The problem with freelancers.

“Plato has a fine saying, that he who would discourse of man should survey, as from some high watchtower, the things of earth.” - Marcus Aurelius

If you’re running, or you’re part of a growing digital business, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re working with freelancers.

With an increasing demand for digital skillsets twinned with a shortage of people, you’ll probably need to work with freelancers in one capacity or another for the life of your business.

This isn’t great for freelancers, and it’s terrible for the future of your business, here’s why.

There are two problems that freelancers are currently used to solve:

  • There is no in-house resource available for the skill required (this needs done now)
  • There is no permanent need for the skill required (this is not something we need to do every day)

These problems occur either when a company has committed their team to a roadmap aligned with their core services, and they no longer have any additional team members to deal with incidental and increased demands, OR when a project or channel requires specialist input.

If you’re the person responsible for solving either of these problems you’ll be tasked with finding additional resources to make sure you stay on track, and more often than not, the following process (or something resembling it) unfolds.

We know that from internal research we’ve conducted that this process usually costs a company on average around £2,500 (extrapolate to whatever your native currency is)(extrapolate to whatever your native currency is) and 5 week’s worth of time.

Now, after a few weeks and after spending a couple of thousand pounds (euros/dollars etc), the freelancer you’ve hired can finally get started on the work required to keep the company on track…but not quite.

Here’s a list of some typical steps that now need to be completed before they start on the project:

  • On-boarding/learning about the company
  • Set-up with systems access rights
  • Meeting the team they’ll be working with
  • Understanding the project they’ll be working on
  • Getting to know their manager and how they’ll be measured

After all of the above has been completed (and often, more than the above), the freelancer can now begin work on the project, which by now is probably frighteningly behind.

So the total up the cost to the business to bring this freelancer onboard:

  • £2,500 recruiter fees/job post fees
  • A significant amount of resource drain
  • 4/5 week’s recruitment time
  • 3 days on-boarding time

This leaves the company an additional month behind on their project, and £2,500 poorer, before they start paying their newly hired freelancer.

Hopefully the freelancer that has been hired is unbelievably brilliant and is able to help the team get the project delivered on time.

After the piece of work is delivered, the freelancer can leave and go on to their next job.

It might also be worth adding here that there’s no guarantee that the freelancer will available again in the future when you need them, meaning all of the time (and money) spent will have to be spent again each time this need arises.

As your business grows, and your resource requirements fluctuate, this process, and the expenses that accompany it are likely to become commonplace, costs are going to grow and they’re going to become a serious revenue and resource drain for the company.

From a freelancer’s perspective, it’s not much better. Here’s what it looks like for them.

It’s a whole lot of administrative heavy lifting for the freelancer, and is a process that needs to be repeated multiple times a year, there are quite a few more time (and motivation) sapping expectations of freelancers too such as:

  • Lack of clear documentation/briefs
  • Multiple stakeholders to manage at each role
  • Invoicing (and chasing unpaid invoices)
  • Differing, ‘on-site/remote’, requirements for each role
  • Unrealistic delivery expectations/timeframes
  • Additional complimentary skills required to complete delivery

At the moment, businesses (and the freelancers they rely on) are getting by (barely), but the future we’re building needs this system (it’s not, ‘the gig economy’) to scale more effectively and has a bunch of problems that need to be solved:

  • Businesses don’t need permanent teams for everything they need to do
  • Businesses can’t afford permanent teams for everything they need to do
  • Businesses are not set up to use fractional team members effectively
  • Resource requirements are going to become more elastic
  • Specialist skill sets are going to be more in-demand
  • Freelancers need predictable work pipelines
  • Freelancers need to be on-boarded faster
  • Freelancers need to be managed better
  • Freelancers need to be briefed better
  • Freelancers need their skills and ability measured quickly and accurately
  • Freelancers need to be paid faster and more reliably

We’re well on our way to solving these problems for businesses and freelancers here at Distributed, but I’d like to see more companies working on improving the use of elastic teams that’s not a marketplace for talent or some sort of SaaS play.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions please tweet me @callumadamson


Tribe of Mentors — by Tim Ferriss

Chances are that if you’re reading this you already know who Tim Ferriss is, whether you do or not this book is marvellous. It’s a series of short Q&A’s from some of the most influential people on the planet and gives the reader a great insight into what helps them be who they are, while also imparting tons of life lessons easy to apply to your own life.

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Callum Adamsom

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