When to Use a Freelancer: A Simple 3x3 Methodology

Nicholas Sykes
August 15, 2016
Businesses are reconfiguring their talent supply chains to include a larger role for freelance labor. With 40% of the American workforce projected to be freelancing by 2020, more enterprises will integrate this important talent source into day-to-day business operations. Platforms, like Catalant, provide access to curated, elite knowledge workers that enhance productivity, immediately; by adding degrees of breadth and depth to any project or initiative. It is hard to overstate the benefit of engaging a top-tier talent pool spanning geographies, experiences, expertise-levels, ages, genders, and perspectives; seamlessly and in real-time. As more and more organizations take part in this shift, I want to give a simple method for deciding to engage freelancers in your future project plans. Based on my personal project experience, I outline and describe the 3 by 3 approach below. Freelance Engagement Specifications:
  • Integration
  • Duration
  • Specialization
Project Characteristics:
  • Strong governance
  • Measurable outcomes
  • Immediate launch
Project Types:
  • Research & Analysis
  • Financial Modeling
  • Project Management

Freelance Engagement Specifications

Begin with framing the type of freelancer and freelance engagement that fits your immediate business needs. Considerations are different from the normal process of drafting a full-time job description and other personnel reallocation decisions. Some of the factors at play do not apply in those situations. Ultimately, more clarity and specification will allow you to narrow your freelancer search to candidates and engagements that are best fits.   Integration: Integration references whether your initiative requires an on-demand resource fully integrated into the organization. Does the nature of the project require increased on-site work time? Does the project involve team members from multiple business functions, geographies, and business units, who will need coordination? Or is the project fairly self-contained, requiring more independent work and analysis? For example, are you considering external interviews with customers, industry thought leaders and competitors? Answering these types of questions will clarify whether your freelance consultant needs to be more or less integrated into the day-to-day operations or can execute the project requirements remote and detached.   Duration: Many projects are intentionally designed with staging or phase-based approaches. Thus the length of a project can vary with multiple extensions, pauses or pivots. Knowing whether each subsequent phase benefits from one continuous freelance consultant versus requiring very different skills at each stage will lead to a different engagement decision. Also, projects designed to last one week versus one year require different levels of availability and investment on both ends; and it’s important to contemplate upfront.   Specialization: There are many niche projects that require highly specialized talents. A supply chain project on South Asian mining operations will need a freelancer with professional experiences meaningfully different from a project for sales operations change management for a professional services firm. The degree of specialization and the type of specialization will determine the appropriate platform to partner with and it will impact budget estimates for your freelance professional.  

Project Characteristics

The second area relates to the characteristics of the project that will increase freelancer effectiveness and lead to successful results. All three factors focus on project structures which strengthen clarity, transparency, and alignment.  As a freelance professional is new to your organizational context and the business problem, taking these steps will ensure a speedier assimilation.   Strong governance: Many projects are delayed or extend beyond their deadlines because of decision delays or uncertainty over decision rights. For example, consultants will research and recommend a course of action that requires procuring a software solution. Whether processes are established, or lead stakeholders are identified, to make such choices, determines if the project will lose momentum. This can and should be avoided with freelancers by requiring strong governance structure and program ownership, at the outset.   Measurable outcomes: Great projects for engaging freelance professionals will have definitive deliverables, a finite timeline, and a specified budget. Successful freelance partnerships are built upon clarity of expectations over the life of the project. Keeping these aligned, and progressing towards the end goals, are responsibility number one for the freelancer and internal stakeholders. For this reason, projects that culminate in a clear deliverable, recommendation or outcome are suggested.   Immediate launch: On-demand talent works best for business initiatives that are in-flight. Freelancers like to jump in and roll up their sleeves, immediately. If a project is not slated to start for 3 to 6 months, you risk finding a freelance partner that may not be able to accurately project his/her availability for those forward dates. From the freelancer’s perspective, they have to consider whether the project will stay on the same timeline or will be pushed back further. These uncertainties add small frictions to an otherwise seamless marketplace.  

Project Types

Now, we have specified your freelancer engagement needs and the project characteristics; lastly, we will target specific business initiatives to involve freelancers. These undertakings can vary widely across your organization. Below are three project types that are often seen on leading talent platforms.   Research and Market Analysis: Research projects are often self-contained and outside the normal flow of day-to-day business. For this reason, a freelancer is optimal, because he/she will bring divergent points of view that will benefit conclusions. This expanded perspective can lead to innovative breakthroughs in recommended strategy and operating models. Market Analysis projects that are highly integrated and span multiple internal stakeholders, also profit from a freelance professional. In both instances, freelancers quicken the speed of analysis and the depth and breadth of analysis; deriving insights enhanced by their objective, outside perspective.   Financial Modeling: Special situations within financial analysis, capital allocation, and investment decisions, often require immediate access to expert-level freelancers. When considering a fundraise or acquisition or new business expansion; precision and 10x talent makes a serious difference. Thus, augmenting your team’s capabilities with freelance professionals with in-depth experience at venture capital firms, investment banks, private equity shops, and Fortune 100 corporate development departments is a winning solution. Making financial analysis one of the more frequent project types at Catalant. The added benefit is that the costs are a small fraction of the rates boutique financial advisors.   Project Management: Whether installing a new CRM system or coordinating supply chain negotiations, often business unit leaders and internal stakeholders require additional leverage to manage complex, cross-functional projects to completion. A freelance project manager will extend company capacity to anticipate project implementation risks, to provide real-time reporting to stakeholders, and to prioritize and direct parallel work streams. Great freelance project management is environmentally aware while being results-oriented and committed to delivering excellent outcomes via collaborative teams. They are deeply engaged and ownership oriented.   By no means are these the only appropriate projects or the only considerations when engaging a freelance knowledge worker. Hopefully, this simple methodology demystifies an important freelance/on-demand economy option for your business. I am confident once you experience the benefits first-hand and see the immediate business value; you will be satisfied enough to try other project types. I, and other freelancers like myself, look forward to engaging you and your organization at the two-sided marketplace. Get started today - https://gocatalant.com/register  

About the Author

Nicholas Sykes

Corporate Strategist and solution architect to support your Organizational Performance programs; encompassing Strategy, Finance, Data and Operational practices. Highly committed to leveraging process, talent, data, technology and creative thinking to drive outcomes.

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