Leveraging Freelancers to Survive the Downturn

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The future has always been uncertain. Now, more than ever, we need to get creative.  

With COVID-19 hitting all kinds of industries and companies, it’s a time for everyone to examine costs and make efficient use of operating capital. 

Projects have been put on hold and priorities have shifted. 

But you don’t have to flounder.

As you look for ways to reduce costs, boost efficiency and increase agility, I have a recommendation for you: turn to freelancers. It will be awhile until we know what the ‘new normal’ looks like — now is the time for experimentation. 

This year, I wrote my first eBook. It was all about turning gig freelancers into trusted partners. I’ve been a freelancer for 7+ years, but I still learned quite by distilling all of my experience (and that of my clients) into a single resource. 

Consider this two-part post a recap of what I’ve learned. First up: why leveraging freelance partnerships is a good idea. Up next, we’ll get into the nitty gritty of working with freelance partners in The Ultimate Guide to Working With Freelance Partners

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Freelancing is Growing — and for Good Reason 

Even before WFH was nearly mandatory, companies of all shapes and sizes have been turning to freelancers, contractors and agencies for critical and creative work. 

‘Freelance’ typically conjures up ideas of temporary work and small, fill-in-the-gaps projects. But the numbers say otherwise

Just a few years ago, freelancers made up more than 30% of the US workforce. In seven years, that number is expected to reach 50 percent. That will be nearly 100 million freelancers creating and producing for their clients.

There’s more than one reason for this increase.

  • Freelancers are more productive. A Stanford study found that WFH employees are 13% more productive than workers in the office. Add to that the flexibility freelancers have to work only on what they want to, and that productivity gets another boost.
  • Employers need to keep up with workforce preferences. An overwhelming number of professionals say that “flexibility” is a big factor in their quality of life. 
  • Hiring freelancers is cost efficient. “It’s economically smart to hire freelancers [because they] put less strain on resources,” writes Chad Keller at Forbes. “You can eschew the use of an agency in favor of assembling a team of remotely located independent contractors, each responsible for a separate piece of a program.”

How Freelancer Provide Tremendous Value

Sticker shock is a real thing. When you see $75/hour or $5k for an initial consultation, it’s easy to think that freelancers are more expensive than an in-house hire.  

But that’s only part of the picture. 

  • Flexibility goes both ways. Instead of needing a new hire for every large project, you can leverage freelancers’ flexibility for your own flexibility. Work on what matters most and only pay for the deliverables that will have the biggest impact on your business. With specific, time-bound and deliverable-oriented contracts you guarantee work that gets results. 
  • No salary means no overhead. Payroll taxes, desk space, materials, HR costs — all that goes out the window with a freelancer. Instead, you’ll have a simple invoice that will most likely clock in miles below what a salaried employee would cost.
  • Project-based, remote work for those most experienced in it. While everyone adjusts to the WFH lifestyle and remote communication, things have largely remained the same for most freelancers. By hiring an experienced freelancer you’ll get timely and clear communication, productive calls and on-time deliverables. 
  • Bring in the experts. Working with high-level freelancers means you hire people with specific skills for specific projects. It’s cost efficient (see above), but it can also give a creative and strategic boost to your next project. If you need great content, hire a content marketer who has focused on winning organic traffic for years. If you need to spice up your site, hire a web developer with stellar reviews. 

Yes, all of this is more anecdotal — your experience will vary depending on the project, the freelancers you find and your dedication to the initiative. 

That’s why, more than anything, I recommend that we start thinking of freelance projects as partnerships instead of gig work. 

The Key: Reimagine Freelance Projects as Partnerships 

Freelancers don’t have to be a short-term fix for furloughed employees, and they don’t have to be limited to small pieces of a larger project.  

I’ve been working with some of my clients for nearly two years. Our working relationship has been the definition of a win/win situation. They receive top notch written content without having to bring on a FT employee; I get to manage multiple projects for multiple clients, focusing on the work I love. 

Reimagining freelance projects as partnerships will set you up for more efficient projects, higher quality deliverables and a better bottom line. 

But for the best long term results, you’ll take an honest look at where you are and — where you want to go. Before jumping in with both feet, these are the factors to consider and questions to ask. 

What to consider before making the jump to freelancers

  • Team organization: Who will own the freelance project? On which team will the freelance fit best?
  • Internal capacity: Hiring a freelancer reduces the load on your team, but not completely. Do you currently have the capacity to manage the project effectively?
  • Buy-in. You’ll need buy-in both from leadership and from the employees that you manage. If the project continues successfully, they’ll be the ones working alongside the freelancer. 
  • Cost comparison. Freelance contracts are not one-size-fits-all. In some cases, it could make sense to hire a FT employee instead of a freelancer. Just make sure you compare true costs, taking overhead, training, turnover and urgency into account. 

3 questions to ask as you move forward

  • Why? Start with the foundation. Establish your overarching goal in bringing on a freelancer and let that be your north star as you make your hire and review ROI. 
  • What? Determine projects, deliverables, budget and areas of expertise. The more specific the better.  
  • How? Set up your roadmap. Look at long-term goals, who will own the project internally, measurement, and project details. 

Answering these three fundamental questions, in detail, will ensure you’re ready to treat the freelance project as a partnership. The details for how to make that move are up next in The Ultimate Guide to Working With Freelance Partners.

Brooklin Nash
Former company
About Author
Brooklin has spent 7+ years writing content for B2B brands. With bylines on TrustRadius, Sales Hacker and and MediaRadar, he creates both high-level and SEO-focused articles and collateral for his clients. Work with Brooklin to create engaging collateral for your marketing efforts and optimized content for organic traffic.
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