How Firms Benefit From Freelancers

Over the course of the many projects I have been on, there inevitably comes a point where I am reminded of the existence of a red line, one that separates internal employees from external. It may be thin or thick, hidden or real, but in any case, it will sooner or later manifest itself in most firms. Following many lively discussions about the contracting industry, and freelancing in particular, I realise there are still many people who simply do not see the full value that freelancers, sometimes also known as contractors, can provide. As one myself, I have a very colourful view of the project world, because it is ideally suited to, if not the raison d’être of, freelancing. Essentially, freelancers bring value to your firm by helping develop your business with a perspective that is more independent than that of internal employees. Whatever you might have heard on this subject, I thought it worth laying bare a few essential facts as objectively as possible.

1.      Adaptable by nature

Freelancers thrive on project work, anything from a month to a year, possibly longer. The requirement is relatively short term compared to an organisation’s lifecycle. A freelancer with five years’ experience might have been on anywhere between 3 and 8 projects, which is 3 to 8 unique endeavours. Each endeavour draws on specific skills that the freelancer has, and applies them in a specific, non-replicable way. This creates and develops a certain plasticity of thinking, which is itself a vital skill in today’s fast-moving marketplace where big names can go bust overnight. Think Blackberry. Think Nokia. Adaptability is key today, and freelancers have it.

2.     Breadth of experience

A good number of freelancers I have had the pleasure to work with have seen a few things, so to speak. They have worked in different cities and countries. They have been in literally dozens of offices. They have dealt with many people of varying walks of life. They have been in unenviable situations during their travels, some of which have a funny side in retrospect. I am talking about voluntarily going out on the road, which whilst not for everyone, certainly increases knowledge and breeds intuition about which things work and which do not, particularly on the side of stakeholder management.

3.     Sharp skills

Self-motivation comes with the job of being a freelancer, and this applies especially to skills. In order to be well-equipped for the next project, for which there is by nature no specific advanced description, freelancers need to be on top of their game. This means knowing their niche, following trends, participating in discussions, and studying for diplomas. Most freelancers I have crossed paths with have a very clear view on the limits of their expertise, and know how they want to develop themselves, Paid vacation does not exist, so they simply will not waste their own precious time on learning new skills that will not benefit them or their clients. Ultimately, with sharper skills, the job gets done quicker and with more precision.

4.     Tell it as it as

People become freelancers for different reasons. Top of those I have heard is the wish to have a straightforward relationship with the client. Most freelancers I know have a transparent approach which leaves no place for ambiguity. Although in some cultures there may be some hesitance in directness, in the business world things simply move faster when they are clearer. Project teams, howsoever made up, burn thousands of dollars a day, so it’s in your firm’s interest to ensure as much straight talking as possible. I can even provide a few suggestions on what worthy causes all that saved money could be spent on.

5.     Thinking like a business owner

Each jurisdiction has its own rules about how to provide freelance services. Whether or not a freelancer works through his or her own company, the simple fact is that s/he needs to think like a business owner in order to survive. Presentation, networking, discussions are of course the first step. Doing a good job, delivering quality work on time, and working seamlessly with other team members are the next step. Working in the client’s interests to help them succeed is the ultimate goal, it’s a natural vested interest which benefits the freelancer. Those freelancers owning and running their own companies also have to ensure the continued validity of their own value proposition, as well as managing their own accountant, tax advisor and cash-flow. Someone with this state of mind working for you will implicitly understand the bigger picture that is your world.

6.     Knowledge retention

The lady or gentleman you hired to do the job has completed their statement of work. Their expertise and the specific knowledge gained from the project is about to walk out of the door, putting your organisation at a disadvantage, because no-one will remember exactly what they did and why. So why hire that person in the first place? Agreed, the need for knowledge retention is especially strong if there is coding or databases involved: if you don’t believe me, just wait until your department gets audited! In my experience, knowledge retention and management is rarely done properly if left to internal teams. Most freelancers I have worked with see right through this problem and want to resolve it to ensure business continuity: it goes back to my previous point about thinking like a business owner. If you are concerned about corporate knowledge going on a long vacation, and possibly never coming back again, then a good bet is to discuss it with the person who is not internal yet knows your business, and therefore has slightly more objectivity.

There are of course reasons why freelancers might not be a good idea for your firm. With markets ever closer, margins ever tighter, and geopolitics looking more unstable than they have been for the last decades, it is extremely difficult to plan for the long term. However, in the long term it is those companies which are able to adapt themselves the most to the changing environment which will survive.

Probably even more important are our short-term imperatives. In a challenging environment today where timing is rarely ideal, technology helps us to a point. Nonetheless, it is a simple fact that work is driven by humans, and recruiting the best ones takes time, yet even then they rarely are a 100% match. Business owners wanting to literally seize the day and kick that project into being do have a more flexible and faster alternative. By their very nature, freelancers can come on site within a few weeks, sometimes days, and start making a difference, principally by providing stability despite a changing landscape. And they can also leave if plans change, with full understanding of the business need, and without any bad feelings.

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