Various rocks equally balanced on a big rock
iStockPhoto

Nearly a third of U.S. companies worked with freelancers last year, according to Upwork’s Future Workforce Report, a number poised to rise as more businesses see the opportunity of a flexible global talent pool. But is it the right move for your business?

Before you start looking for freelance help, consider whether your team is ready and what your particular needs are. Working with freelancers takes clear expectations about the work to be done. This takes some preparation and a strong freelancer onboarding process to get your project moving forward. But there are also clear signs it’s time for you to contract a freelancer.

Finding a freelancer may be a smart move if…

…The expertise isn’t available in house

Writing, design, and marketing are well-known segments for freelance expertise, but other areas—including artificial intelligence, rapid prototyping, immigration law, and natural language processing—have been on the rise.

In fact, top performers often choose to freelance over traditional employment options and may have specialized skills that are in high demand and hard to find. By partnering with freelancers, you can access the skills you need when you need them.

…Your team is already maxed out

With constant changes to the marketplace, high customer expectations, and competitors that are hard to predict, employees are often too extended to tackle new initiatives. Engaging freelancers can help you move fast without leaning harder on your staff.

“Working with freelancers allowed us to quickly hire quality talent with unique skills such as voice acting, audio mixing, and media buying.”
— Jonathan Cofer, Upwork’s Senior Creative Director
Upwork Radio Ads Feature Freelancers in Action

…You don’t have room for distractions

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you have to: New ideas can be great opportunities but may not be the best use of your team’s resources. Freelancers can use their expertise to bring these projects to life—maybe even better than you could accomplish internally.

“[Working with freelancers on Upwork] allows us to do more of the things that we just hoped we could do, but now we feel that we can just tackle [them] any time we want.”
— Eric Setton, CEO, Tango

…You need agility to stay ahead

Marketing is just one field where teams are “continuously asked to do more with less,” said Upwork’s Rich Pearson, senior VP of marketing. “Freelancers tend to be the ‘canaries in the coal mines’ when it comes to emerging skills,” he said, noting that watching the fastest growing marketing skills can also help identify emerging themes and trends.

What opportunities are passing by because your business can’t pivot quickly enough to meet them—or to get ahead of the competition?

But not every project is the right project

Working with freelancers can make it easier for you to get work done anytime and anywhere, but that doesn’t mean every project is a good fit for a freelancer.

Does it have the right structure?

While you want to choose the right freelancer for your project, it’s also important to structure your project for success.

To start, get a very clear idea of what you’re looking for by writing an awesome job post that will attract freelancers with the skills and experience you’re looking for:

  • Have a limited and well-defined objective
  • Set concrete milestones, deliverables, and timelines
  • Research what your project needs in terms of skills, qualifications, and experience

To help understand the scope of work, you may want to consider a freelancer test project, a small and paid assignment you can use to learn about a freelancer’s style and sharpen the focus of your project.

Compliance is another serious consideration

Different locations have different ways to test whether a freelancer qualifies as an independent contractor or is, in fact, a misclassified employee.

“Businesses must be able to access freelance talent to stay competitive. Misclassifying workers as independent contractors when they should be employees, however, can lead to serious tax and employment law violations.”
— Kim Owens, Lawyer, Upwork

Here is a chart that shows the general differences between independent contractors and employees in the U.S., which can vary depending on the circumstances.

In Employee or IC? Compliance at a Glance, Kim Owens, a member of Upwork’s legal team, suggests questions for you to ask yourself, such as:

  • Who decides when, where, and how work gets done?
  • Does the freelancer act like a business?

Freelancers work independently, without control, to help you achieve the results you want, and they typically work with multiple clients. With consideration, you may find that you actually need an employee. (You can be compliant without increasing your costs with a service like Upwork Payroll!) If you’re not sure of the proper classification, check with your legal or tax advisor for clarification or use an outside service such as the Upwork Enterprise Compliance solution.

Adding freelance talent to your company’s resources can be a smart move with big benefits. By spotting the right opportunities, and preparing ahead of time, you’ll have your latest project up-and-running in no time.