Understanding and Managing Freelancers: 4 Key Resources

Helpful insights on collaborating with independent workers

Understanding and Managing Freelancers: 4 Key Resources

Freelancers now make up one third of the US labor force, and the rate is rising. Chances are, your business has freelancers on the team — or you’re considering adding some this year.

As the gig economy attracts more and more workers, there’s growing demand on businesses to get it right when it comes incorporating freelancers into growth strategies, budgets and bottom-lines. Not to mention successfully blending freelancers and internal employees on projects teams and treating them equitably.

If you’re one of the many businesses wondering about managing freelancers more effectively and leveraging their talent, this week’s roundup is for you.

Discover how to:

  • find opportunities to use outside talent in your existing business model
  • make the most of their unique talent to build your business and your team
  • integrate them successfully onto project teams
  • achieve “most favored client” status with freelancers who are in high demand

Ready to make the most of the growing freelance economy? Let’s get started.

How Freelancers Help Your Business

Raise your hand if you often have too much on your plate at work. Or have tasks you’d love to delegate to someone else? (If only there were someone else to hand them off to…)

Enter freelancers.

These outside contractors come with the expertise and flexibility to tackle work tasks that aren’t always a good fit for your existing full-time staff. While everyone knows freelancers are out there, sometimes it’s hard to make the connection your unique needs and a freelancers who can step in and help.

What types of work can be readily outsourced? If you’re new to the idea of freelancers, you might be pleasantly surprised. In 5 Ways Freelancers Can Save You Time,” Entrepreneur contributor Thomas Smale — cofounder of his own seven-figure company — points out the functional areas all businesses have that are easy to outsource.

It’s more than a simple list. Smale explains why a particular functional area is ripe for freelancers — sometimes it’s because it’s highly specialized, sometimes it’s because the tasks are mundane. And if there’s an area your business is tempted to let languish until an internal team member can fill it, he offers compelling reasons why you shouldn’t pay it short shrift.

If you’re looking to start — or expand — your use of freelancers, this article can help you put shape to your initial list and get you started on filling those freelancer slots.

Should You Manage Your Freelancers?

You’ll find freelancers at businesses of every size — from small startups to large corporations. They’re an easy way to plus-up a team during a crunch time, or to provide specific expertise that you just don’t need (or can’t afford) on a full-time basis.

But as plentiful as freelancers are, what you don’t often find — at companies of any size — are employee positions responsible for overseeing and supporting the work of freelancer talent. That’s according to Jon Younger and Rishon Blumberg, who advocate for that very practice in their article Whose Job Is It to Manage Freelancers? for Harvard Business Review.

If you’re not actively managing your freelancers, they say, your business is missing out.

Younger and Blumberg are quick to clarify that they don’t mean traditional supervision, but instead advocate for a focus on integrating the talent that outsiders bring to the internal team, and for making sure the blended teams are functioning well.

Freelancers tend to have firsthand experience with the competitive landscape and knowledge of best practices that might not be on an internal team’s radar. What an excellent resource for a business to leverage — if only you know to seek it out!

Younger and Blumberg share some novel ideas for accomplishing this: a roving CTO that deals only with external talent, a technical mentorship program where freelancers mentor to internal team members — there are several more innovative ideas in the article.

The authors end with a warning: failing to have a structured framework in place for managing freelancer talent is a “big miss,” they say, and the “high cost of getting it wrong” can hurt an organization both financially and strategically.

If your business invests in freelancers, it’s time to make sure you’re getting the most out of it. This article is great source for ideas on how to build freelance talent into the heart of your growth plans.

Should You Treat Freelancers Differently?

Some businesses treat their employees quite differently than they treat freelancers on their team. Different color badges, different access rules (to team-building events — or even refrigerator space) are some common examples. And that doesn’t include the unspoken rules about how freely freelancers can share opinions on strategy or provide feedback in meetings.

But should you treat them differently? Author and Forbes contributor Jacob Morgan unequivocally says no.

Need convincing? He shares his thinking in a quick 5-minute video titled Should You Treat Your Employees And Freelancers Differently?

Sure, says Morgan, it’s important to note the distinction on the HR and budget side of things. But when it comes to closing in on a project deadline: everyone’s on the same team.

That idea can sometimes get lost when some freelancers play limited and/or highly specific roles on a project, he cautions. But he calls up a sports team analogy to prove his point: even field-goal kickers — who are highly specialized and who make game appearances far less often than quarterbacks — are still considered part of the football team.

Morgan rounds out his argument with a few techniques for how to hold meetings that mix employees and freelancers. We thought his ideas to promote team cohesion for virtual freelancers who augment a co-located team were especially clever. Check out the video for more details.

Managing a blended team? Whether you lead one — or work on one — there’s good food for thought here, and some great ideas on how to increase team cohesion and productivity.

What Freelancers Wish You Knew

Freelancers can play pivotal roles for businesses. And just because they’re not employees doesn’t mean you don’t want them to stick around for a good long while.

What makes a freelancer want to stick around? We’re so glad you asked. HubSpot contributor Nataly Kelly — a former freelancer herself — speaks from experience (and research) in her article 9 Important Things Freelancers Wish You Knew.”

You won’t be surprised to read that timely invoice payments figure high on that list. Independent contractors aren’t like other vendors you may work with. Their one-person operation means a much leaner cash flow, and bureaucratic red tape — or unreliable turnaround times — might mean they’ll soon look elsewhere for clients.

Kelly shares advice on how your business can jump to the top of the priority list, and how to negotiate with a freelancer when your budget won’t stretch to that initial quote. The advice for this one — it’s tip #5 — is worth the article.

Kelly’s analogy of master chefs compared to a short-order cooks is an important sticking point for many freelancers, who can find themselves in apples-to-oranges rate comparisons all too often. Mastering this point will put your business into “favorite client” status.

If your business relies on freelancers — or you want to do a better job of managing the contractors on your extended team — this article is rich with advice and examples. It’s a jump-start to making relationships with freelancers and lucrative two-way street.

Read more: Remote Work: Stories of People and Teams Doing Great Things »