For many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic stirred up unprecedented reevaluation. It left them busy looking for cost-effective ways to deliver more products and services when their target markets need them most – and forced some of their weaknesses into the spotlight.
Whether they need a unique skill set that their internal teams don't have or they have more work on their plates than they can handle, the current economic environment has made employers more hesitant than ever to pack on the long-term overhead expenses.
Yes, that sounds depressing – but don't get defeated yet. There's a solution.
In fact, within the freelancing economy, there's an easy answer for almost any problem. That's just one of many reasons why it's a smart place to start investing. We use the term "invest" deliberately here; i's a common misconception that hiring freelancers is a one-shot or temporary solution. Many successful companies rely on the freelance community to deliver expert products and services efficiently and affordably, enabling them to focus on innovating and scaling their business.
Roughly 60 million freelancers work in the United States, and that number continues to climb. Many are talented professionals with specific areas of expertise. COVID-19 has accelerated the move to freelance work. According to CNBC, the freelance pool has increased by 22% in 2020 due to corporate job loss and those seeking flexible alternatives to "traditional" nine-to-five work.
While freelancers used to be concentrated primarily in creative professions, today's independent talent pool is broad and deep. Whether your team needs someone with a highly-specific skill set or a seasoned leader, there are more choices now than ever. Using cloud-based technology, you can seek out, screen, and test different people to find the right freelancers who can work seamlessly with in-house talent.
The freelance pool is more seasoned and varied than ever before, especially as older professionals choose not to retire, and other generations opt to work in jobs that give them work/life flexibility.
With competition high and many businesses shrinking, in-house teams are pushing or exceeding capacity. Hiring full-time employees requires a lot of research, interviewing, and inevitably, trial-and-error. Whether you need someone to complete a one-off project or a whole team to develop a product from concept to launch, freelancers can expand your business capabilities exponentially – and with only a modest investment, when compared with hiring an agency or more on-site staff.
Many freelancers have long and successful track records in their specialties. Because they're often experts in niche areas, their entire focus may be on a particular talent (e.g., coding in a specific language, technical writing, or avatar design) – and they will likely also come with some surprise skills picked up along the way.
You'll benefit from a best-practice policy, too. Most freelancers have worked with numerous other companies and industries and have experience adapting to and solving a host of challenges. They can offer perspectives based on diverse experience that internal staff are far less likely have.
Freelancers also tend to be great collaborators. They're used to working with many different people and brands, so they're comfortable taking direction and responding to revisions. Freelancers can even help internal teams become smarter by bringing fresh solutions and ideas.
The assumption that external talent costs more is truly outdated. Hiring freelancers means paying only for the work you need, when you need it. There are usually no overhead expenses, like benefits or equipment. Plus, most cloud-based freelancer platforms let you filter by rate or project budget.
If in-house teams are at or beyond capacity, burnout will ultimately impact job performance. Freelancers can be a tremendous "safety net" for over-extended groups. Full-time teams can focus on strategic priorities, while freelancers can help catch up or tackle more specific heavy-lifting projects requiring long hours or laser focus.
Just like hiring for an in-house position, the first step is to hone in on the skillset you need for a particular project. Is it a timely and specialized assignment, like re-cutting a movie trailer sequence or writing an urgent press release? Or is it an ongoing, long-term engagement, like data analysis or writing a year's worth of blog posts and a suite of white papers?
Don't limit freelance hiring to purely task-oriented or creative roles. Today's freelancers have high-level strategic skills as well. Many specialize in long-term projects and planning, like branding profiles or content strategy. When hiring for a complex project, prepare a creative brief including the overall scope, timeline, deliverables, and background information they need to excel at the task, such as audience personas or market research.
Start by making your budget parameters clear, and set a primary point of contact for efficient communication.
One advantage the freelance model has over in-house-only teams is experimenting with several different people and work styles. Test out who works best with the team (and each other). Alleviate roadblocks like PTO schedules and competing commitments by having multiple alternatives for getting work done. Many freelancers are often willing to work off-hours, nights, and weekends.
Freelancing has evolved. No longer relegated to silo workflows, many independent workers like to team up with internal talent and other freelancers. If your team finds writers, graphic designers, or martech pros who work well together, you've basically created an entire lead-generation department at a fraction of the cost of an in-house team.
Remember that the more freelancers understand about your business, the more they can contribute. Brief them well, celebrate their successes, and pay them fairly and promptly. Make sure the in-house team is on-board with using freelancers and ready to collaborate.
Your teams will see the business benefit in no time.
Close to 30% of all freelancers are seasoned professionals. There is more top talent available than ever before. Technology helps employers find individuals and teams more seamlessly than ever. Customizable searches and simplified budgeting and payment also make it easier to hire and manage multiple freelancers.
By 2027, half of the workforce will be freelance – so the time is now to embrace freelancing as a solution to enhance productivity and flexibility. Your in-house teams, your business results, and your bottom line will all benefit today and tomorrow.