HR & Management

How SMEs can harness freelance talent

6 min read

07 April 2015

The freelance market is growing rapidly, allowing businesses to ‘flex up’ and ‘flex down’ according to customer demand while also keeping overheads low, so here's how SMEs can truly harness that talent.

We’ve all heard about the benefits of going freelance – increased flexibility, freedom and a better work-life balance – so it’s perhaps unsurprising that last year alone the freelance market grew three times faster than permanent employment. Yet we hear less about the real benefits that freelancers can offer businesses, particularly SMEs.

In an increasingly competitive global economy, freelancers offer firms resource and expertise that they might not otherwise have access to, as and when they need it. They allow businesses to ‘flex up’ and ‘flex down’ according to customer demand whilst also keeping overheads low. In short, embracing this new way of working can give firms the competitive edge they need to get, and stay, ahead, both in the short and long term.

Businesses are beginning to identify this potential, with eight in ten employers now recognising that freelancers could be an important part of their workforce. However, stepping into the unknown can be easier said than done and knowing how to work effectively with freelancers is often a stumbling block for action.

This needn’t be the case. Here are a few simple considerations that will go a long way in making freelance talent work for your business.

When to use a freelancer’s expertise

The first consideration and one which is especially important for businesses on a tight budget, is deciding when to make the leap and take on a freelancer.

Two key questions to ask are do we have the capacity to do this work (or project) in house and do we have the expertise? If the answer to either of the above is no, it may be time to look for freelance support.

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Do your research and pick the right person

As with any new hire you want the best person for the job, so put the time in in advance to ensure you pick the right person. Who you choose to hire will depend heavily on your business needs and reasons for hiring a freelancer in the first place, for example whether you need someone to work with you on a project basis or as maternity leave cover.

What specific skill set or experience are you looking for? Be clear with yourself about what is essential and what’s not and write the clearest brief you can so that you’re both on the same page from the very beginning.

Continue reading on the next page for guidance on freelance project planning, management and payment.

Image via Shutterstock.

Plan your project

It’s important to have a timescale for the project with milestones and budgets that reflect the importance of each section of work. This is particularly crucial when working with somebody new for the first time, as it provides both parties with a clear progress report as things develop.

Start with a small less critical milestone with a smaller budget to test the quality of their work and be sure to encourage the freelancer(s) to flag any issues as early as possible so they can be addressed and rectified.

Once they have produced some work, suggest amendments if you’re not happy and give them the chance to improve – it will pay off in the long term.

Managing them within the context of your team

It is important to trust your freelancer in an operational sense. Building trust can be more difficult than an in house member of staff, especially when you might not have regular face to face contact with them in the workplace, but it’s essential to any successful partnership.

One way of minimising this is ensuring you treat them as another valued team member. Include them in meetings where possible, and make introductions to those they will be working with as early on in the process as you can.

Think carefully about payment

How much should you pay your freelancer? Consider your overall budget carefully – too low might eliminate better candidates but don’t make the mistake of making it higher than you can afford either.

Aim to pay a fair price for quality work. You are asking someone to represent you or your brand and this needs to be done in the right way. Remember – value often doesn’t come at the lowest price!

It may sound simple but it is essential to clearly state how much you are willing to pay them and your payments terms before work begins. Many freelancers work project to project and like everyone else they have bills to pay, so start the relationship on a clear footing and pay when you say you will to maximise the likelihood of a more long-term working relationship developing – which is to everyone’s benefit.

By Alice Weightman, founder of The Work Crowd, an online platform which matches quality freelancers with companies looking to outsource work in PR, communications and marketing services.

Image via Shutterstock.