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Article

The Pros and Cons of Working with Freelancers

By Ada Ivanoff

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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Comments
webos6844

I like to contribute to your article,Shall I ?And yes,your article is great!!

Rozgar_App

Freelacing ROCKS!. Now every country is beginning to have its our Freelance marketplace to assist their freelancing who are looking for online work.

WuyenHsu

Good analysis.
I would like to add in another point of view.
A lot of time, I figure it's not only the pros and cons of freelancer, but simply a lot of freelancers doesn't have a well developed strategy on approaching potential customers and presenting themselves.
Unlike company, freelancer often don't have the resource and time to build a good brand out of themselves. When company or design firm only needs to persuade the customer they can meet the particular need, freelancer often needs to prove they are trust-worthy first before they can even sit down and talk about design.
Fortunately, the growth of online community, podcast, blog, webinar, social media, outsourcing resource is providing freelancer a huge opportunity most company is weak on - the personalize experience of working with a real person.
Utilizing all these new tools, it's likely the market for freelancer is looking at another big growth in the near future.

adaivanoff

You are right, when a freelancer has no marketing/business skills, no matter how good he or she is, his or her chances to find good work are not high. Fortunately, companies know about this and frequently they don't judge a freelancer by his or her marketing/sales skills. This is especially true about techies, a large number of whom are known for the lack of soft skills of any kind.

mikeh

Poor article. All cons can be for on-site employees as well.

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.

How is that much different than with an on-site employee?
Get a patent, if you have anything patentable, otherwise NDA is pretty much nonsense, it's just more like a formality.

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.

Not true.
Freelancing does not imply working on multiple projects at the same time.
Your on-site employee can have some side work as well, this happens a lot in IT. And he\she can become 'unavailable' too or perform poorly too.

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

Isn't this the same management you need to do for on-site employees as well?

Also, the article forgets to mention odesk.com, freelancer.com the most popular international freelancing portals.

My random thoughts on freelancing:

  • Not all projects are suitable for remote work, but many software work is.
  • A freelancer can be as good or as bad as on-site one.
  • Depending on the local work legislation, firing an employee can actually be a difficult thing. So freelancing from this perspective can be a better option.
  • The hiring process for a freelancer shouldn't be different than for on-site.
  • With the right setup and communication tools(there are lots of good ones these days) remote work isn't a problem.
  • Don't be greedy. Be realistic about the quote your are looking for to pay.
    If you believe in the magical software engineer for 5$ \ hour, don't cry if it doesn't turn out like you hoped.
    Someone with a good command of English and good skills will quickly find something better than the 5$ \ hour you are paying.
adaivanoff

How is that much different than with an on-site employee?
Get a patent, if you have anything patentable, otherwise NDA is pretty much nonsense, it's just more like a formality.

With on-site employees you basically have more control. Of course, you can't prevent leaks but simply there are more ways to keep your secrets under wraps. There are many things you can't patent, such as ideas, and it also hurts if these get disclosed to competitors or the general public. I am not a lawyer but I presume you can sue for damages based on an employee/freelancer violating an NDA. Maybe you could sue without NDA, too but presumably a NDA goes into more specifics of what you can share and what you can't.

Freelancing does not imply working on multiple projects at the same time.
Your on-site employee can have some side work as well, this happens a lot in
IT. And he\she can become 'unavailable' too or perform poorly too.

Freelancing frequently implies working on multiple projects at the same time - this is the essence of freelancing to get projects as they come and not be tied to a single project/client. The only exception I can think of is when a freelancer gets a huge project that takes all his time and capacity in all other cases freelancers have let's say 2 to 5 smaller projects a week - ongoing or one time and they work on all of them.

As for the unavailability of in-house employees, this could happen - not only because they work on their private projects but because they get sick or have other personal issues to attend to but the idea is that you don't pay them salaries to work on their private projects and do some work for you when they please. If they are systematically unavailable, why keep them on payroll?

Isn't this the same management you need to do for on-site employees as well?

Correct, basically it's the same.

Also, the article forgets to mention odesk.com, freelancer.com the most popular international freelancing portals.

These are good, too. My personal preference goes to Elance, Guru, and PPH and this is why I listed them. There are tons of other smaller sites, including local ones, that could prove better than the biggest ones where there are dozens of projects a day and for a new buyer it might be hard to attract any good freelancers, just the automated bids "For $5 we'll do anything you tell us, sir. We are the best"

The hiring process for a freelancer shouldn't be different than for on-site.

It depends on the project. If you need a freelancer for a quick 5-10 hour WordPress job, there is no need to perform a background check, for example, and the hiring process as a whole could be much more informal. As for technical skills, you might want more from a freelancer than from in-house employees - after all you are hiring the freelancer to fill in an expertise gap, so you can expect more.

Don't be greedy. Be realistic about the quote your are looking for to pay.
If you believe in the magical software engineer for 5$ \ hour, don't cry if it doesn't turn out like you hoped.
Someone with a good command of English and good skills will quickly find something better than the 5$ \ hour you are paying.

Absolutely. This is true for both in-house and freelance workforce.

DavidCameron

I have recently got in touch with a freelancer for my company work . It was my first time with freelancers to get our work done, but I found it pretty good. Its not necessary that if you are hiring a freelancer for the first time than you would face problems. I have done it and it is a nice experience for me.

Green_Moon

I think mikeh raises some valid issues but I disagree with his statement that it is a poor article. The points you identify in the article ARE the most common basic pros and cons for using freelancers, although there are always exceptions and neither the pros nor the cons universally apply to every situation.

For example, freelancers are not always less expensive (on a per hour basis, anyway) than an employee. In some cases, it makes sense to hire a highly paid expert as a freelancer rather than having lower cost employees muddle through a task that they lack the skills to handle.

Chavista

Timely article!

Can anyone tell me where to find a freelancer for a project I'm working on and how much I should expect the project to cost?

I want to create a series of quizzes and tests for my websites. I work with PHP and MySQL, and I've already put together a working quiz (10 questions) that uses jQuery and JSON. However, I still have a few bugs to work out. For example, the questions are all multiple choice, but I'd like to be able to include fill-in-the-blank questions, too.

I'd also like to set it up so that visitors can register with my sites, log in, and have their test scores recorded. The database might store their name, username, password, the ID of a particular quiz, the date and their score.

I've spent the last week developing the quiz, and it's probably going to take at least two more weeks to figure out how to do the other stuff. So I just wondered how much a freelancer would charge to do something like this - and where should I got to hire one?

I hired a freelancer for another project a few months ago, but he didn't have the skills to do it. I paid him a little for his time.

Thanks for any tips.

adaivanoff

Hi Chavista,

Check Elance, oDesk, Guru or any other freelancing site for freelancers to contact about your project. Register with the site and post a project in the Web Development category (or a similar one) and see who answers your ad. You might set some price but you could also leave it open and see how much the freelancers who contact you will ask for.

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