Our economy is going through transformative changes and many of the principles that held true for decades about work are no longer valid. One of the most recent changes taking place is the rise of the online-only freelancer. These are people that work independently as contractors and who obtain their clients mainly or exclusively through online channels. More importantly, this is a fully globalized workforce; they live in multiple countries and take clients from all around the world.
Working with online-only freelancers is not a fad, but instead is becoming an important part of the overall economy. If you haven’t done so already, you should consider using online-only freelancers as part of your overall workforce. Before you do, however, consider these recommendations:
1. Take a gradual approach.
I have been hiring online freelancers for more than 10 years. At first I was too eager to take advantage of the rapid turnaround times and low prices they offered. On more than one occasion I hired the wrong person and was left with poor quality work or late deliveries. Now, I always try out a potential freelancer with a small, relatively inconsequential project to test their performance. If they manage this well, I gradually move them up towards more important projects. This weeding out mechanism has worked well—many small projects held as tests could be done for less than $100.
2. Establish relationships with your online-only workers.
Just because the person you are hiring may be thousands of miles away doesn't mean there isn’t a way to establish a relationship. It’s important to have regular conversations via Skype or GoToMeeting or similar tools where you can see each other’s faces. This creates a personal connection and helps integrate the freelancer into your team.
3. Prepare your existing employees.
Some existing employees may feel threatened by the presence of online-only workers who are far less expensive and easier to terminate than they are. Reassure them that your company isn't experimenting with a way to replace them; instead, the goal is to augment their work or manage growth in a cost-effective way. Also remind them that not all work can be done in a virtual setting.
4. Consider working through a freelance marketplace.
Working through a freelance marketplace has clear advantages to simply searching for someone online. A good marketplace will offer escrow services whereby payment is held by the marketplace until the work is successfully completed. They also offer customer reviews, tax assistance and online project management tools which can help you choose the proper contractor and streamline the actual work that needs to get done. The marketplaces do charge fees to both contractors and hiring companies for various services, but after you establish a relationship with particular freelancers it’s common to take the relationship outside of the marketplace to save on fees.
As the nature of work changes, it’s important that businesses adapt as well to leverage the opportunities presented by these changes. Tapping into the online-only workforce in a prudent way can help lead to faster growth and enhanced profits.
A version of this article was originally published on November 04, 2011.