The Pros and Cons of Working with Freelancers

When you want to grow your business one of the personnel options you have is to hire freelancers. Of course, it’s not only during growth when you can use the freelance workforce, there are many benefits of working with freelancers for companies of all shapes and sizes. In fact, many companies of almost any size use the freelance workforce.

In this article I will brief you on the pros and cons of working with freelancers, as well as tips and tricks how to find them and what to look for.

When to Use Freelancers

You can use freelancers in almost any circumstance and for almost any type of project. However, freelancers are most useful when you can’t find, can’t afford, or don’t need in-house employees.

In fact, even if you can find and afford in-house employees, freelancers still might be the better option because they can bring specific expertise when you need it most.

Pros of Working with Freelancers

The Best for the Job

Most freelancers juggle multiple projects simultaneously and they are not available for full-time employment. When you add in that most skilled employees won’t be living in your area, it is not hard to realize why qualified in-house employees are often near to impossible to find.

When working with freelancers you don’t have to worry about finding someone who is the best in many different areas. You’ll often be hiring a freelancer for one very specific project and so you can search for someone who is highly skilled in that specific area.

More Flexibility

With freelancers you have more flexibility. You hire them when you need them and don’t pay them a salary just for being at your office. With employees on payroll you always have to pay them for the time they are in the office, even if their workload is fluctuating.

More often than not, you don’t need to pay freelancers compensation when you don’t need them anymore. This might be less of a factor in those countries where at will termination is legal and common but everywhere else, where there is termination notice which in some cases could span months or even years, this flexibility of the freelance workforce is a great difference.

Lower Costs

In addition to the fact that you are not paying consistent salaries for times of low workload, another advantage of working with freelancers that keeps costs low is that you don’t have to pay benefits and provide office space and equipment for them.

Sometimes you may be tempted to compare an in-house staff member with a freelancer purely based on hourly rate. In some cases you will find that the freelancer does have a higher hourly rate. You need to be sure to take all costs in to account when comparing a freelancer with an in-house staff member. Often you will find that although a freelancer’s hourly rate may be higher, when all overheads and benefits are taken into account the freelancer will often come out cheaper.

Cons of Working with Freelancers

While the pros of working with freelancers are hard to beat, there are also cons that, depending on your situation, might mean it isn’t worthwhile going ahead and working with freelancers. Here are some of the disadvantages of working with freelancers:

Availability

Since freelancers as a rule have multiple projects at the same time, it’s quite possible the freelancer of your choice is unavailable when you need him or her. With some negotiation and planning on both sides, you can often find a solution but if you desperately need somebody immediately, don’t count on their availability.

A poster with a larger-than-life soldier looking down on a business man. The text says: "So you're not coming in tomorrow, Bud." Come on Remington -- let's stay on the job.

Also, if you happen to be unlucky enough to find a freelancer who is unethical, it’s not unheard of for them to leave mid-project to follow a more lucrative offer. Needless to say, this rarely occurs and can happen with in-house employees as well.

Less Control

Generally, you will have less control over a freelancer than an in-house employee. This can be a real problem if you’re unlucky enough to come across the rare type that I mentioned above.

However, if you plan well, establish milestones, and set clear progress reporting rules, you will be less likely to experience last minute disasters.

Confidentiality Issues

While not very common, there are industries and companies in which issues of confidentiality mean that it is difficult to work with freelancers. Of course, you can ask that they sign a non-disclosure agreement, but you’ll still have to weigh up the risks.

Finding Freelancers

  • Check freelance job boards. Freelance job boards and bidding sites, such as Guru, Elance, People Per Hour, etc. are places where thousands of freelancers are registered. You can browse their profiles and contact the ones you like, or you can post a job and let freelancers bid on it.

  • Forums and social networks. Another alternative to find freelancers is to look in design, development and other forums where freelancers with relevant skills hang out. You can start with social networks, such as LinkedIn, Behance (for designers), Facebook and Google+, and even Pinterest. Browse freelancers’ profiles and contact the ones you like. As for forums, you might want to check the SitePoint jobs board, or Warrior Forum.

  • Recommendations from coworkers, friends, business partners. Be sure to ask coworkers, friends, and business partners to recommend somebody they know. This channel of finding freelancers is the most limited in terms of numbers of people you can reach but since you’re getting a personal reference the quality will be much higher.

What to Look For

There might be thousands of freelancers available but if you don’t know how to pick the right one, you won’t get your job done. When you are filtering freelancers to hire, look for technical expertise and personal qualities.

When you are evaluating a freelancer’s technical expertise, you can view their portfolio, ask for references from previous clients, or even give them a small test. If you are searching for freelancers on a bidding site or forum, browse a freelancer’s past projects/posts. This will give you a better idea not only about his or her technical expertise but also about their personal qualities.

As for personal qualities, of course you’re after somebody who is reliable and a good communicator. It’s no use, if you hire a tech guru who will leave the project half way through, or who will work on your project only when he or she pleases. Also, if the tech guru lacks basic communication skills, then working with him or her will be painful and the results are usually disappointing.

Don’t presume that if a freelancer is available for a short project now, he or she will be available in the future as well. I have had many cases when I was picked for a small project I could fit in my schedule without a problem just to discover afterwards that this small project was a test for larger ones I couldn’t possibly take even if I had nothing else to do.

Clients have presumed that if I am available for a small project now, I will be available for large projects in the coming years, which certainly isn’t so. Therefore, if you are looking for a long-term relationship, ask if the other party is available for this as well.

Conclusion

There are many things to consider when working with freelancers and if you are new to it, there might be quite a lot of bumps on the road. However, when you get more familiar with the process, you will soon discover that working with freelancers can be very rewarding.

From your experience working with freelancers, or as a freelancer yourself, do you have any other tips?

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