Simply hiring freelancers offers littlemaximize output freelancers value to your company.

As with anything else in your business, you must be strategically proactive to maximize output. Working with freelancers is certainly no different.

Consider these tips for optimizing your virtual team.

1. Ask for a Budget

Let’s start by acknowledging that a freelancer is actually a self-employed consultant. It’s therefore logical to assume that he is an expert in his field. Upon your first interaction with the freelancer, be sure to address two important topics. First, offer a clear explanation of the problem you hope to solve. Once your needs are explained and understood, you should then seek an estimate of cost.

Granted, not all freelance workers are truly experts in their fields. Some may be so inexperienced that they inflate their estimates to account for their inefficiencies. Others might even remove themselves from consideration when you press the issue. This type of feedback can be particularly insightful as you weigh your options. If you encounter significant discrepancies, you may need to refine the scope of work (or seek additional candidates).

Budgets can also provide peace of mind as projects unfold. Instead of watching the weekly invoices roll in with no end in sight, each payment brings you one step closer to your goal. The budget becomes something your team can rally around.

Do yourself a favor by getting an upfront plan and monitoring progress toward achievement.

2. Create a Backlog of Work

As contractors prove themselves, you’ll likely find other things for them to do.

Some business owners mistakenly fill their freelancers’ inboxes with every new idea. Doing so is highly ineffective for several reasons. Most notably, email overload creates confusion by diverting contractor attention from current responsibilities. This slows down production and can lead to some serious anxiety for everyone.

Avoid email overload by implementing some basic agile methodologies. With the prevalence of agile software applications, virtually every business can now affordably create logical and customizable workflows. While your freelancers remain focused on work-in-process, you can be preparing for future capacity by filling the backlog.

To get started, you’ll likely want to break things down into several phases. The most basic approach might include three categories of work:

  • Backlog
  • In process
  • Done

Now, as a new idea pops into your head, you can capture it before it leaves your fertile brain – without interrupting anyone. As existing work is completed, new items can be pulled from the backlog. Everyone is happy now.

3. Use Activity Codes

As time marches on, your most trusted freelancers could assume multiple ongoing responsibilities. Without the right tracking system, it’s easy to get overwhelmed as you incur ever-increasing contract labor expenses.

Take control of the situation by utilizing Upwork activity codes. As an active client on the Upwork marketplace, you’ll be able to create unique billing codes for your team or a specific team member. At the end of each week, month, or year, you’ll now be able to visualize how freelancers are spending their time.

Take for example the marketing consultant who is helping build your web presence. You might set up the following task codes for her:

  • Content marketing
  • Project management
  • Link building
  • Reporting
  • Keyword analysis

Now, instead of wondering where your money is going, you can know for sure in a matter of clicks. This type of information can be very valuable for measuring return on investment, but it can also help you reduce friction with your team.

4. Show Your Appreciation

Freelancers are people too.

Like anyone else, they desire to be appreciated. Find time to regularly compliment your contractors for jobs well done. You’ll not only make them feel good, but you will also be cementing a healthy relationship with your key contributors.

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Matt Keener is the original "Executive in Sweatpants," having built a successful online consulting business (from home). His best-selling book offers tips for capitalizing on outsourcing and freelancing. Matt holds an MBA and has been featured by many recognizable brands, including Upwork (formerly oDesk), Elance, Insightly, the Dave Ramsey Show, and

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