Getting the most from your independent contractor: Confessions of a freelance creative

Written by: Dan Kuksa on Saturday, June 01, 2013

The shift away from in-house creative talent is changing the game for some very talented people and the companies that made them redundant. The fact is, the pool of freelance talent is expected to continue growing throughout the decade. For companies in need of contract talent, it means a glorious banquet from which to choose. For freelancers it means dining at a number of new and exciting tables.

I’ve watched the pendulum swing from ‘let’s bring creative in-house so we have more control over costs and creative’ to ‘let’s eliminate in-house creative because the meter is always running on burdened employees.’ Both unjustly characterize creative as an evil expense rather than an investment. Both are played to the percussive crunch of the numbers.

But I’m not here to talk about in-house vs. freelance talent. I’m here to advocate for the ethical treatment of those beings that roam free in the creative-sphere.

Freelancers are a slightly different breed. Some are born independent, some achieve independence, and others have independence thrust upon them. The original freelancers were mercenary soldiers who’d fight for anyone who paid them. They didn’t worry about loyalty. That’s no longer the case

The creative freelancers I know and love are a hybrid. They have many employers, but develop loyalties to their favorites, often going well beyond the project description to help their clients succeed. They genuinely care about the quality and the outcome of their work, and as a result develop mutually beneficial long term relationships.

Occasionally, however, they find themselves being taken for granted and even (gasp!) mistreated by their clients. Though mostly unintentional, this diminishes the relationship. What’s more, when I hear someone complain about a freelance creative, there is generally another side to the story.

In many ways the autonomy of freelance creatives is enviable.

Set your own hours.

Choose to engage - or not - any number of clients.

Work from home or coffee shops.

Avoid office politics.

Enjoy a wide variety of stimulating projects.

Find opportunities to collaborate in multiple industries.

If you don’t like your current boss, another will be along shortly. Believe me, I know. But that autonomy comes at a price. Understanding the other side of the coin leads to better communication and project management, and creates an invaluable ally for you.

Understand economic uncertainty.

Imagine being told after putting in two weeks of work at your job, that you had to wait 60 days to get your pay check. Benefits? None. Unless on a retainer, freelancers don’t have a steady pay check coming in every 2 weeks. What’s more, they must wait until the project is complete to be paid. Some projects take months. That’s why many ask for 50% up front. They’re being practical. Pay them on time.

Consider the impact when you delay.

One of the easiest ways to meet a deadline is to be prompt in responding to vendor requests for content, input and approvals along the way. Without timely client feedback, the project they worked on all weekend can sputter and stall.
Even worse is the momentum lost as projects get pushed off the priority list. Client meetings can be great brainstorming sessions. Allowing the buzz to go cold is self-defeating.

Respect the artist.

With very few exceptions, freelancers are people too. They put it all out there with nary a scapegoat in sight. There’s no blame chain. The buck stops with them and they respect that. But masochism has fallen out of favor with independent contractors. Have you ever watched a comedian die on stage from audience neglect? Haven’t you also seen performers that are absolutely on fire driven by the encouragement of the crowds? Who’s getting their money’s worth from the performer?

Freelance creatives are a diverse, talented and bountiful resource for businesses and organizations that don’t have in-house capabilities. They bring their energy, their outside-in perspective, and when treated right, their undying loyalty. That way, everyone wins.


Kathy Eber is a freelance writer from Ingleside. She currently sits on the Board of YouthBuild Lake County, a non-profit organization that gives at-risk young adults a second chance by providing them with the education and training needed to build a better future for themselves and their families.


Dan Kuksa

1860 W. Winchester Road , Suite 103, Libertyville, IL 60048