a finger and thumb holding up a puzzle piece with a person on the puzzle piece

The word “freelancer” conjures up plenty of preconceived notions. Hearing it, you’re likely picturing journalists trying to beat deadlines, graphic designers churning out logos, or other creative types turning around one-off projects for their clients.

And while these tasks are certainly valuable, freelancers also offer tremendous potential when it comes to longer-term, strategic niche projects. Freelancers are a diverse group of professionals with varying backgrounds, skill sets and approaches to work. While some freelancers prefer short-term engagements, others have the expertise needed to help guide your future projects to success.

How exactly can these flexible workers make a lasting impact on your company? Read on for four reasons freelancers are the right choice for strategic, niche projects:

1. Freelancers can be cost-effective alternatives when full-time work isn’t required

Choosing a freelancer or an employee isn’t an “either-or” question. There are situations where both types of workers could be appropriate; selecting between them comes down to a judgement call regarding your organization’s needs and resources.

The graphic below breaks down a few of the differences between the two:

Comparison table outlining the differences between Independent Contractors versus Employees (W2)

Take your company’s financial leadership, for example. Outsourced, freelance financial services, for example, have grown in popularity over the last few years. This is, in part, because few growing companies can afford the median compensation for a CFO in the U.S., which stands at $313,541 per year as of November 2017, according to Salary.com.

Entrepreneur contributor Pamela Wasley suggests that it isn’t just money, but time requirements as well, that make these costs untenable. “Companies with under $10 million in annual revenue can seldom justify a full-time chief financial officer (CFO),” she states. “This doesn’t mean they don’t have growth goals to take them to the next level, or problems and issues requiring the attention of a senior financial executive. It’s just that they don’t have a need for top-level talent every day.”

In the same way outsourced financial services can bridge the gap between the expenses associated with traditional employees and expertise that is not needed regularly, freelancers across all industries can present a cost-effective, strategic alternative—especially in the case of projects that don’t require regular work.

Think about the need for niche skill sets, which represents another opportunity to tap into freelance talent pools in a cost-effective way. If you find your company in need of a specialized set of skills—say a specific programming language or a type of data analysis you won’t be using regularly—bringing on a freelancer is often more affordable than hiring a specialist or training an internal team member on them.

2. Freelancers can help you scale new projects quickly

According to the Future Workforce Report, which surveyed just over 1,000 workforce hiring decision makers, 56% of managers reported turning to freelancers to scale up quickly for a new project. This made increasing project needs the most common cause given for bringing on freelance talent—ahead of leveraging skills unavailable in-house (49%), filling staffing shortages (49%), and saving money (36%).

Scaling projects quickly isn’t just about man-hours. It’s about finding talent that understands how to work efficiently and effectively within the parameters of a given project. That might mean bringing on a team of freelancers to work short-term until the project is completed. It might also mean engaging independent professionals who have honed their ability to manage projects like the one you’re considering through their efforts in past roles.

3. Freelancers tend to invest more in their skills than employees

It might seem logical to assume that those working full-time in traditional jobs are more likely to have up-to-date skill sets. After all, they’re immersed in day-to-day operations within their industries.

Yet, the 2017 Freelancing in America survey found the opposite to be true. According to the report, “65% of full-time freelancers say they’re updating their skills as their jobs evolve, relative to just 45% of full-time employees.”

Some of this self-motivation comes from demand from clients who are seeking their expertise. Other times, freelancers invest in upskilling out of a passion for their work.

Take the example of Jack Larkin, a voiceover artist who quickly noticed demand for additional skills. “Doing voice over work, I started noticing a lot of jobs on Upwork that required video production,” he describes. “I took online courses, and I started getting jobs editing video. As the years have gone on, I’ve upped my game. I’ve learned how to do 2D animation.”

Whether these investments are altruistic or profit-minded in nature isn’t the point. If you’re looking for the most competent talent to fill a role, consider that a freelancer might fit the bill.

4. Freelancers may have past experiences that benefit your company

Another factor worth considering is that freelance talent may have specific past experiences that will be especially useful for your company.

Imagine that your small firm has decided to launch a new marketing channel. While your team can certainly use training courses, tutorials and internal experimentation to discover how to make it work, partnering with a freelancer who’s already skilled in the channel can cut your learning curve—and its associated costs—significantly.

That said, not all past experiences—even if they occurred within your industry—will be relevant to your needs. Ask the following questions to find the right freelance talent:

  • Have you worked with companies like ours before?
  • How extensively have you worked in our industry?
  • What past results have you achieved?
  • Do you believe your past experiences will translate to the situation we’re facing?

Keep asking until you find the right talent. One of the many benefits of engaging freelancers is that you can partner with professionals around the world. There’s almost certainly someone out there whose specific experiences complement your needs.

On the other hand, while there’s value in tapping into the past experiences of freelance talent, there’s also benefit to be found in consulting with those whose backgrounds lie in other industries.

In this case, suppose one of the biggest challenges facing your company is the single sentence that reveals a resistant underlying mindset: “that’s just the way it’s always been done.” Bringing on a freelancer who has the skills you seek, but who has applied them to vastly different fields, can be a great way to bring innovative new energy into stagnated processes or projects.

Finding Freelancers for Strategic Opportunities

Regardless of which of these benefits will have the greatest impact on your organization, remember that freelancers offer tremendous strategic potential—not just the ability to complete one-time projects.

The next time you have a strategic role to fill, ask yourself whether or not it may be advantageous to bring on freelance talent.