Guest Blog: Hiring & Firing Freelancers and Agencies: A Bit of Experienced-Based Wisdom

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By J. Scott Punk, APR, head of global content marketing for IPS Learning and a member of PRSA for more than 25 years.

As I currently go through the pain of reorganizing, re-deadlining and re-assigning a mound of work intended for a “promising” freelancer who didn’t make it four weeks, the phrase “slow to hire, fast to fire” comes to mind. Despite the mess and long hours I’m digging out of, at least the hiring was slow and the firing was fast – even if I got it wrong (and yes, my boss helped).

Obvious wisdom about fast and slow aside, here are some useful guidelines:

  • Act Short-Term, Think Long-Term: Approach the discussions and decisions as if you are bringing someone in for a short-term project, but give it the weight appropriate to finding an agency or freelancer you plan to bring with you for the rest of your career.
  • Cut the Right Corners: There are plenty of long and involved processes to follow, but I’ve never met anyone who did. It’s good to cut corners as long as you cut the right ones. Do spend lots of time talking on the phone and some time meeting in person. Try to visit their offices or have a Skype call. Do have a very specific RFP, even for small projects. Do not accept long proposals. Do not spend enormous amounts of time in meetings getting pitched. We’ve all met sales people, we know how it works.
  • Focus on the Skills that Matter – to You! Writing is important, but that skill will be self-evident.  Focus instead on project management skills, customer service/responsiveness, critical thinking skills, communication skills, etc. Things that will actually have a big impact on making your day easier or… harder. I’m not sure which is worse, the freelancer that calls 10 times a day with annoying questions or the one you can never get on the phone to answer yours.  If they are barely responsive when you want to “buy,” how responsive will they be once you’ve already “bought?”
  • Beware the Bait and Switch: Be really clear that you want to meet the people who will be on your account, period. If they can’t make that happen or won’t let those people talk, move on. The senior VP who says to you, “I’ll be responsible for everything, you don’t need to meet/talk with x, y, z,” is a sign – see the sign. I once unraveled such a plan by insisting and then interviewing team members who quickly proved my company at the time wouldn’t want to trust them with our brand, especially with the media. On the other hand, an agency once took it literally and had everyone in the room we would ever touch including someone from accounting and the receptionist. We signed the contract the next day.
  • Do the Transcontinental: Look in the mirror and ask yourself, given everything you know, how would you feel about this freelancer/agency after you had sat next to them on a plane for seven or eight hours.

In the end, it’s about investing in a relationship focused on strategy execution – your strategy, their execution. Relationships give what they get – from both parties. If your hires can’t align to you and your organization’s vision, culture, values and way of doing work, then move on – the faster the better. On the other hand if you’re consistently demanding, unreasonable, and disrespectful they should fire you.

In addition to hiring – and firing – freelancers and agencies for IPS, J. Scott Punk, APR also assists other organizations with their agency searches and occasionally helps save a client/agency relationship or two. You can contact him at

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