Why work with UX freelancersIf you run digital projects from time to time, sooner or later you’ll have to admit that youneed some UX folks. You may have been aware of it for a very long time, but you’ve been delaying your decision to step forward. This might be for several reasons. You don’t know how to pickthe right UX people since it is not your profession. You might think that they are expensive, and your smartestUI designercanhandle UX tasks as well. Or perhaps you think that the process of selecting and onboarding UXers is complicated, and you don’t have time for it. As you might know from your favourite productivity book, procrastination never brings you closer to your goals. It’s time, therefore, to make a change andget some UXers on board in your company before it’s too late and all your digital projects fail. It’s worth seeing what the most important criteria in the selection process arebefore you evaluate your options:
- Size of your project(s)
- Workload stability
- Alignment with your business goals
- Level of professionalism
- Innovative approach
- Handover process
- Crisis management
- Communication and presenting skills
- Challenger approach
The benefits of working with UX freelancersYou get what you see I mean this literally. The very sympathetic guy who understands all of your requests, wishes, and goals will be the same guy who will design them. This has at least two benefits. First of all, it’s more practical for you to evaluate whether you will like the team because you will meet them during the sales cycle. Easy. The other advantage is that you can call them to account for what they have promised to do for you. Did the sales guy promise designed screens for all of the states of your app? Now the product design guy can’t say that he did not know about this promise! Superheroes for peanuts Good UX strategists can be very expensive. If you go to established agencies like Designit or Frog and you request their strongest UXers, you can end up easily paying €2000–€3000/day. This is a lot of money. Is it worth it? Well, it depends on the impact of the product where you use their knowledge. But you don’t necessarily need McKinsey or KPMG guys for a big sum of money. If you know the UX network well, you can find real UX strategists for €800–€1000/day even in more expensive countries like the Netherlands or Belgium (the USA might be a bit more complicated). In Central European countries like Hungary or Slovakia, it is possible to find really strong experts for €300–€400/day. Of course, you need connections, luck, and persistence. There is no such thing as a free lunch, even in UX. Hire the best After some successful projects with your freelancers, you can offer them a good salary with the intention of hiring them. Some of them will say yes if you offer decent money and you maintain some symbolic elements of their freedom like more home office time or a flexible working schedule, more freedom of speech, fewer administrative tasks, etc. They can keep things that they really liked about their freelance life and say goodbye to the insecurity that they have hated so much. In Ergomania, we also like to hire people with a freelance background because they are independent, proactive, and reliable people most of the time but they like the security we can provide them. Some of our best colleagues were freelancers before joining our team. They like to teach you Freelancers are often philanthropists and idealists. Theybelieve in a better world. They want to make a change and what is an easier way to make an impact on the world than to educate your clients? If they feel that you don’t want to exploit them and throw them away later on, they are very happy to teach and train you…sometimes even for free.
You can make new friends This is probably not the most important factor in selecting your UX team but if you hire the right freelancers, you canbuild real human connections with them that can last for decades. If you pay them a decent wage and they feel your respect, they will put their hearts into your project. And if you have similar principles and some difficult puzzles that you solve together, it can lead to a valuable friendship. Bad choice, easy to correct Everybody makes mistakes. Even in selecting UX people. If you have chosen the wrong UX expert though they seemed better or they are simply overloaded with other projects, this is a problem that you can fix. It is much easier to change freelancers than employees or agencies. Just be fair when you are ending a relationship and pay for the real value of what you have already gotten. Test multiple people When you have a lot of UX tasks you can hire multiple freelancers,in the beginning, to work on the same task (then you can compare the quality of the results) or to work in parallel on different tasks (you can still compare quality and attitude). As time passes, you can keep the best of them; it’s not too much hassle to say goodbye to the less stellar ones. Happy to pick up smaller challenges Freelancers are not super picky most of the time. They take smaller projects, and they pay attention to those smaller challengesas well. Do you want to customise a WordPress template, or fix the end of the funnel of your webshop sales process, or do you need to redesign a contact form? These tasks are okay for them, and you can fix your pressing issues for some hundreds of euro sometimes. Fill in the gaps Do you have a relatively steady workload but need a few more people from time to time? It’s easiest to get freelancers on board in these periods. They don’t ask for food in the peaceful periods but when the war drums are beating you can call them for battle. And when the war is over just release them gently. Of course when you have some freelancers who you use quite often in your projects you have to entertain them in the less active periods as well because they will go away. Maybe they’ll get a big project from Zürich and you’ll find their absence is really painful when you need them again.
The shortcomings of working with UX freelancersThey disappear Most freelancers are decent people but still, they can surprise you. They can completely or partially disappear for many reasons: illness, other more important projects, family troubles, a hurt ego, etc. How to handle it?
- HandleVis majorcases properly in your contracts and have penalties for disappearance.
- Document and follow all steps.If they disappear forever you can hand over the project to a new freelancer or a more reliable agency.
- Have a backup freelancer or a smaller agency to take over in case one disappears.
- Watch for early signs. If they start to disappear for short periods from time to time you can sit down with them and discuss the problem. One of the reasons might be that they have underestimated the complexity of your project and they’ve asked for too little money. For this reason, they’d rather drop the project without caring about the consequences or they give precedence to better-paying clients. In this case, it is better to amend their fee (if they are good otherwise) than to lose a good expert because you were too good at bargaining.
