27 Oct 2021

How to Build Your Business with Freelancers

Starting a new business can be stressful. Long hours and late nights become the norm as you battle to do as much as possible yourself knowing that taking on staff is a big commitment. Understanding just when to onboard staff and pass on some of the responsibility is a skill in and of itself, but you need not take the plunge immediately.

Building a team of reliable freelancers can give you as a business owner peace of mind within a budget and has none of the commitment that hiring staff does. A team of freelancers can easily be upgraded and downgraded as necessary depending on conditions and you only need to hire to fit your current workload. It is this flexibility that makes working with freelancers a valuable tool to growing your business.

“The gig economy is empowerment. This new business paradigm empowers individuals to better shape their own destiny and leverage their existing assets to their benefit” (John McAfee)

The modern world of work was already changing by the time Covid-19 hit. The “gig economy” had taken hold and numerous apps allowed employers to connect with freelancers more easily to get small jobs done quickly. The work from home culture, which was necessitated by the virus, only reinforced for business owners the idea that their employees need not be on site and there has been a veritable boom in the use of freelancers across all industries.

A recent LinkedIn study of small businesses in the U.S. found that “51% of sole proprietors have used freelancers and intend to hire more. 58% of companies with a staff count between 2-20 employees, and 66% of companies with a staff count between 21-200 employees, plan to hire more freelancers in the future”. The reason for all this is flexibility. With full time employment becoming a serious commitment for employers, freelancers are picking up the slack. But, with so many people taking chances and selling skills they don’t have, how does one go about building a reliable team of high-quality freelancers and get the most out of them?

Here are five tips:

1. Determine your needs

It may seem like an obvious first step, but working out exactly what work needs to be freelanced and which to keep in-house is important. Knowing what skills you are looking for, and just when you need them available will also make it more likely you will find a freelancer who matches your vision.

While freelancers can offer flexibility and their productivity is generally much higher than in-house staff, they can also be more costly, and knowing which work you can easily manage, and which should be left to an expert will both save money and ensure you are maximising your resources.

Make a list separating the important tasks, and the ones you can’t do, and those you could reasonably manage with your existing employee complement. Determine just how many people it will likely take to complete each assignment and work out just who needs to be brought in to complete the most important tasks first.

Secondly, it’s important to ask yourself just what you want from a freelancer. Is it important that the freelancer works alongside you? Do they need to come into the office, or do you just need them available during your work hours? What skills do they need? Must they be bilingual, own their own transport, or be familiar with your communications platforms and systems? Once you understand your needs you can move on to finding someone who is right for the job.

2. Finding freelancers

Finding freelancers is similar in many ways to finding permanent staff. The first thing to do is ask around and get recommendations from people in your industry. Those people who come recommended already have a track record and you know they won’t need additional training. Failing that, there are several social media groups and apps where freelancers advertise their skills and employers can advertise jobs. A quick online search should easily help you find those that cater to your industry and needs.

Once there, you will need to post a job listing. You have already determined your requirements so that listing should be as comprehensive as possible to ensure only the people who are interested and have the relevant skills apply. Make sure to include a clear description of exactly what the job entails, how many hours you need and by when, what it pays and how payment is made. Do you pay at the end of the job, upon complete satisfaction, or within 30 days of completion?

The more details you can give the better. For example, when contracting a social media manager, outline which platforms they will be managing and how many posts a month you expect. Writers need to know whether to send ideas or write based on topics you assign, and how many words you hope the stories will be. Website developers need to know about the purpose of the site, the functionality and also how much tech support you expect once the site is live. A research analyst will need to know whether they are simply collecting and collating data or making recommendations on it as well. An administrative freelancer will need to know exactly which tasks are being handed over and the scope of their powers in handling them.

Once you are in touch with someone, ask to see their portfolio of past work. That work should then match with your requirements. Being a designer who works on logos and animations doesn’t automatically make you a good web designer. Does the freelancer have experience in exactly the type of project you need?

The second thing to look at on a potential freelancer’s portfolio is the tone of the work. If you’re looking for a technical writer beware a portfolio full of social media management or lifestyle feature articles. The freelancer needs to have examples of just what you are looking for before you commit. Ideally, you’ll see strong samples in a range of styles as this is a good sign that the freelancer is versatile and adaptable.

3. Start small

No matter how well recommended a freelancer is, the smart business manager knows to start them on small tasks. The benefit of a freelancer is that you aren’t immediately locked into a long-term relationship, so use that to your advantage and get them going on less crucial tasks so you can evaluate their performance and potential. Freelancers who excel at the small things, meet deadlines and maintain a professional outlook can then be trusted to move on to the bigger and more important jobs without any anxiety on your part.

Starting on a smaller job will also take less of your time in managing the freelancer and ensuring the work that comes in is as you expect it. It’s easy to forget that while freelancers may be highly skilled people, your company has its own quirks and ways of doing things and your expectations are in line with that. Initially it will take more time to manage the freelancer, explain the jobs and ensure things are being done the way you like it. A good freelancer is open to constructive feedback on his or her work, will be happy to make the necessary changes for you and will adapt their work quickly to your situation. Hopefully then, when it comes time to assign them to the more critical projects, they will already be in step with how you work.

4. How much should you pay?

Determining what to pay is one of the trickier aspects of hiring a freelancer. Given that they could conceivably come from anywhere in the world and have totally differing levels of expertise, working out what to offer for the right person can be hard. Generally, freelancers are paid either an hourly rate, or a rate per project. The latter is probably the easiest as both sides already know going in what they can expect to pay or receive upon completion and there are no nasty surprises.

The freelancer’s experience and expertise, project complexity and timetable, and the project’s ultimate value to you all affect price, but in the end, you should look at your own budget and allow that to determine the level of freelancer that the job will attract. What is it worth to you and your company for this job to be done well and on time? That’s what you should offer.

5. Treat them well

Now that you have found a good freelancer, and have them aware of just what you need, it’s important that you maintain the relationship. High quality freelancers are eventually inundated with work and if they need to chase payments each month, or haggle to get their rates, or are otherwise treated badly your work will fall down their list of priorities and eventually they may end up firing you – remember they do what they do, because they also like the flexibility of not being locked into a single arrangement.

Paying punctually, and well, communicating clearly and not making impossible demands has the opposite effect and will see your freelancer value your contract, and go the extra mile in ensuring you get what you need, when you need it.

For additional reading:

  • Read “LinkedIn reveals: 70% of small businesses in the U.S. have hired a freelancer in the past” here.

The article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice.