How to Avoid Treating Your Freelance Writer Like an Employee

Business owner interviewing a grant writer.

When you hire a freelance writer, it is easy to treat them more like an employee than a contractor. This especially true if the freelancer has repeatedly been hired by your business. However, it is important to maintain a clear distinction between the employees who are on your staff and independent contractors who support your business with supplemental labor. Treating freelancers like employees is not only unfair to your freelancers but also creates potential legal trouble. Blurring lines about freelancers’ roles could leave you vulnerable to claims from workers that they should be considered employees and receive the benefits and pay that go along with full employment. Here are some ways you can make sure you don’t inadvertently treat a freelancer like an employee.

Don’t Tell Freelance Writers How to Manage an Assignment

You can—and should—give freelance writers deadlines for work. However, the deadline is the only kind of timeline you can impose on them. You cannot require a freelancer to work certain hours of the day. In addition, you cannot require a freelance writer to let you see where they are with the project before an official deadline. Similarly, you cannot ask a freelance writer to work during your business hours or to avoid overnight work. You cannot evaluate a freelancer’s working process at all—you can only evaluate the final result.

Additionally, you cannot tell a freelance writer where they should work. Asking a writer to get an office space, work from a library, or avoid working in coffee shops is outside the scope of what a client can request from a freelancer. Freelancers are business owners and get to determine the appropriate place to complete their work.

Avoid Providing Training or Equipment

Although you can share supplemental information, including training manuals, that you think might assist a freelance writer with their work, you cannot require them to undergo any kind of specific training. Likewise, a freelance writer should provide their own equipment at their own expense.

There may be times where it is appropriate for you to provide equipment to a freelancer for a specific purpose. For example, you might furnish a product that the writer is creating a user’s manual for. In this situation,  you should put in writing the reason for providing the equipment, how it should be used, and when it should be returned. Avoid providing printers, computers, and other tools of the trade for freelance writers.

Keep Meetings to a Minimum

It is acceptable—and normal—to have meetings with a freelance writer. Agreeing to a meeting time is not the same thing as requiring a freelancer to work specific hours. This is because you are making a mutual agreement to discuss the specific project.

Ideally, you should have meetings occasionally, and only when absolutely necessary. Meetings should have a clear purpose. They should not be used to discuss work outside the scope of the project, unless it involves pitching a new, separate project for which a separate agreement will be made. You cannot require a freelancer to attend weekly staff meetings, virtually or in-person. You also cannot require a freelance writer to have regular check-ins with a member of your staff. However, you may make yourself available via email or Skype for the freelancer to ask questions throughout the project.

Treat Your Freelancer Like a Business Connection

Freelancers are entrepreneurs. They work for themselves and have their own freelance businesses. When freelance writers complete work for you, think of them as you would any other supplier or outside contractor who provides products or services to your business. You’ll want to strike a balance between offering clear instructions for a project and avoiding micro-managing. Trust that your freelancer has the experience and expertise they need to complete the work at hand.

Stick to the Contract

The contract you have with your freelance writer should clearly define that the work is not indicative of ongoing employment. It should also state that the agreement only covers the project that the freelance writer is completing. It should also specify exactly what the freelance writer will provide. For example, if you want a mid-project update, the contract should state that the writer agrees to have a meeting at the midway point between the start date and due date. Don’t expect anything that is not covered in the contract.

The contract should also state the payment arrangement, which is a crucial part of defining the terms of the contract. Although you can let a freelance writer bill you for hours, it’s better to negotiate a flat rate for the tasks the writer performs. There may be a flat rate for the completion of the project, one for attending a meeting, and another for edits beyond what the writer provides as part of the project. Paying a freelance writer in this way clears up any confusion about the roles of contractor and employee. Payments are made on a project basis, not salary or hourly.

At Writers Work, our experienced writers understand how to work with clients. They have the benefit of our support tools for freelancers, so you don’t have to be concerned about them misunderstanding the scope of your project. If you’re looking for a talented freelance writer for you content creation needs, visit our Writers Marketplace and view the profiles of our members, complete with samples. There you can find the best freelancers for your business.

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