Working with freelancers

Owner GEM

Date published 1996. Revised: 2003, 2008, 2009, 2018.

Are you thinking about bringing a freelancer onto your team? Here are some of the important things to think about when appointing, briefing and working with freelancers and consultants in the museums, heritage and cultural sector.

Communication, co-operation and preparation are the keys to successful working with a freelancer. Both the staff and freelancer should be clear about the task and each other’s expectations and have a working structure which is clear for both the museum and the freelancer. Every situation is different, so use this advice as a starting point and adapt it to suit your own circumstances and requirements.

First it is important to know this key distinction:
Consultants discuss, inform and advise on a subject within their area of expertise. They may be employed or self-employed.
Freelancers sell skills rather than advice; they are self-employed.
The term freelancer will be used throughout to include both these definitions.

Why choose a freelancer?

It is important to think about why you are choosing a freelancer or consultant. Do you want someone to…

  • deliver an education service, such as a workshop?
  • undertake a special project, such as writing resource material?
  • develop educational provision?
  • undertake evaluation?
  • advise on existing services and make recommendations?

Are you using a freelancer to…

  • increase capacity?
  • bring in expertise?
  • get an outside opinion or objective approach?
  • meet a tight deadline?

Choosing a freelancer is not an easy option – don’t expect it to solve all your problems! You will still have to be involved with and committed to the project and provide support, facilities, finance, time and follow-up. It is a two-way process. The organisation is accountable too.

Below are some checklists for you to keep in mind when working with freelancers.

Before taking on a freelancer

  • What is the task?
  • What is the end product you require? Is this achievable?
  • How long do you think the work will take?
  • What are the immediate and long-term implications of the project?
  • What skills do you require the freelancer to have?
  • What are the respective roles and responsibilities?
  • What resources do you need to deliver the project?
  • Do you have approval from management?
  • Do you or your staff need any extra training to manage a freelancer?
  • What are the budget implications?
  • Who is going to liaise with the freelancer throughout the project?
  • What are the lines of communication between you and the freelancer?
  • Have you allowed time to prepare the brief, attend progress meetings and provide support?
  • Will the freelancer work from home, in-house, or both?
  • What facilities, administration, working space and equipment will be required?
  • Are you prepared to pay the freelancer for any speculative meetings and initial preparation?
  • Are you willing to cover the freelancer’s expenses such as travel, postage and telephone costs or should they be included in the fees?
  • Is the freelancer covered by your organisation’s insurance policy?
  • Can your administration staff deal with freelance payments? Are they aware that freelancers are responsible for their own tax and insurance?

Advertising a freelance opportunity

  • Are you advertising on networks with the right audience? Try GEM’s Suppliers list.
  • Do you require freelancers to tender proposals?
  • Will you ask for references and interview applicants?
  • Will you ask to see CVs and examples of work?
  • Have you made the opportunity inclusive? Are you aware of your organisation’s equal opportunities policy and the Equality Act of 2010?
  • Is a DBS check required?
  • Have you asked colleagues at other organisations for advice?

Choosing a freelancer

  • Do they have the right skills?
  • Do they have the practical experience and relevant training required?
  • Do they have an understanding of the ethical codes you work under? Is their attitude professional?
  • Can you work with them?
  • Are they interested in your organisation and enthusiastic about the project?
  • Do they offer value for money?

Introducing a freelancer into your organisation

  • Do you need to gain security clearance for them?
  • Does your organisation have clear guidelines and proper provision for Health and Safety?
  • Will the freelancer receive induction training?
  • Are you and the freelancer up to date with requirements and practices regarding safeguarding of children and vulnerable people?
  • What facilities, support and back up will the museum need to provide, such as a picture search or collection research, editing, proofreading, background information, typing services, sound equipment, changing space?

Preparing the brief – background information
Have you included…

  • an outline of the proposed work?
  • a description of the organisation, (its character, collections, sites, staff structure, visitor figures)?
  • your mission statement?
  • copies of relevant policies and plans and your professional code of conduct?

Preparing the brief – the team

  • Who will be the designated person in the museum for the freelancer to report to? Can this person make decisions about the project?
  • Who will be responsible for project management?
  • Who else is involved – curators, education officers, trustees, exhibition team, printers, artists, designers?
  •  Who will co-ordinate the people that the freelancer may need to liaise with?
  •  Will the freelancer be treated as an equal member of the project team for the duration of the project?
  •  Who will undertake consultation and evaluation during and after the project?

Preparing the brief – the practicalities

  • What is the end product you have in mind?
  • What is the timescale of the project, including details of interim meetings and reports?
  • What is the budget? Does it include fees and expenses? Does it include preparation time, travel time and preliminary meetings? Who will pay any VAT incurred?
  • Will interim payments be made? At what stage(s) in the project?
  • Where will the work take place? What equipment will be provided by the organisation/the freelancer?
  • Will the material/programme/activity be piloted? Who will carry this out?
  • Can the freelancer sub-contract any of the work?
  • Does the freelancer need public liability and/or professional indemnity insurance? If so bear in mind that this overhead will be reflected in his/her fees.

Agreements and contracts
Have you included…

  • a description of the work to be done?
  • the end-product required?
  • the basis of the charge?
  • payment terms and dates?
  • start and completion dates?
  • name of the main contact?
  • facilities and resources available in-house?
  • Have you ensured both parties are happy with the terms?
  • Have you ensured both parties have a signed copy of the agreement?

Managing change and risk

  • What if the nature of the work changes as the project develops?
  • Who can change the terms of the agreement? Is it a two-way relationship?
  • What provision is there for the postponement or cancellation of the project by either party?
  • How much notice is required?
  • Who has editorial control?
  • Is the insurance liability clear?
  • Should there be a confidentiality clause?
  • Will the freelancer be acknowledged for their contribution?
  • Who will hold the copyright and are you up to date with copyright policy?
  • Are you using ongoing evaluation to identify potential problems before they jeopardise the project?
  • What arbitration procedures will be followed?

Project management

  • How will the project be evaluated?
  • How will you keep up communications with staff, management, volunteers and the public about the project?
  • How will you introduce the freelancer to them?
  • Does the freelancer have all the necessary information regarding the target audience and activity bookings?
  • How will you ensure the deadlines for interim reports or meetings or stages of work are met by both parties?
  • How will you oversee the submission and payment of interim invoices?
  • Have you agreed any changes to the project in writing?
  • Have you ensured regular contact between the freelancer and designated staff?

On completion of the project

  • Do you have an action plan to follow on from the freelancer’s work?
  • Have you made final payment?
  • Have you meaningfully evaluated the project and the freelancer’s work? (The freelancer may request a testimonial.)
  • Has the freelancer returned any borrowed material?
  • Have the freelancer, the organisation and any funding partners been credited in the final work?
  • What plans are there to publicise the end product? Will any publicity involve the freelancer? Will you pay them anything additional for this?
  • Has the freelancer received a copy of the end product?
  • Do you wish to maintain some contact with the freelancer? (add them to the mailing list; provide ongoing access to facilities; include them in future staff training plans or social activities?)

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