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What does it take to onboard a freelancer well?

A great onboarding can be the difference between good and great work. Make sure you're getting off to a good start when working with freelancers.

Speak to any freelancer, and they'll have a story about a client project which started without the essentials to get going.

It could be waiting in reception for 45 minutes for someone to come and pick you up, not being able to access the wifi, a poorly written brief, unclear lines of reporting, or not even hearing from the client on Day 1.

Good quality onboarding is one of the most essential stages of any project where you're working with freelancers - not only does it mean you're not wasting time and money whilst they're not able to work, it also gives the freelancer a hugely important foundation for doing good work - confidence and clarity on what needs to be done, how you want to work, where resources and support lies and what to do if something goes wrong.

No onboarding can slow a project down, lead to anxiety and mistakes being made or work not getting completed on time.

Good onboarding accelerates the path to great work, and builds a strong relationship with your extended team.

What makes for a good onboarding?

Based on our discussions with the community there are five essentials for a good onboarding:

1. Key points of contact - who is your day to day point of contact for the project, and who should you escalate things to if something isn't working? Get the basics right, including an email address and phone number, so if someone is turning up and reception don't know who they are, they're able to call you. 

2. A good clear brief and context for the project - writing a clear brief is an art, and beyond the scope of this article, but making sure you're really clear on what you're expecting of the individual, the scope of work, the deliverables, and also how the project fits into the bigger picture. Freelancers aren't emotionless resources, we care about why we're this work matters and what impact it will have.

3. Access to resources - How do I connect to the wifi? Where are the brand guidelines? Who do I call for IT support? How do I get back into the building? What tools and technologies do you use to communicate and how can I access them? Make sure you're listing the really tangible tools and resources which you probably have memorised, but new members of the team will need introducing to.

You should also provide links and signposting to any support services which they have available whilst you're working together - this might be an EAP, WorkWellWith.us, or internal company helplines for any issues, or links to industry support, such as NABS within the advertising industry, or the Film and TV Charity for film and tv roles.

4. Ways of working and organisational culture - What's are your values and internal behaviours? Clearly communicating your culture and expectations around ways of working is really helpful to onboard a freelancer - this could be operational detail like what times of day people are online, what days people are in the office, and any regular standups or status meetings, or more intangible aspects like the values of your organisation that you expect others to uphold whilst working with you. These are often likely to be different per team, so don't be generic.

5. How to get paid - help the freelancer 'get set up on the system' on day 1, rather than waiting until the invoice is due, and be clear on any requirements you have for invoices, approvals, timesheets and processes you have to approve payments.

At its most simple, a one-page PDF which you can email to the freelancer when you've invited them to work with you will suffice. Sometimes you'll need more detail, and pointing to a public page on your intranet can work, or use a platform like WorkWellWith.us to host your onboarding content, as well as support resources, when first welcoming freelancers.

Make sure anyone who is hiring and welcoming freelancers to your organisation is aware of what needs to be included in your onboarding, and use each freelancer who comes to your business the opportunity to ask any questions - these can be invaluable to update your onboarding documentation over time.

To help you writing a simple onboarding document for your freelancers

We've created a boilerplate which you can copy and replace its content with your own. It hasn't got all the answers, but it's a good structure and starting point to work from, and we'll be updating it over time, as we hear how organisations are using it, and what else we can add.


Tip for Freelance Friendly businesses:

Make sure you have a handy onboarding document for your freelancers, and communicate its existence to anyone hiring and welcoming freelancers. Find the common point in your process where there's always an intervention with the freelancer (ie. setting up their contract, signing them into a building, or inviting them to your slack), and automate it where possible.

Tip for Freelancers:

Always ask for your clients onboarding documents, and if they don't have any - prepare a set of standard questions you'd want answering on before you start work. If your client doesn't have an onboarding document, refer them to Leapers, and we can help them develop something Freelance Friendly.