Today's independent professionals come in all shapes and sizes. Some are single-project freelancers, others are longer-term contractors who use collaboration tools to tackle projects back to back, and some operate as both. In any case, working with independent freelance talent offers an opportunity to flexibly augment your team's ability to propel your company's growth or just get more done more quickly. The faster you grow, the more you can benefit from incorporating that flexibility into your business model.
Businesses are employing the talents of independent professionals, or iPros, strategically. An iPro's most common role is to fill a skills gap, usually to complete a specific task. If you built an e-commerce shop, you might hire a freelance data scientist to analyze your sales and predict what inventory you should stock. In many cases, that expertise becomes a core competency within a company, considering that smart data drives e-commerce.
However, not every project is that straightforward, and how to grow with the help of freelance talent isn't always that clear. How do you know when an independent freelancer is better suited to a task than anyone on your team? How do you integrate the freelancer into your team to effectively collaborate? How do you motivate iPros to give their best? If you want your project to succeed, you must answer those questions.
Preparing to Open the Floodgates
Once you go looking for talent in this space, it could be easy to get lost in the noise. To prevent that, figure out what direction you want to take your business. You need certain areas of expertise to execute, and you'll likely need to seek outside help if they're not part of your team's core competency.
Define the gaps you need to fill to identify an excellent starting point for finding the right talent. Once you begin searching, it's important to remember a few things. For example, freelancers need more than compensation to motivate their best work. The most driven freelancers are those who get to apply their skills to make a meaningful difference as part of a team.
I remember asking a highly successful CRM expert in sales, “What's the definition of a good project?" Right away, he answered, “A good project is one where you can assure me that I'm not just cleaning up somebody else's mess." Offer a competitive wage, but emphasize that the freelancer's role in the project goes beyond the payout. Let them know they are contributing to something important.
That means having a clear focus and end goal. It's impossible to manage a freelancer's output if he or she doesn't have a specific, quantifiable thing to deliver. In sales, you can expect a freelancer to sell X number of things, but in data analysis, the output isn't as clear-cut. Spend time on the project brief to clarify expectations, and freelancers will be better equipped to deliver the results you expect.
Keeping Your Freelancers Happy (and Your To-Do List Short)
You're also more likely to receive the best work from freelancers when they feel as though they're part of the team. You've got your brief and a clear definition of deliverables; now consider the company culture you present. In essence, how much love do you show them? Legally, their roles are different from those of full-time employees, but their desire to feel a part of the team is often just as strong.
Use these three strategies to make the most of your investment in freelancers:
1. Make communication easy.
If you have a unique method for communicating with your in-house team outside of email, such as Slack, then invite freelancers to that channel. Because they're used to working on multiple projects for different companies, some might already have their own platforms for managing communication in one place. If the collaboration tools you both use are compatible, bridge them. Bringing together those communication platforms will save time and effort for all parties.
2. Put in some face-to-face time.
Online messaging and project platforms are great for keeping communication open, but they can't be the only way you communicate. Routine in-person touchpoints go a long way in reminding off-site freelancers that they're still an important part of the team. Set face-to-face meetings once a month if possible, either in the office or out for lunch, to cultivate the relationship and bring them closer to your company's culture. Investing time into these meetings will encourage freelancers to invest their efforts in your company's goals. It will also save you from spending more time salvaging a relationship later.
Offer a competitive wage, but emphasize that the freelancer's role in the project goes beyond the payout. Let them know they are contributing to something important.
3. Value their expertise and opinions.
The point of going through the effort of finding and welcoming freelancers is to benefit from their specialized skills and knowledge. Avoid stifling that expertise with constant “do this like this" directives or unhelpful micromanagement that can turn any type of employee away. Instead, use freelancers as advisors for the experience they've gained working on so many different projects. Neglecting to capitalize on that experience is a fast way to make a freelancer feel unappreciated. Plus, your team will likely be able to come up with better solutions more quickly with a freelancer's help.
Acknowledging that collaborative role is essential to getting the most value from freelancers. They don't just love freedom itself—they love the freedom to have the biggest, most beneficial impacts on the companies with which they work. Consider the roles you need to fill, find the experts who fill them best, and use collaboration tools to make them part of the team. Onboarding freelancers effectively and treating them well can help save you and your team time and money. If a freelancer turns out to be core to your success, you've laid the groundwork for bringing them on for future projects or full-time.
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