Communicating Effectively with Freelancers

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Working with freelancers is reasonably similar to working with in-house employees but it does have its differences. Lack of communication is a frequent problem that I’m sure you’ve had ruin a project or two.

If you want to get the work done, you need to make sure that both you and your freelance workforce are on the same page. Here are some communication fundamentals to make it easier to work effectively with freelancers.

1. Develop Communication Rules

If you have been working with a particular freelancer for some time, you more or less have an idea about their communication skills and habits. However, if you’re working with somebody new, you can save yourself lots of problems if you develop some communication rules.

State your availability. Nobody expects you to be available 24/7 but if you haven’t set any expectations then you’ll run into trouble.


This is why it’s best to agree on hours when you both will be available online/on the phone. This way both of you know when the other party is available.

Time difference is something important to take into account. For instance, I am in Europe, while most of my clients are in the States. Most my clients know I am available in the morning their time, while for me, depending on which state they are, they are available in the afternoon/evening.

Before that there had been a few cases of “Why don’t you answer my calls/emails?!?!?! I’ve been waiting!” because when clients don’t know I am in Europe, not in California, they presume I am available during their business hours.

You also need to agree on acceptable delay in answering emails – i.e. 12 hours, 24 hours, etc. In the example above I simply explained to the clients that I can’t answer immediately even if I am not sleeping at the moment. Fortunately, no lives were lost due to my delay but I do agree it’s unpleasant when you sit by the phone/computer waiting for an answer.

2. Communicate in Writing as Much as Possible

Years of working as a freelancer and with freelancers have taught me that written communication rules. Yes, it takes a lot of time to put everything in writing but at least for the major decisions regarding a project, it’s a must.

It’s much faster when you speak but the advantages of oral communication end here. Often there will be a language barrier and you can never be sure if what you try to communicate is being received by the other party the way that you intended it. With oral communication, misunderstandings are very easy!

While you are chatting over the phone, everything can seem very clear. The moment you hang up, you just forget what you have discussed over the phone. Also, if the other party is dishonest, they can easily sneak away with the excuse that you didn’t say this and this. When you have it in writing, these problems are gone.

3. No Need for Total Control

If you have worked with employees that need total control all the time in order to get some work done, you might try this approach with freelancers as well. Basically, this approach doesn’t work in any situation – you are wasting too much time and effort on control – but with freelancers especially, this is absolutely doomed.

Freelancers usually love having more freedom, so be prepared to give them their task and hear from them once a day or so. If you feel that you need to exercise total control over an employee — a freelancer or an in-house one — then you have either hired the wrong person, or your managerial skills need some work.

Of course, if the project demands it, you may need to work closely. For instance, the freelancer might have project-specific questions that only you can answer, and then you will have to touch base quite regularly.

4. Don’t Waste Time with Meaningless Communication

When I say that communication is vital, what I mean to say is that meaningful communication is vital. We all know that project communication can be time-consuming, so don’t go to the extreme and communicate when there is no need.

Don’t make long Skype calls just for the sake of it. Freelancers are usually efficiency-oriented; they are not corporate slaves who will stand a multiple-hour meeting just because their boss feels like having such a meeting. These long meaningless calls are pure waste of time.

For a freelancer time really is money. On one project I spent much more time on Skype in fruitless talks than on designing the site itself. I didn’t bill all this time but maybe I should have — this would have cut the talkativeness of the client big time :)

5. Establish Milestones and Progress Reporting Rules

Milestones and progress reporting are common sense in project management. These prevent unpleasant surprises just before the deadline.

If it’s your project is small then you might not need them but for large projects it’s too risky to get started without milestones and rules for progress reporting. Before you start, establish milestones – these should be logical breakdowns of tasks, such as the completion of a module.

As for progress reporting rules, you can set them at any interval that works for you and the project — e.g. at the end of every day, week or fortnight. Try not to make the period so short that it slows progress but not too long that you lose track of what’s going on. It’s a fine balance so you may want to adjust it as you go. Properly set progress reporting rules eliminate many delays and help to early diagnose potential problems.

