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Freelancing has expanded rapidly throughout the economy, especially during the 2020 downturn related to the pandemic. And from all indications, it’s poised to keep growing; even as the economy rebuilds, there’s a trend away from full-time employment.

In some sectors, like ride sharing, workers who freelance function largely on a plug-and-play basis. But for many small businesses in growth mode, the value of freelancing runs deeper.

For many entrepreneurs, bringing on skilled freelancers can provide flexibility to solve a variety of staffing challenges. Beefing up your team with one or more carefully selected freelancers can help you expand a department, maintain continuity during a key player’s absence, strengthen your sales activities during critical periods, even provide temporary leadership until a full-time manager can be hired and onboarded.

While bringing in a longer-term freelancer may cost less than hiring them full-time, it’s important to treat them in ways commensurate with the skills your business requires. More simply: the more complicated and demanding the work, the more you should treat them as integral team players.

Managing independents is not the same as managing employees, because the relationships are fundamentally different. Their respective motivations sometimes diverge. For example, an independent may develop into a key part of your team but may not feel comfortable at an all-staff meeting about benefits.

Some tips for getting the best results from tapping the freelance workforce:

  • Evaluate them carefully. Check references, as you would if hiring a full-time employee (FTE), looking for reliability and consistent work quality. In some circumstances, you may want someone who’s more self-sufficient than an employee would be. A freelancer who’s both independent and also self-motivated may be a strong candidate.
  • Think beyond immediate benefits. A clerical worker from a temp agency can relieve short-term production pressure, but a more skilled freelance professional can and should be viewed as a potential longer-term asset for your business. If appropriate, include them in any high-level brainstorming. When you approach them with that mindset, you develop loyalty that runs in both directions. Next time you have an emergency, you’ll be more likely to have a reliable problem-solver available.
  • Pay promptly and properly. Freelancers have expenses that FTEs do not, and they provide specialized skills that aren’t easy to find. So they charge accordingly for their services and appreciate being paid promptly. While bargaining is expected at a garage sale, avoid trying it with a freelancer over their rates. On the other hand, if you have a limited budget for a specific project, let the freelancer know.
  • Invest in them. Respect the fact that they’ve chosen to work independently. Take a little time to learn about them and their motivations. Find a place for them on your team, so everyone will feel comfortable. Introduce them around and encourage collaboration. If they have a website, take a look at what other clients they work with. You may discover useful skill sets you weren’t aware of.
  • Develop a relationship. Without being intrusive, give valued freelancers an opportunity to open up; check in with them periodically during slack periods to see how they’re faring—especially after a personal or professional rough patch. This requires some delicacy, because some independents prefer a more task-centric approach. But most will appreciate the outreach.

Making the most of freelance talent requires a little nuance in your approach, but you’ll gain significant flexibility so your business can operate and grow nimbly.

For more on innovative solutions for your business, speak with our small business experts at 1-855-WHY-PANGO (1-855-949-7264) or schedule a call.