The way we work is changing fast, and the past several years has seen the rise of entirely new economies. The freelancer sphere has exploded, and as more of the world comes online, it continues to balloon.
The World Economic Forum has predicted that “The majority of the US workforce will be freelance by 2027,” and that in the future “remote work will be the norm.” Employees in developed countries want more flexibility, employees in developing countries are tuning into the needs of businesses worldwide, and freelancers and business owners everywhere are able to access markets around the globe like never before.
We interviewed business owners, freelancers, and agencies on the biggest ways the growing freelance sphere is changing the world. We put all those responses together, and below are the top four ways we saw that the growing freelancer sphere is impacting business owners.
Without a doubt, one of the biggest impacts of the growing freelance sphere is the ability for small to medium size businesses to access affordable high quality talent.
Traditionally, it required an immense amount of time, effort, and resources to find quality hires in specialized fields, and meet their needs on an ongoing basis. Large companies and ventures with lots of investment capital might have had those resources, but smaller business owners struggled. How could entrepreneurs afford new hires when they couldn’t even afford new office space?
The freelance sphere has changed the rules of the game. There is a growing trend of traditional workloads being split into individual tasks performed by a distributed group of freelancers. As Nico, Amazon seller and owner of the Bright Idea Company, put it:
“One of the nice things is that freelancers allow you to actually fill out your organization, instead of it just being you. You don’t have to wait 5 years to fill the positions out. Your time is freed up and you can focus on the points that really interest you.
When I first hired somebody to manage the customer service emails, I almost cried. It was a real pain to take care of them. After hiring them, I didn’t have to answer another email again, ever. It was a real turning point. I can trust this person. They are solving a real problem for me.”
Even a freelancer who at first glance seems to cost more on a per hour basis than a traditional employee can save you time and money – there are no employee benefits, healthcare, insurance, or office space to add to your overhead.
The structure of business is changing. Some might say that there is a sacrifice in that there is no common company culture – no water cooler talk, no lunch breaks, no chit chat. But there are others who say that this is liberating.
As Shannon, owner of Signature Video Productions, said:
“I wanted a business that fit my life – I didn’t want to be working year round, so I created that. I’ve designed it to be seasonal so we basically do a year’s worth of work in 3 months. I have between 25 and 40 freelancers I will use each season to handle events in 3 states.
It gives a lot of freedom to not have to work within the confines of traditional hires. We follow the rules, there’s just a whole lot less of them. I don’t have to follow any of the red tape that comes with full time employees.
It also gives you much greater scope – I can book clients in Hawaii. I can do anything, anywhere, whereas if I had to have an office I’d be very limited to a driving distance.”
More freedom for those working with you also means for freedom, potentially, for you. The amount of flexibility becoming available on all levels is enormous. Smaller businesses are competing directly with big brands, or carving out their own niche.
This flexibility and quick access to talent has resulted in entirely new ways to grow and structure an organization, and faster paths to market. Never before has the barrier to entry in so many industries been so low.
As companies continue to hire distributed freelancers and sometimes also maintain flexible organization structures with employees in different regions, the need for effective communication is of the utmost importance.
When freelancers and recruiters were asked questions on what business owners need to know about freelancers but probably don’t, the answers consistently were communication, clear instructions, and sometimes, relax. Here are two things to keep in mind:
Enough miscommunication can happen in a traditional office environment. The need for good instructions is exponential if you are hiring freelancers in other locations, especially from other countries. Different cultures around the world have completely different work norms – having clear instructions and expectations is crucial. This goes for freelancers located in your own country as well as abroad. Important details can get lost in translation – literally.
Some business owners prefer to go through online marketplaces or agencies for this reason – an intermediary takes care of many parts of this process for them. Having a structure in place you can turn to that to pre-vets freelance members and keeps all parties accountable is immensely useful for both clients and freelancers alike. Even so, make sure to describe exactly what it is you need in no uncertain terms.
When business owners haven’t seen the individuals they are hiring to help take care of important tasks, it’s easy for them to get a bit anxious, especially if they are new to the sphere. This can cause rifts in communication, especially if the freelancer response time is less than is ideal.
Some agencies go so far as to prepare videos to give clients a snapshot into the daily life of the freelancers they outsource to, in order calm the nerves of business owners who feel like they are sending important functions of their business into the void. Without context it can be hard to know or trust individuals you’ve never met in person. But these are real people on the other end of your emails, with lives, responsibilities, and families.
