How To Hire and Work with Freelancers
It's nice to think we can do it all in our businesses, but you may want to scale, grow and take on more. To do so, we must hire help, and this can be about as terrifying as it gets. Many questions can arise such as — where do I find people? How do I best manage them? How do I give over my creative and process? In this article, I will address a few of these questions and give you my experience both as a business owner who has hired help and as a working freelance designer. For this article, I will focus on the aspect of being a business owner and hiring and managing freelance designers.
First, where do you find freelance designers? Most freelancers tend to find work from referrals, so they know someone you know and so on. People need to know that you need help, so begin advertising that amongst flower friends, your flower community, your wholesalers, etc. You can also spread the word on social media. Posting that you are looking for help reaches the target audience that already follows you (so you know they like your style and respect your work). I would not be shy to ask other local florists for recommendations as well. Some may not be willing to give up their help but most want to do what's best for freelancers which is to refer them work. If there are any flower workshops held in your area, contact the instructor before or after the workshop to possibly get a referral of someone. You can get the word out to gardening clubs, craft stores, even catering companies and hotels. Once people know you are looking, it gets the ball rolling to getting the help you need.
Once you are receiving inquiries, I would recommend corresponding via email so your conversations are a bit more formal and you have record of what was discussed. Thank them for their interest in freelancing with you and ask them to send you their website, Instagram handle, and portfolio. Clarify the work you want to see is their original work. If they have freelance work to show you, don’t be afraid to ask them what parts of the event they were responsible for. They could show you photos of a beautiful event but maybe they just worked on the candles the whole time. If you aren't confident of their work/style, invite them to come for an interview. Meet them in person and ask them a few questions about their experience. You can ask them about a challenging event they have worked on and what they did to solve a problem there. Ask if they can work under pressure, replicate different designs, and what are their favorite things to make. Some companies also request that designers come in for a trial. You can make a mock-up and have them replicate something or just ask them to make something to see their skill and style.
Once you have vetted or interviewed a candidate, it is best not to give them a lot of dates without seeing how they work in your studio and on a full day of setup. You can gauge their experience level, motivation, speed, and more then.
When you make your offer to have them on your first event, I would have a number in mind of what you pay for freelance help (even if this is your first time hiring someone). Most companies pay by the hour, but some will offer a day rate. The going rate for freelancers varies a lot so if someone has a lot of experience, it is usually safe to say they have an established rate that they want. This is negotiable for some people so be flexible and willing to try them out to see if it is a good fit. On average, some starting freelancers will take $15.00 an hour, and experienced designers can get $30.00 an hour and up.
Just like many things — the details matter — so being organized and communicating with your team is incredibly valuable. A week or so before an event it is helpful to send an email to your freelancers with details about the work they will be doing and to set any expectations. If this person has never worked for you before, send them the addresses for the studio and the onsite location. Include any parking instructions, possible carpool arrangements, the call times and estimated end times, if there is a place for them to keep food or what food options might be around for lunch. This might seem like a given but also specify if you have drinking water at your studio or if they should bring their own. If your studio gets hot or really cold, tell them to dress for that or bring layers. By preparing your people to be comfortable, they will work more efficiently and be more productive. For on-site days, specify what the dress code is and be specific. Tell your team if they should bring a hat for sunny setups with no shade, if water or food will be provided on the day of and if they need to bring their own. I notice a lot of newbies will show up to a wedding install in really nice clothes, strappy sandals, and skirts or dresses. This attire isn't appropriate on ladders or bending over lifting things. So, never assume your freelancers will just know this and be specific with your standards (i.e. pants, closed toe shoes, etc).
Regarding scheduling, book as soon as you know you need help. Keep in mind however that if you cancel, you are often hindering that freelancer from booking work on short notice for someone else. They have likely turned down other opportunities to work with you — so try not to make a habit of it, or you may lose that person.
For build/studio days, it helps to give a sample of what freelancers are being asked to make. I know this isn't always possible with time constraints so you can also ask them to make the first arrangement with or without a recipe and then you can make changes to it as needed. It is also really helpful to give a rundown with how much you need to accomplish that day and specifically, what you are tasking each person with so they can properly pace themselves. When working, give feedback but don't hover over someone. If you struggle with this, turn your back while you work so you aren't scrutinizing every stem insertion. Sometimes work can look messy in the beginning and work out beautifully, in the end, so give designers a chance to work it out. They may be nervous, tired, or needing to find their rhythm but nothing stops creativity and progress like a nit-picky hovering boss watching every move and commenting on every step. Focus on the good in people's work and be generous with that. We are all creating often from a vulnerable place so respect that, then present your corrections. As you know, creativity can be an emotional endeavor so don't crush people's spirits and rush in to "fix" because they didn't get the design right away. Simply offer advice on mechanics, technique, color and move on. By the end of the day, you will be better able to assess where their skills are and if you want them back. You also have to decide how much you may need to train someone to your style or if they can pick it up right away. Some people flourish in the studio but don't have the hustle on event day. Others might be weak in designing but can build anything, scale ladders and more! Managing to people's strengths is just good management and praising the good in people is the best motivator I have found.
Regarding photos, don't be afraid to set expectations for your personal policy on taking and sharing photographs and if so, how they can use them. If you do not want any photographs taken in your studio and of the work — say it. If you don't mind, be sure to mention how you would like to be credited as it is appropriate for a freelancer to mention and tag who they are working for when they post an image.
For payment, make sure you have the appropriate forms filled out with freelancers such as a W-2. After an event, it is helpful to request that they email you their invoice of hours within two weeks. Their invoice can be very basic but should include their personal information like their name, their address, your company name, your address, their hours worked, their rate and any mileage or reimbursed expenses. This is your record that this was an independent contractor agreement. It also helps you keep your records organized and documents what your labor expenses were for the year.
Freelancers that make over $600.00 a year must claim that income so make sure to discuss that with your accountant.
I will end with the golden rule — treat others as you would want to be treated. Hiring freelancers is the most affordable option for the business owner. However for the freelancer with no benefits, no guaranteed work schedule, a high tax rate, regularly shifting commutes, and low opportunity to build a personal portfolio — there are many challenges to freelance work. When you have done the work to find, interview, train and invest in someone treat them well, buy them coffee occasionally, compliment their work, and thank them regularly. We all know that it is never just us but rather a team that makes all the beauty come to life.
Photography by Lara Lam (top portrait), Rebekah Lemire (hands with flowers and order sheet), and Pat Furey Photography (blue backgrounds)