When you think of freelancing your probably conjure up images of the gig economy and companies such as Uber, but this is an industry that is booming and burgeoning and not just in taxi services. Think instead of entering a building of limitless dimensions, where there are no boundaries, no language barriers and myriad workers with an endless supply of abilities, skills and talents, all of whose main goal and purpose is to assist you in your business. I have just described ‘the cloud’, an area of cyberspace which gives small business owners like myself access to global talent and skills at a fraction of the price which it would normally cost, also known as freelancing.
As the workforce moves away from the standard 9-to-5 working day in favour of a pool which is more fluid, there is increasing appreciation that if a company wants to adapt to the changing world it must be able to quickly access different skills set not available within the organisation in order to stay competitive.
In the United Kingdom it is estimated that 15% of the population is self-employed, a number that rapidly rose following the 2008 recession, but has been a rising figure since 2001. Research has shown that freelancers are a huge benefit to the UK economy, contributing £119bn (P1785bn) in 2016. In the United States it’s even bigger with 36% of the workforce made up of freelancers.
My own company uses freelancers from time to time. Whenever I need some work in a hurry, or when I have my resources stretched, I use a service aptly named Freelancer.com. It's an easy and cheap process whereby I simply post a job from web design, mobile app development, graphic design, editing, writing or something else I need and within minutes (sometimes seconds actually) I will receive competitive bids from freelancers able to do the job. So, I may decide to hire a talented graphic design artist from Indonesia for $11 an hour, a stay-at-home mom from the East Coast of the US for some editing, or a top web designer who simply prefers working for himself. You’ll pay them an agreed fee, but won’t be responsible for their taxes, leave pay, holiday time, medical aid or sick days and use them only for a specific need.
I select which freelancer to work with by considering their price but also through browsing their samples of previous work and reading their profile reviews. After each job completed the freelancer has been graded out of a 5 point scale, so you are able to see how many jobs they have been done, how many times they have been given a 5-star rating and other performance criteria such as if they have delivered on time and within budget.
So why use a freelancer and not a company? It’s a price consideration and an availability of talent. A freelancer working from home doesn’t have to meet lots of overhead costs and so it becomes possible for them to offer much cheaper rates than an organisation would charge with their high overheads and employee salary costs. Another thing about a freelancer is that they can be working out of office hours so you might be in a position to email a freelancer an assignment on Friday night and then find the tasks is done and on your desk by Monday morning!
Freelancers are usually very motivated to perform an excellent job and fast. They fully understand that it’s to their best interest when they remain reliable and exceed your expectations. They are also not distracted by office politics or endless agenda-less meetings.
It is not to say that this is a perfect system or there is no risk because when you are working with a freelancer you do not necessarily have a relationship or bond with them, and this may be problematic. If your preference is to have staff that you can invest in to make them an asset to your business in the longer term and build a relationship, then you won’t get that from the freelancer interaction. For me one of the frustrating things is that there is often no oral communication, so all instructions and feedback is given in e-messaging and this creates an opportunity for misinterpretation. Also, many of the freelancers may have English as their native language and there can be a lot of misunderstanding arising from this.
Freelancing is here to stay and will become even more common as technology continues to evolve so the opportunity for remote working and connecting with worldwide talent will expand exponentially. In one study 74% of freelancers who are already established said that their workload has increased over the past few years and the technological advances that connect clients with freelancers all over the world have certainly played a major role in enabling easy access to this global freewheeler talent network.
Blue Sky thinking? Give me overcast any day!