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Posted: May 18, 2012

Freelancers to the rescue: Part 1

In lieu of bonuses, how about giving your employees some help?

Cindy Wolf

Business is finally picking up! Take a look at your staff. Have they been working long hours taking care of business with reduced resources since the market crashed? It’s time to take care of them. Maybe you can’t afford to give everyone large raises or bonuses, but there could be something else they would appreciate: help.

If you’re still shy about adding employees, you know it’s a short term need, or you need multiple skills that are unlikely to be found in a single individual, there is a solution. The freelance workforce is burgeoning, and it’s filled with highly experienced people doing all types of work. In the past, when someone told you they were consulting, freelancing or contracting, you might have assumed they were just trying to put a favorable spin on “unemployed”. On the contrary, it takes an entrepreneurial spirit to start a freelance business, and the best ones know how to take their skills and experience to new opportunities. The key benefits to you, the employer, are their experience and flexibility.

I’m using the term “freelancer” to cover a whole range of services. Temporary help agencies and consulting groups, including professional and technical firms, have been around for ages. Freelancers sometimes fit into those categories or do similar work, but the new normal encompasses professionals providing all kinds of services remotely that they used to do as employees. It can be a form of outsourcing (from data entry to accounting to copy editing) or to accommodate an unusual situation (integrating a new customer base).

In the old days, we called them independent contractors and they would come into your office and be assigned the spare desk or empty conference room. Every time you needed one, you had to call them in, make sure all the right tools/computer programs, etc. were available, teach them your systems and see if they could get you caught up before quitting to take a real job. The ability to work remotely has made it much easier for freelancers to set up shop and handle multiple clients at once – which means they can do as much work for you as you need, or as little, as needed, with minimum disruption to either of your routines.

So, now that you’ve decided to find some freelance help, how do you go about it? The most common way companies find freelancers is through their existing networks. Typical sources are former employees, colleagues, classmates, relatives, friends and professional and trade organization.  But, the web is also full of agencies that supply freelance and contract workers and those that directly market their own services. LinkedIn and Craigslist are prime resources.

The idea is not just to get some cheap help. You shouldn’t compromise or take a risk on a freelancer. Unless all you need is entry level labor, your freelancer is being hired for their expertise to do a discreet activity. Your neighbor’s son may be a smart kid, but why should you train him when there are experienced workers that can walk right in and do the job today? I don’t mean to denigrate young people or new graduates, but you’re trying to help your existing staff, not give them a training project. And there’s nothing worse for morale than bringing in a slacker friend or relative. Expect to pay more for better skills – it will pay off with better results.

Once you’ve identified some candidates, interview and verify skills and education the same way you would for an employee. Unfortunately, resume padding happens with freelancers as well as job candidates. And it’s fair to ask if the person is really looking for a permanent job. While your freelancer may not work for you full time, you want them to finish your project and they may turn into a long-term addition to your staff.

Next, expect to spend time introducing your company and approach to this new person. If you don’t tell a freelancer (or any employee or consultant) what you need and want, they will just do what they already do best. There may be some disconnects.

In part two, we look at the pros and cons of hiring freelancers directly or using an agency or consulting group.
 

 Cindy Wolf is a Colorado lawyer with more than 25 years experience representing large and small domestic and multinational companies. Her expertise is in corporate law and commercial contracting, with an emphasis on international issues, technology licensing and the Internet. She can be reached at cindy@cindywolf.com  or visit her blog at www.cindywolf.com

This publication is provided for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice. There is no implicit guarantee that this information is correct, complete, or up to date. This publication is not intended to and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the author.

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