How do bootstrapped startups manage to push out products and services with shoestring budgets? The simple answer is they don't hire ‘any’ employees! They hire experienced people to get things done and then let them go once the job is done. This is where the gig economy has proved to be a silver bullet for many startups. That's not all! Freelancers are also used by large companies to do grunt work or for specialized, short-term work. There are plenty of online platforms where it's easy to hire people for the job you want to get done and not be saddled with recurring expenses in the form of salary or benefits.
But in reality, getting the job done through freelancers and consultants is riddled with challenges, which are:
Mind the "claim gap"
Be careful about the claims people make in their resumes or online profiles, and be wary of the big gap between the cup and the lip as most people do not have the skills as advertised. Although most online portals have a system of rating freelancers, relying on the ratings alone is not a great idea.
Hiring tip: Always hire for a pilot project or a small ticket task that is payable only on successful completion. Say no to any kind of advance payment if you care for your money. Let it be known that while the pilot project is a paid engagement, the purpose of the project is to evaluate the competency and build a working relationship (in other words, trust).
If you thought all the jokes about Indian Standard Time are not applicable to educated professionals, think again. The engineer you hired will not dial into the conference call on time, your content writer will not submit the draft even after repeated follow-ups, and the graphic designer will never pick up the phone at the appointed time. Time is money. Even in established companies, freelancers can potentially derail a project because of their unavailability to collaborate with the rest of the team.
Hiring tip: When you have a new freelancer on board, make it a point to set your expectations clearly and have the contractor commit to it in writing. From your end, always have plan B in place by accounting for delays in your internal plans and scheduling frequent follow-ups. Breaking up the tasks into smaller components (than usual) is always a good strategy to get an early warning about the delays in deliveries.
The Disappearing Act
Freelancers are free agents and love the flexibility offered by the model. However, some of them have a habit of moving on when they believe the job is no longer interesting or they found the next awesome gig.
Hiring practice: Be realistic in your expectations and the outcomes expected. Keep the freelancer engaged by communicating constantly, frequently, and giving prompt feedback. Remember, that freelancers are no superheroes and don't expect them to move mountains even if they say they will.
Even in established companies, freelancers can potentially derail a project because of their unavailability to collaborate with the rest of the team
The world belongs to me
When you hire UI designers, coders or content writers, make sure they understand the meaning of intellectual property rights and copyrights. Many tend to copy paste many things.
Hiring tip: Have a proper contract in place and don't be afraid to send out a strongly worded email highlighting the consequences the contractor will face if the violation is not set right. If you have a legal team, make use of legal notices when you think they are necessary.
In summary, while the gig economy is pretty useful for entrepreneurs, small companies, and even large corporations, you should walk into this model with your eyes open. The gig economy works based on peer reviews, trust, and most importantly, your own common sense.