Freelancer onboarding can often resemble a scene from the Wild Wild West—there are few rules, guidelines, or structures in place to give order to the process, and so chaos reigns. Most HR teams are built to handle the needs of a full-time workforce. As the freelancer economy has grown in size—now estimated to be 34% of the US workforce— companies are scrambling to adapt.
The lack of formal freelancer onboarding can cause a bevy of headaches and problems. Contracts may never get signed, which could represent a threat to IP or lead to messy disputes down the road. Tax forms may not get signed, which opens companies up to liability and compliance risks. Or these documents may get signed and then lost, which is inefficient, not to mention frustrating, for everyone involved.
Why Trust is Important
An efficient, productive, positive relationship between an employer and their freelancers has to start with onboarding. It's important to collect the information your company needs about each independent contractor at the start of the relationship. It’s important to streamline the onboarding process so it doesn’t take weeks, or even months, and involve people from five different departments. Streamlining also eliminates the impulse to take shortcuts, like backdoor payments, which may seem like a good idea in the near term, but will come back to bite you before long.
What Does Great Onboarding Look Like?
There's no shortage of solutions, processes and tools designed for full-time workers as you can see here, here and here. For companies looking to mirror their full-time worker's onboarding the benefits are extensive. A great onboarding process not only protects companies from compliance errors and enables them to be more agile, it also builds long-term trust with freelancers. It can help companies attract and keep the best freelance talent and set the stage for a fruitful working relationship.
Who Are Your Freelancers and What Do They Do?
What information should companies be collecting? Contact information, of course, including name, email address, phone number, city, and personal website. This might seem obvious, but if the entire relationship is digital, a manager may not see the need to get a freelancer’s address, but the IRS sure will.
Secondly, employers need records of the different skills each freelancer possesses, which helps identify the right freelancer for the job. Conversely, it ensures freelancers without the requisite skills don’t get tasked with something out of their wheelhouse. One way to go about this, or to supplement it, is to ask for a freelancer’s CV or portfolio to keep on file. In addition to skills, it’s a good idea to log information about a freelancer’s attributes, such as if they are an early riser, if they are most communicative via email, if they will work on-site or remotely, etc. And of course, companies need documentation of a freelancer’s rate.
As we know, collecting and storing signed contracts is an essential part of onboarding. For every contractor you employ, you need to get a contract or Statement of Work signed and saved on record in a central location. Equally important are signed tax forms. Finally, employers need to collect freelancers’ bank details upfront to facilitate timely payments. Slow or late payments is the top freelancer complaint and can deter a freelancer from continuing the relationship over time. Collecting bank details upfront prevents unnecessary and unfair delays once the invoice is submitted.
From the Kalo Blog: Get our 10 Step Freelancer Onboarding Checklist
Think Beyond the Basics
This information checklist is ultimately just the start of what strong freelancer onboarding should look like. It may seem intuitive, but far too many companies aren’t even taking these steps. There are certain steps employers can take to make onboarding easy, like automation. Using a Freelance Management System (FMS), like Kalo, can automate most of the onboarding process so it happens quickly and without adding to an HR team’s existing workload.
To learn more about why formal freelancer onboarding is a “must-have” for every company that employs freelancers today, check out this guide from Kalo. It explores how companies without formal onboarding put themselves at risk, what an effective freelancer onboarding strategy looks like, and the many benefits that come from onboarding in a cohesive way.