’s something in the air? I and my other copywriting freelance colleagues have been receiving a lot of agency approaches. Mostly from agencies that are looking to offer content marketing in 2016.

And you know what? That’s great. It’s about content got the props it deserves. Marketing story is a sexy, sassy little witch. And it’s glad to see her finally getting the spotlight solo with agencies.

But there are a couple of things missing from the equation. And they would put these eager beaver agencies in a better stead to make that relationship sing.

Treat it like a proper strategic partnership. We understand you’re from an agency and we’re solo operators. But that doesn’t mean we don’t know how to play in the business world.

  • Come prepared with a rough idea of what the work will look like. It doesn’t have to be a brief. But any freelancer is going to want to know the kinds of work you’re offering, how regular the work and how they fit into the scheme of things. If you have the need for supporting services, you should know what shape these jobs take. Letting your freelancer understand what they are is essential to them being able to judge the opportunity. It also means this is more than you getting excited about an industry magazine article.
  • Stop asking about prices in the same breath as asking for a chat.No business person in their right mind would discuss the value of an ongoing partnership without knowing what it entails. Australian freelancers are professionals. Treat us like the rest of your network or receive an eye-roll.
  • Leave the office headcount game behind. Seasoned Australian freelancers (me included) won’t work from your office if we can avoid it.The world is global now. We know meetings and work happen via Skype, the cloud and email. The days of needing to walk to Bob’s cubicle to get Bob’s input ended in 1998.

If you want a quality freelancer, treat them like they matter. Do your homework. Know what you want and come prepared to negotiate. Eliminate the potential for using time inefficiently by stopping with the face to face meeting and work out of my office caveats.

Follow this advice and you should be out of the realm of content fishing expedition and serious content player in no time.

I only have a small budget…

The average Aussie freelancer doesn’t have a pot of gold to spend on their marketing and business, so we understand what you do spend has to count.

But that doesn’t mean we should have to starve to work with you.

What you pay Australian freelancers covers their tax, rent (business and personal), business outgoings and having a life.

The first piece of advice is doing an Oliver Twist impersonation in their Inbox is uncool. Just ask for what you need. We’re surprisingly understanding, trust me.

There’s no special dispensation box with the ATO labelled “discount rates given to business pauper” that I can tick. So please don’t place me or my fellow freelancers on the spot by making us feel bad about wanting to feed our families.

If a freelancer quotes an amount that is higher than what you were thinking, be proactive about the situation:

  • Explain what your budget is. Most Australian freelancers can tell you what you can get for your budget or direct you to someone who can help you. We network and we try to help.
  • Learn to do some elements yourself. Give the freelancer the core bits of the business to complete and then school yourself in other areas. We’re in a self innovation and self invention world, yo.
  • Break the project down. Staging the work with a trusted freelancer via retainer or over time can be one option you can take advantage of.
  • Take the quotes you have and save your pennies until you can afford it. At least you know what you are in for and are working towards.
  • Become the champion of your chosen Australian freelancers while you wait to get the money together. If you save me money through bringing me work from your network, I can usually find a way to pass that on.

Just don’t chuck that ugly chestnut of “there’s a lot more work where this is coming from for the right person” at us.

It’s a red flag to most Australian freelancers and says “pain in the butt, coming through!” in big, bad capital letters.

Don’t run away and hide if the price isn’t right, either. It’s frustrating when clients ask for prices, never to be heard of again. Give honest feedback. It provides your friendly freelancer with closure and may get you further than you think.

I can make you a founder/pay you in equity/do you accept deferred payment… 

We all know what comes next. You want your chosen freelancer to work for free until you strike gold.

I can’t be generous in this situation, sorry.

This is naive and insulting. And it makes you look like a clown.

My real estate agent won’t accept your good intentions and pipe dreams instead of rent. If I need to go to the dentist, they won’t trade startup shares for a tooth extraction.

And I can’t live on air until you crack the big time. No one can.

Ask the average freelancer if they can afford to work on your project for free and you’ll find out they have a family to support. Mortgage, bills and rent to pay. Living expenses. Having a life.

You get the picture.

This isn’t our sideline. It’s our livelihood. So no, we can’t afford to work on your project for free. Paying people in exchange for their labour is how it works. No matter how much we love the idea or the company.

It doesn’t bode well for your business skills either. 90% of startups fail, 66% of small businesses close their doors in a year. If you haven’t done that fundamental arithmetic and earnestly spent time working out how you’ll generate income to cover business costs, I’m not convinced you’ll be here to pay me later.

If you can’t work out how to make a living out of your business, you’re in a worse off position than most Australian freelancers. We’ve already grappled with that equation and succeeding. Usually by saying no to free work, might I add!

Besides, if I had enough money in the bank to work on your idea for free, don’t you think I’d be working on my own instead?

How to have a bonza relationship with Australian freelancers

  • You recognise and respect the freelancer’s rates.And you’ll work with them to make the budget work for both of you
  • You understand your entering a business relationship. And that respecting your chosen freelancer will get you better quality work in the long run.
  • You know that you owe it to your ideas to work them through to make sure your assumptions are valid. You have no problem with picking up a pen and paper and writing down what needs to be done to ensure everyone is on the same page
  • You have a healthy respect for stress-free work. You’d never dream of trying to rob someone of their nights, weekends and holidays
  • You know that time is a valuable commodity.And that meetings, travel time and brainstorming should be paid for.
  • You appreciate that freelancers work hard at their craft.Paying them on time, respecting their opinion and listening to their advice is all part and parcel of a successful relationship

Freelancers love working with people. Our clients are usually why we do this (yes, the money and working in shorts helps but still…).

What we don’t enjoy are clients who forget we’re people, professional people at that.

It boils down to this: have a budget, outline your project properly and take us (and yourselves) seriously.

Leaving you on a positive note is always a good one, right? If you check these boxes and are looking to meet Australian freelancers, feel free to get in touch!

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