6. Plan Well

When you are going to be working with freelancers you need be well prepared to get started on the project before you hire. When you hire freelancers and don’t provide them work, this is unpaid downtime for them and you shouldn’t be surprised if they leave.

Also, have in mind that a freelancer might not always be available right when you need them, so plan for this. Communicating effectively with a potential freelancer about your expectations for deadlines and asking about availability can solve availability issues from the start.


Working with freelancers can be very rewarding if you know how to do it and if you find the right people. Unfortunately, it can also be a total disaster and it’s not uncommon to hear someone say that they never want to work with freelancers again.

In order to avoid frustration, lost time, and lost money, you need to know how to communicate effectively with freelancers. The tips that I’ve provided aren’t rocket science and once you get on the right track, you will see the true advantages of working with freelancers.

Frequently Asked Questions on Effective Communication for Freelancers

How can freelancers improve their communication skills?

Freelancers can improve their communication skills by practicing active listening, which involves fully concentrating, understanding, responding, and then remembering what is being said. They can also enhance their skills by being clear and concise, using simple language, and avoiding jargon. Regularly seeking feedback can also help identify areas for improvement. Additionally, understanding cultural differences and adapting communication styles accordingly can be beneficial, especially when dealing with international clients.

Why is effective communication important for freelancers?

Effective communication is crucial for freelancers as it helps build trust, understanding, and a positive relationship with clients. It ensures that both parties are on the same page regarding project expectations, deadlines, and deliverables, thereby reducing the chances of misunderstandings and conflicts. Effective communication also enhances a freelancer’s professional image and can lead to more job opportunities.

How can freelancers handle communication barriers?

Freelancers can handle communication barriers by being patient, empathetic, and open-minded. They should try to understand the other person’s perspective and clarify any misunderstandings promptly. Using visual aids, such as diagrams or charts, can also help overcome language barriers. If technical issues arise during virtual meetings, having a backup communication method is advisable.

What are some communication tools freelancers can use?

Freelancers can use various communication tools to stay connected with their clients. These include email, instant messaging apps, video conferencing tools, project management software, and social media platforms. The choice of tool depends on the nature of the project, the client’s preference, and the freelancer’s comfort level.

How can freelancers improve their telephone communication skills?

Freelancers can improve their telephone communication skills by speaking clearly, listening attentively, and maintaining a professional tone. They should also prepare for the call by having all necessary information at hand. Practicing common telephone scenarios can also be beneficial.

How can freelancers manage communication with multiple clients?

Freelancers can manage communication with multiple clients by being organized and proactive. They should keep track of all client interactions, set clear boundaries regarding availability, and prioritize tasks based on urgency and importance. Using a project management tool can also help manage multiple projects and clients effectively.

How can freelancers handle difficult conversations with clients?

Freelancers can handle difficult conversations by staying calm, listening to the client’s concerns, and responding in a professional manner. They should try to find a mutually beneficial solution and reassure the client that their satisfaction is a priority. If a disagreement arises, seeking a third-party mediator can be helpful.

How can freelancers build strong relationships with clients through communication?

Freelancers can build strong relationships with clients by being responsive, reliable, and respectful. They should communicate regularly, provide updates on project progress, and show appreciation for the client’s business. Building a personal connection, such as remembering important dates or details about the client, can also strengthen the relationship.

How can freelancers improve their written communication skills?

Freelancers can improve their written communication skills by practicing regularly, seeking feedback, and learning from others. They should focus on being clear, concise, and grammatically correct. Reading widely can also help improve vocabulary and understanding of different writing styles.

How can freelancers use communication to negotiate better rates?

Freelancers can use communication to negotiate better rates by clearly articulating their value proposition, providing evidence of their skills and experience, and being confident. They should research market rates, prepare for objections, and be willing to walk away if the offer does not meet their expectations.

Ada IvanoffAda Ivanoff
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Ada is a fulltime freelancer and Web entrepreneur with more than a decade of IT experience. She enjoys design, writing and likes to keep pace with all the latest and greatest developments in tech. In addition to SitePoint, she also writes for Syntaxxx and some other design, development, and business sites.

freelancefreelance managementfreelancerfreelancingtomt
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