- Make sure that the UXer understands your goals, KPIs, OKRs (Objectives and Key Results),and context so that they can make educated decisions. Nobody can make good choices without properly understanding the background.
- Watch for early signs during the sales and contracting process. It is better to catapult in this phase than two months later when the handover will be very painful.
- If you hire people from adifferent country, ask local IT friends about the prices. You can often find the local prices in studies and articles and don’t forget to ask for prices from multiple freelancers with the same level of expertise to compare their offers.
- Ask for references for each step to be completed in your project if you are in doubt regarding your freelancer’s knowledge about the methodology or the topic in question. Don’t accept generic responses.
- Request onsite work, travellingonly if it has a real advantage. We learned during COVID-19 that in most cases remote is just fine.
- Provide an incentive for travelling and onsite work if you really need it. Don’t be stingy about travel costs; don’t debate over taxi bills.
- Socialise with them when they visit your office to create some positive buzz around working together.
- Explain the value of working togetherfrom the project’s perspective. Check whether your arguments sound rational. If not, maybe it is better just to let it go.
- Provide a high-quality environment for your freelancers that can compete with their home office: a big desk, extra monitor, strong Wi-Fi, quiet environment.
They hate administration Yes, all of them. Freelancers are mostly weak in administration. They make mistakes with their invoice, forget to check your 15-page frame contract on time and so on. Why? Because it is so much fun to design and so boring to deal with legal or accounting stuff. If it would be different they were lawyers or accountants and not designers. Every moment that they spend with administration takes time away from the design that they love. How to handle it?
- Make easy-to-digest, short contracts for your freelancers.
- Keep the administration to the necessary minimum but with this stay strict.
- Give them administrative help for interpreting the contract, filling it out properly, etc.
- Haveframe contacts with your regular partners and use purchase ordersfor the individual projects.
- If they are silent, ask them where they are stuck.
- Make all of your processes digital; use systems like docusign.com or hellosign.com. Eliminate paper.
They take way too many projects Some freelancers are like cavemen. They don’t know when they can kill the next mammoth or catch the next small rabbit. So they like to take all projects whatever comes their way. Who knows whether this will be the last project? So let’s collect everything. Though this attitude sounds quite rational (and is rational in one sense) it might lead to a situation when they take your project when they are utterly overwhelmed. They start to balance the delivery of multiple projects but this might lead to lower quality, frustration, or important deadlines being missed. How to handle it?
- Before signing the contract try to figure out whether they are overloaded. If yes, talk with them about resolution or step back.
- Have a fallback option.
- Watch for early signs and discuss the resolution on time.
- If that freelancer is your best choicepay them properly to give priority to your project.
- Stick to standardised outputs but otherwise do not restrict them.
- Help them to understand your project management tools and machinery.
- Check their tools and if they are better, try to adaptthem.
- Offer payment for your additional requests. Don’t try to save money by causing bigger problems.
- If it’s hard to decide whether your request is additional or should be provided by your original agreementsit down and discuss itand reach a common agreement. Don’t abuse your strength!
They don’t take risk Freelancers have limited resources regarding time and moneyand they know it. For them, a project that gets bigger than they can handle might be devastating. For this reason, they try to avoid risk as much as possible. They won’t pick up bigger engagements for a fixed price and they try to convince you to run the project in a T&M setup. It means you are bearing all the risks, even the ones generated by your freelancers. How to handle it? It is better to accept reality. If you really like your freelancer because they are a good person and a good professional, take the risk. If you can’t handle it, hire an agency and work to have the setup as clear as possible. They rarely have specialisation in one industry Freelancers are like small companies when it comes to industry specialisation. It would be too risky for them to specialise in one industry if their market is not very big (e.g. Norway or the Netherlands) since it would be hard for them to find new projects with word-of-mouth marketing, which is their standard way to get new engagements. How to handle it? Hire freelancers when your business is not very complicatedand does not need a deep understanding of your industry unless you want to employ the freelancer for a very long engagement and they have time to learn your specifics. Good freelancers are not available The best freelancers are booked for several months in advance and very often do not have 40 hours/week for your disposal. How to handle it? Hire superstar freelancers when you can wait. This is mostly a case when you want to set up a new start-up but are not in a hurry. If you find a good expert, it is better to wait than do something with a mediocre one when you run the risk of having to throw away everything six months later. Hard to find the right ones There are some really good experts for a reasonable price but often they are not good at marketing. They don’t have an impressive Bechance portfolio, a stellar LinkedIn page, etc. So if you just jump on LinkedIn and type Senior UX Strategist Amsterdam, don’t expect to find a load of good results with faces with the open to work badges. How to handle it? The best way to find the real pros is to ask around among your biz friends who have a huge UX network. This is how you learn whether somebody is good, whether that Product Innovation Ninja label on LinkedIn is genuine. Special requests will come Everybody has special requests, but experienced freelancers feel that they are in a position to ask you those things. They can’t participate in your workshops with last-minute setups; they prefer to work in the evening or at the weekend; they need to pick up their kid at 3.30 pm when you wanted to schedule that important Steering committee meeting. Not to mention that they definitely don’t want to use your obsolete corporate infrastructure. How to handle it? Understand their restrictions and expectations from the beginning. Talk about this topic openly. If you can’t live with them, let them go. If they are rational requests, pay for the extra troubles or at least act grateful.