I have worked with freelancers for the duration of my career. Some have been amazing, some were just average, many were fish out of water, but the majority could not scale to support a growing business. But as a business leader, it’s important to understand when to leverage freelance services and when it’s time to find another way of working.
Freelancing Vs. Hiring
Freelancers, or on-demand workers, often have special skills they provide to organizations on an ad-hoc basis. The short-term benefits of working with a freelancer are that they often can complete work at a lower cost than hiring a full-time employee or team to accomplish the same. (Just consider all the additional training and costs associated with hiring a new employee). Freelancers can include translators, graphic designers, and IT professionals, to name a few.
Working with one freelancer vs. a company that offers a professional service requires some consideration. If you need to have materials translated to French, for example, working with a French translator one-on-one makes more sense. But what happens if your business explodes and you need to translate the same documents to French, Spanish, Mandarin, and Russian? You either have to make the switch or manage many freelancers for one need. If you don’t want to manage multiple firms or have to deal with multiple briefings, revisions, and even payments, hiring a translation company might be a better solution, as doing so would allow you to have consistent translations delivered together with ease.
When to Freelance
If your business is growing and you’re looking for a short-term solution, there are a few tasks you could consider freelancing in the short term, including various accounting services (but not the full department), marketing, graphic work, translation services, legal services, IT structure and non-core business activities. Through my company’s consulting services, I’ve also seen that sometimes, it can pay to leverage a company of consultants (or any organization that can accommodate your needs) that can help your organization grow via advisory, third-party audit, and strategy services.
That being said, I do not recommend freelancing for duties that fall under the following categories:
- Tasks that require 100% commitment.
- Roles that require the understanding of trade secrets or proprietary processes.
- Core business activities.
- Jobs that require special insurance.
- Learnings that will shape the future of the organization.
The idea behind freelancing is that these types of workers can act as a short-term rescue in the place of finding a long-term solution. In other words, a freelance model buys the decision-maker time to make the bigger, more impactful decision. However, once services offered are high-end or require employees to be constantly updated with trends or an evolving skill set, hiring freelancers can be riskier. There is a big difference between hiring someone to do a one-time job, such as putting in your internet lines, vs. having someone support an evolving business technology infrastructure.
You might also outgrow the freelancer model if the task the freelancer is completing is too complex or if exposure from the freelancer is larger than the benefits of working with them (e.g., if the freelancer were to cancel the contract or was no longer available and your business would suffer.) Finally, if costs, such as getting the freelancer up to speed or continuously following up, are reducing the benefit of the freelancer, or if issues would arise if the freelancer were to be on leave for an extended period of time, this model might no longer be working for you.
With this in mind, I’ve found there are four key triggers that often lead to hiring a freelancer, as well as a few signs that can indicate it’s time to find a more permanent solution:
1. You’re struggling to keep pace: This works when your freelancers help with a backlog of work. However, you might be outgrowing freelancing if permanent processes should really be considered.
To move from freelancing to a long-term focus: Train the skill set and hire team members to manage the workload. Or, work to improve processes to free up time to do the work.
2. You need to fulfill a missing but necessary skill set: Freelancers can be a bandage when there’s a skills gap among your team, but sometimes, you simply need to invest in training and hiring the right skill sets from the start.
To move from freelancing to a long-term focus: Ensure career paths and growth plans consider the evolving skill sets required.
3. You’re working to overcome capacity restrictions: In this situation, freelancers can help fulfill a short-term need. That being said, if you’re trying to grow an offer that is supported entirely by freelancers, your approach might not be sustainable. Instead, you may need to invest in retraining unengaged employees.
To move from freelancing to a long-term focus: Empower your team members to balance capacity, and leverage proper forecasting to ensure capacity is consistent and accurate.
4. There’s not enough capital to hire a full-time worker: Freelancing can be a good solution for this when the job is easy to find a replacement. But if the freelancer is too integrated into a process or organization and a dependency is created, you might need to find a new solution.
To move from freelancing to a long-term focus: Focus on the core staff that has your and the organization’s back. Hire part-time and create a proper career path that rewards team members for their work.
Ask your team: Why should we freelance? If the answer isn’t clearly a short-term fix, work to find or hire an internal team member who can take on what you planned to freelance.