Developer Relations Keeping Practitioners Engaged: The Ultimate Challenge
As someone who both freelances and manages a network of freelance content writers who are practitioners, I have a good grasp of the pros and cons of working with them.
Here’s one of the biggest cons: If left to their own devices, practitioners have a tendency to drift away after a while. That’s bad for your business for lots of reasons.
But keeping practitioners engaged is easier said than done. Below, we’ll take a look at the issue of freelancers who stop engaging with you over time, and the steps you can take to mitigate it. Even if you don’t work directly with practitioner writers, these tips can still help you improve your developer relations strategy.
The Disappearing Practitioner
Unlike employees, freelancers have no ongoing commitment to your company. They usually work on a per-project basis. After the project ends, they may or may not want to keep working with you. And even if you have an ongoing contract with your freelancers, that’s no guarantee that they won’t decide to stop working with you—with short notice.
You can’t blame a practitioner for being finicky in this way. After all, the main reason why most people choose to become freelancers is that they don’t want the close relationship that comes with W-2-style employment.
That means that your practitioners could disappear for a variety of reasons. Some people freelance on the side and stop freelancing when things get busy again at their day jobs. Others might leave you because they think they can get a better-paying gig elsewhere. Some might only be freelancing temporarily while they are in between full-time jobs. Others might stop enjoying the work they do with you and search elsewhere.
And then, of course, some people are just flaky and will disappear for no good reason at all.
Why Practitioner Turnover Is Bad
On the surface, the issue of practitioner freelancers who stop engaging with you after a period of time might not seem like a big deal. If they’re not employees, who cares if they disappear? Can’t you just find new freelancers to take their place?
Well, sure, you could. But you probably don’t want to. Once you have been working with a good freelancer for a while, losing that relationship is a huge detriment to your business. Consider the following:
- It takes a long time to find good freelancers. Reengaging the ones you know, like, and can continually depend on is a better use of your time than having to scour constantly for new ones.
- Freelancers may never know your business as well as an employee does, but freelancers who work with you for a while do gain some institutional knowledge that can make their work an especially good fit for your business. Losing these people means losing this valuable knowledge.
- The fewer freelancers you have to replace, the lower the risk that a rogue freelancer might abuse private information associated with your company, or do something that is bad for your reputation. It’s better to work with a smaller group of people you know you can trust than signing contracts with new acquaintances every month.
How to Keep Practitioners Engaged
So, maintaining engagement is the challenge. What’s the solution? Make sure that you keep your practitioners engaged.
There are a number of things you can do on this front. Some require proactive effort on an ongoing basis. Others have to do with the way you design your workflows.
Here are the key strategies we use at Fixate to keep our practitioners engaged and our developer relations strong:
Keep Your Freelance Workload Consistent
Depending on your business, this may or may not be feasible. But ideally, you’ll have a steady, constant stream of work to give your freelancers, or at least a regularized timeframe for completing that work. This minimizes the risk that you’ll lose freelancers because you don’t have any projects to give them for a while. At Fixate, we have a regular workflow that feeds revolving four-week cycles. Although the exact volume of content we produce each month varies, our contributors know new projects become available on a regular basis and what the timeline will be for completing them.
Collaborate with Practitioners in Designing Projects
This doesn’t mean you have to involve them in every step. But giving freelancers a say in designing the work you commission with them ensures that the projects you have to offer will interest them, and that they won’t pass them up. This is part of the reason why we rely heavily on topic suggestions from our expert contributors when planning content projects for Fixate’s own clients.
Engage Practitioners by Communicating Regularly
Even if you don’t have any active projects with your freelancers at a given point in time, make sure you reach out to them regularly. Even just a newsletter or weekly email to check in makes sure that they don’t forget about you. At Fixate, we use Slack channels to keep conversations going with our freelancers, even ones who are not actively writing for us in a given period.
If you treat your freelancers like employees by trying to require them to commit to a constant level of work from month-to-month, or by foisting projects on them without giving them the option of saying no, they’ll probably leave—because, again, they are freelancers, not employees. So let them keep the “free” in freelancer by giving them the flexibility to work with you when they want, at the volume they want. Fixate has no expectation that our contributors will commit to a certain volume of work or that they will not choose to take a month (or several) off from writing for us when they like. The only rule is that, once a contributor does agree to a project, he or she has to complete it.
Feature Their Work
Even though your freelancers are not employees, you want them to feel proud of the work they do for you. Where possible, make sure they get credit for their work; don’t just treat them as a source of labor for producing products that you appropriate once the work is complete. This is why, at Fixate, it’s so important for us to make sure (unless otherwise agreed before a project begins) that our contributors’ articles are published under their bylines, and that they have final say over article content. We also announce articles publicly on our general Slack channel when they are published, and run programs like “Contributor of the Month” to recognize good work by our freelancers. Recognizing people for the value they add to your organization, whether they are freelancing or permanent, is key to good developer relations.
There’s no way to guarantee that you won’t lose a practitioner, of course. But we’re pretty proud of the record we’ve compiled at Fixate, where many of our freelance contributors have been working closely with us since the company’s earliest days. They’re a core part of what we do, and keeping them around and engaged is absolutely essential.
This post was originally published in January 2018 was updated in June 2021.