As Jayson, a Filipino freelancer and agency owner, says:
“It isn’t helpful for you to micromanage our time. Some people are a bit frantic if their VAs aren’t communicating with them directly. Everyone has had a client that, if they don’t receive a reply within five minutes, they go a bit looney. ”
Just like a regular hire, when you find good freelancers who “get” you and your business, treat them well, and give them incentive to stick around. Maintain the relationship and treat them like part of the business. It’s hard when a good freelancer quits.
In summary, the communication challenge is entirely manageable, even if it does require some tweaks to our strategies. Many companies now choose make their entire organization distributed, working with only a nominal headquarters, or no headquarters at all. These organizations are taking advantage of new tools and making things like time zones work to their advantage, and doing so means that productivity can actually increase if people are literally working around the clock.
Interestingly, one of the most common sticking points for business owners is they don’t actually know what their business needs are, or they think they know what they are and they turn out to be wrong. A lot of time is wasted because entrepreneurs don’t have their needs accurately identified.
This is often simply due to business owners’ limited knowledge of the areas they are hiring freelancers to work in (i.e. the reason they are hiring a freelancer in the first place). It’s common to contract a freelancer only to realize you have hired someone just to partially fix a problem, complete a task that in retrospect was entirely unnecessary, or even worse, arrange deck chairs on the Titanic. We all make mistakes along the way as we build and run our businesses, but it is a special kind of frustration to realize that precious time and resources have been squandered needlessly.
Because so many traditional workload types can now be picked apart and delegated, maintaining the larger vision for what all these tasks are accomplishing is even more important. Perhaps you feel you are 100% on top of your tasks and only need effective execution, but most of us need a little bit of advice or guidance along the way.
For those who risk getting a little lost in the weeds, there are services out there to help you identify exactly what it is you are looking for, and to help you connect with the right professional who can help you out. There are marketplaces and recruiting agencies that work to identify your needs and match you with the right individual(s). There’s no need to play guessing games to find what you need.
Just like traditional hires, quality varies widely among freelancers.
On the upside, freelance professionals typically have to be good at what they do to survive. Freelancers, as a group, are by definition self-disciplined and motivated. You have to be hard working, organized, and experienced, or it all falls apart. They have to know how to deliver, as survival in the freelance sphere is based on quality of work and subsequent reputation level, not the amount of time spent in front of a desk. The majority of freelancers choose their line of work because they prefer it, not because they lack other options. By hiring freelancers, you get incredible professionals contributing their time and insight into your business.
On the downside, if you don’t watch where you are contracting people, you can end up being taken advantage of, scammed, or waste immense amounts of your most precious resources: time. There are a lot of bargain marketplaces out there with bottom of the barrel talent and fake listings. As Veena, a freelancer and recruiter in Australia, puts it:
“Freelancers have good work ethic. I sometimes have to tell new clients this in our discussions. I think people have had bad experiences where a freelancer doesn’t communicate well. There are lot of bottom of the barrel freelancers that give a bad impression.
It’s very important to get the right people. Once that’s done the sky’s the limit. It’s letting people do things they never thought they could afford. It’s opening up a lot of opportunities.”
The internet distributes information and misinformation alike – it pays to verify your source. Many famous posting sites are getting a bad name because they don’t do any quality control. Luckily, alternatives are stepping up to fill the gap.
If you’re ever in doubt of the reputation of a marketplace you can always check with us. But there are certain qualities highly rated freelancer marketplaces tend to have that you can look for:
Establishing the right freelancer relationships can be a beautiful thing. Make sure you are looking in the right place to make that happen.
The world is becoming untethered. No offices mean less overhead and more freedom. Connect with investors from anywhere. Hire from anywhere. Global audiences are more easily reached than ever before.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. You can quickly test individuals instead of going through a lengthy hiring process. The barrier to entry is so low compared to traditional hiring. The total cost, even if it’s way more than you initially expected, is way less than it would be otherwise.
The business owner who gets a handle on the freelance sphere, and grows with it, is a business owner looking towards the future. The way business is done is being reinvented before our very eyes. The earlier you adapt, the sooner you can use all the new tools to your advantage, and grow faster than you ever thought possible.
Luke Tierney is a serial entrepreneur and founder of Nomad Playground, a review platform that collects ratings of freelancer marketplaces and other remote work opportunities. He has worked remotely across three continents, and helps people find remote work worldwide. He currently resides in Lisbon, Portugal.
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