The life of a freelancer is compelling to many. Be your own boss, travel freely, and work whenever you want.
So it’s not surprising that a growing number of individuals choose to work this way. In fact, nearly one-third of the U.S. workforce— 54 million Americans — has done freelance work in the past year.
To get a better sense for how companies can best work with freelance talent, I spoke with Mehul Patel, CEO of Hired, an online marketplace that brings together qualified people and the companies that want to hire them.
Patel has heard from both parties about the needs, benefits, and pitfalls of freelance work. Here’s what he suggests for companies looking to make a freelance hire:
1. Move quickly through the freelance hiring process
The long, cumbersome interview process can be frustrating for any job candidate, but it simply isn’t acceptable to freelancers. Because freelancers cannot rely on steady salaries from their current employers, every hour they are not billing is a missed revenue opportunity. If you ask them to endure the same lengthy hiring process as your full-time, permanent employees, they’ll be long gone and working for someone else by the time the process is over.
To avoid this situation, it’s important for companies to set up expedited recruitment and interview protocols specific to freelancers. For example, the vetting process should be streamlined to a standard set of requirements, the number of necessary interviews should be reduced, and compensation should be research-based and fair. Quality matters, so contract work is not the place to cut costs. A speedy hiring experience will show that you are aware and respectful of freelancers’ time and will start off your working relationship on the right foot.
2. Build a pipeline of candidates
The hardest part for companies is often finding the right freelancer, and that can be highly competitive. Too many businesses begin the hiring process when they are already behind schedule on a project, so they need someone to start immediately. As a result, skilled freelancers often interview at multiple places at the same time and are off the market within one to two weeks. To attract and secure the right talent in a timely manner, companies need to interview contractors when there isn’t an immediate need. This relationship-driven approach to recruitment will help companies build a pipeline of freelance talent that can be plugged into projects without a lot of lead time. Not only will this help speed up the hiring process, but it will ensure that companies don’t miss out on high-quality freelance support during a time of need.
3. Allow breathing room
Freelancers love and need to have flexibility and control over when, where, why, and how they do their work. A study commissioned by the Freelancers Union and Upwork, “Freelancing in America: 2015,” said that 50 percent of respondents say that no amount of money could persuade them to take a full-time gig. Bottom line: freelancers really hate micromanagement.
That’s why companies should take a step back and trust the individuals they hire to do their job well. After all, the best contractors specialize in doing what they love and are usually really good at it. The role of the company is to give any worker, full or part-time, the tools, institutional knowledge, time constraints, and empowerment to reach a successful outcome, without telling them how to get there.
4. Treat freelancers like partners
Whether you’re working with a junior employee at your office, an advertising agency, or a freelance software developer, people do better work when they feel appreciated and respected. To get the most out of a freelance relationship, companies should focus on forming a true partnership between the freelancer and the rest of the team, uniting everyone involved on goals, progress, and setbacks. This type of insight helps these individuals to produce a work product in line with your mission, expectations, and timeline.
5. Pay on time
This seems basic, but it is one of the top areas for miscommunication between companies and freelancers. Before a free agent begins working, both parties must be crystal clear on when and how they will be compensated. If the project’s scope evolves or switches direction, which it often does, you should be prepared to pay for any additional time.
Complete and prompt payment isn’t just good for the freelancer. If the employer ever wants to hire a reputable freelancer again, it is in their best interest to be reliable.
As the freelance workforce continues to grow, contractors will become an even bigger part of companies’ staffing strategies for specialized skillsets or project-based clients. In order to make sure the relationship is positive and productive, Patel advises companies to start with a clean slate. Forget everything you know about hiring a full-time employee and tailor the entire experience for contract work.