The rise of freelance marketplaces that offer a fast and safe way of hiring experts in a few clicks has led to many businesses working exclusively with freelancers. Instead of locking in with a small full time team, or an external agency delivering a predetermined product, these businesses work with variety of independent experts exactly when they need them. Meet the expertise-on-demand trend. While staying lean and adjusting both product and team on the go, hiring and managing contractors has become an ongoing aspect of running a business.
Who, when and how to hire on a freelance marketplace
So how do you go about hiring on marketplaces? Where do we start? Believe it or not, it’s not only about how to hire. It’s also about who to hire, and when.
Usually my clients think in the beginning that they should start with a small team and then grow it gradually. However, more often than not, you actually need more people at the beginning of the venture than during some of the later stages. Why is that? It’s because the initial stage is when you make many crucial decisions and need all the professional advice you can get. As I mostly work with tech companies, in the beginning it’s a lot of choosing the right technologies and coming up with reusable components and scalable architecture, so that we don’t lock ourselves into a wrong setup which prevents us from growing in the future.
Luckily, by leveraging freelance marketplaces, we can get consultants like domain experts or software architects involved in the first phase. Later on the core dev team can carry on, based on the well chosen foundation. My role in setting up the startup operations is also crucial during the initial setup and often I stay in a supervising role during later stages. I can imagine that in an e-commerce business, for example, having market researchers is crucial in the first phase, whereas later on you would focus more on marketing, etc. In almost any case, a branding strategist would be one of the first people to talk to, as a wrong brand name is not so easy to change later.
Let’s look at the case of a software dev team. I always start with a software architect. It has to be a very experienced professional – versed in as many different technologies as possible – so that he can help us choose the best tools for the job. It doesn’t matter if this service is expensive, as it’s a consulting role that won’t require many hours in total. Once we are clear on the tech stack and the high level architecture, I proceed with hiring the tech lead – a senior developer – who is well experienced in the chosen technologies. The software architect helps me with sample code reviews during the hiring process, and often sticks around to clarify the architecture with the newly contracted tech lead when our arrangement finishes. The new tech lead takes over and helps me with the tech side of hiring the rest of the team members. Together we decide if the application is more backend or frontend heavy, security sensitive or similar, and who we need to hire next based on that. I also introduce a quality assurance expert from the very beginning, for a few hours per week, to have focused testing and feedback from a professional (so much better than all of us clicking around madly, interrupted by our own work). Again, depending on the architecture, we probably need UX/UI professionals for a certain amount of time.
For a leader of a freelance team, it’s crucial to be able to sense when an additional expert can give a needed boost. For instance, you might have a team of copywriters spending too much time on research. Getting an experienced researcher short-term to prepare information which copywriters then use for their articles could be a very good call.
The businesses of today are agile and that’s why it’s crucial to operate with super flexible teams.
What are the different types of freelance arrangements?
Here are a few examples to give you an idea. Feel free to play around.
Full time for a short period of time
A professional can work on your project full time (around 40h/week) for a short period of time. This type of arrangement might be suitable for a software developer building your platform from scratch. Try to establish a long term as-needed basis arrangement with the same developer who initially built your platform – resolving the bugs or making adjustments will take much more time if requested from somebody unfamiliar with the project.
Long term on an as-needed basis
A suitable arrangement for a programmer or UI/UX designer who did the initial work for you. It’s much more efficient than always getting a new person who then needs to get familiar with the work done previously. Another example would be a copywriter – it’s nice to maintain the same writing style throughout your copy.
Long term part time
A virtual assistant – here you go. Somebody who will become part of your work life for many fruitful years to come – working 10h/week for example. The nature of this work requires high level of familiarity with your ways of handling things (for example, you might not have a preference for naming conventions for the variables the programmer is using, but most definitely you’re gonna want your emails classified just the way you do it, and responded to in a tone as close to your very own as possible) – so water this plant the best you can.
Another example would be a digital marketing expert if your business relies on regular campaigns.
A one-call stand
On a one-time basis you’d like a long call with a consultant to get professional advice. It can be legal advice from a lawyer for instance, perhaps specialized in your field, as well as a software architect. Another example would be a branding expert, who can do your brand audit and tell you if you are on the right track. In addition, you could consult a domain knowledge expert . If you are building a platform for language courses, you might want to have a chat with a language teacher to ask if audio is the way to go, or if you should include video lessons as well, etc. An hour of super productive conversation with an expert will spare you the research, bad decisions, and the headaches that come from them.
How to onboard and manage transient freelance team members
Now that you’ve got the picture, you’ll have a constantly fluctuating team consisting of transient team members (for the good part of it, there are of course some core team members who will be around for longer). So, under these circumstances, how do you go about onboarding all these people? The traditional procedures make little sense here – the 2 week orientation common in the corporate world probably won’t do if a hire is only staying with you for a month. That’s exactly why the onboarding process has to enable newcomers to hit the ground running, and at the same time protect the rest of the team from constant questions and interruptions.
Try out these tips:
- Set up the tools and processes from the very beginning. Sure it’s great when you, the founder with that amazing idea, contract your first team member and the two of you can just have a nice call and decide how to proceed. Be warned, all the info from that call will be inaccessible to anybody else joining the team down the road. So, whatever your tools of choice are (Jira, Trello, Asana, Basecamp etc.), and your workflow of choice (daily standups, weekly calls etc.), introduce it from the very beginning.
- When necessary (on weekly call, after sprint review etc.) do a retrospective analysis, encouraging even the most transient team members to share their views on what went really well during the past iteration (fx last week) what the team should keep doing, and what should be improved. List the actionables and share with the team so that the right steps can be taken. Check on it prior to the next analysis.
- Do the async daily standups. Freelancers working with you on a part time / as-needed basis likely work with other teams as well, which means the traditional daily standup calls can easily turn into multiple calls per day, in different time zones etc. This is nothing but a productivity killer.
- The people who are with you on an as-needed basis will need to be informed in advance about when their services will be needed, so make sure to announce new work coming their way a week or so in advance.
- Include all the above in the Kick Off document that you will share with new team members. This will help them hit the ground running and prevent interruptions.
The world is changing faster than ever, and so is the way we do business. The traditional methods do not apply anymore. The need to be agile, flexible, and responsive comes first. And that’s exactly how you want your team to be.
With team management techniques adjusted to support lean teams, you can run a super lean, sustainable, efficient and flexible business. Leverage the freelance marketplaces to find the best professionals for the job and make sure the timing, type of arrangement, onboarding and team collaboration respond to the new way of working together, in order to be the best team possible.
Tijana Momirov is a software engineer, product manager and founder of StartupSetup where she helps
founders start their startups, all in a remote, agile and super lean way leveraging the gig economy. She’s been a full time nomad since 2010 and loves blogging and giving talks about nomadic lifestyle, managing remote teams, future of work, the gig economy, productized services and more.