How to hire freelancers for your startup

How to Hire Freelancers for Your Startup
It’s hard to build a talented team. And it’s even harder if you are trying to build a team in your startup working with limited resources. More companies are relying on freelancers to move their business forward without waiting to build a full-time team.

How to find and hire freelancers with talent?

It’s hard to build a talented team. And it’s even harder if you are trying to build a team in your startup. You must find people who are highly skilled, offer them the right incentives to work on your idea, and then keep them engaged for the duration of their employment.

None of this is easy when working with limited resources. More companies are today becoming comfortable to hire freelancers and move their business forward without waiting to build a full-time team.

In a time when being first to market is more important than ever, this gives startups who hire freelancers a competitive advantage.

Why it makes sense to hire freelancers?

The 2018 Future of Work report by Inavero and UpWork, highlights that lower cost, ease of finding talent, and flexibility were the top reasons for companies to hire freelancers.

But beyond the benefits around cost and ease, working with freelancers is helping companies manage their teams better. It is becoming increasingly hard to find and hire skilled talent as more people converge to remote work. 

The 2019 edition of the Future of Work study by Inavero and UpWork shows that over 50% of hiring managers struggle to find people with the right skills for their teams.

To reduce the impact of skills shortage on projects, hiring managers are willing to hire freelancers.

2018 study on Freelancing in America by Edelman Intelligence shows that over 52% of hiring managers identified ‘shortage of talent’ as the biggest driver leading to a more flexible workforce.

Most talented people today want to freelance

To find people with talent and up-to-date skills, you must change how you think about building teams. 

The study by Edelman Intelligence, found that more professionals today are choosing freelancing careers, rather than seeing it as a necessity. This trend is growing every year.

As more skilled professionals continue to shift to freelance careers, you can take advantage of this growing pool of talent to accelerate your business without spending months on building a team. 

By engaging more freelancers, you can also:

  • be nimbler with team management
  • cut your upfront cost
  • and reach product goals faster

Using marketplaces to find and hire freelance talent

Once convinced that you want to hire a freelancer you need to shift your focus to find the best talent. Most people immediately think of freelance marketplaces like UpWork, Freelancer, and Fiverr to find freelance talent.

These websites are useful for connecting with a large pool of freelancers in a short time with minimal effort. Business.com has even published a list of 10 freelance marketplaces.

If you read through the cons of each platform though, you’ll see that lack of quality/talent is a common problem. 

Just like any other recruitment channel, high-quality talent is a tiny fraction of the total available talent pool on these marketplaces. This makes freelance marketplaces a high investment, low returns channel.

You must invest tremendous time and energy to filter through the noise before you can find someone who fits your requirements. If you’re careful and patient, you may be lucky to find top talent. 

Often though you’ll end up with freelancers who are good at winning assignments but bring underwhelming quality to your project or are not reliable.

1. Freelancer marketplaces don’t curate or screen talent

Freelance marketplaces are built as huge ecosystems that invite any freelancer to setup a profile and start bidding on projects. The task of finding and screening talent falls on you.

Marketplaces simply provide the construct to advertise your requirement and search for freelancers. Thus, the pool of matched professionals is massive.

To find the top 1% of freelancers who fit your requirement you must invest energy in creating and following your own curation process.

2. Freelancers on marketplaces are spread thin across multiple projects

Freelancers who bid aggressively on these platforms are typically working on multiple projects at once. They may have talent, but they often do the bare minimum for every project. Their focus is to move through a greater number of projects in a short time to maximize their earnings.

This inevitably means they rarely go beyond the base requirements you define.

3. There is an overwhelming amount of noise on marketplaces

Within minutes of posting a job on a freelance marketplace you’ll get dozens and even hundreds of offers. All with varying degrees of skill and quality. That’s a great start but now the burden of seeking for talent in all this noise lands on your shoulders.

Beyond the overwhelm, it also means you spend your valuable time filtering through the noise. You could use that precious time on other business priorities. 

4. Competitive marketplaces don’t prioritize quality

Competitive marketplaces have inherent drawbacks that make them a poor fit for situations where requirements are fluid and work is hard to quantify. And when hiring a resource for a lean team, you don’t want to gauge performance by lines of code or by other vanity metrics.

Those may be measurable outcomes, but they don’t reflect the innovation and quality needed to bring your ideas to life.

With a large pool of freelancers all competing for the best projects, price becomes the differentiation in such marketplaces. Freelancers who bid the least amount are more likely to win but they are also generally poor at bringing innovative ideas to your valuable project.

Using premium talent networks for finding freelancers

Premium talent networks fill a gap that has been left unaddressed by freelance marketplaces. Freelance marketplaces work fine for quick projects where you need a fast turnaround and quality is desirable, but not mission critical.

For anything longer than a few weeks and for working on core projects you will typically think of finding people for full-time roles. 

Except that means a complex and winding recruitment process that can last months and even involve external agencies that charge thousands of dollars. Their priority though is simply to meet the requirement and not the quality of talent.

As more professionals turn to freelance careers, premium talent networks are filling this gap between talent and need.

By curating a pool of talented freelancers and keeping them ready for engagement with companies, these networks offer hiring managers a middle ground between the noise-filled marketplaces and expensive employee hiring.

Examples of premium talent networks are ToptalLinkedIn ProFinderFreeeup and CrossOver.

Premium talent networks help you quickly setup a highly skilled and flexible team at a fraction of the cost of hiring full-time employees.

They go beyond just top skills and quality control though. These networks also help you hire freelancers who are a close match to the company mission, the product team and culture.

Premium talent networks help you tap into a curated network and find people who are:

  • among the top professionals for their skill or technology in the market
  • have worked with a diverse range of products and companies
  •  have exemplary performance standards and reviews from other clients

There are clear advantages of using talent networks over traditional agency hiring and freelance marketplaces.

  1. You instantly access the top 1% of freelance developers in the market
  2. The freelance developers chosen are qualified using an extensive and proven process. This ensures they smoothly fit into your team and start adding value from day one.
  3. You spend a fraction of the time in finding, vetting and hiring developers and thus can use your time on more pressing business priorities.

Increase your odds of finding the best freelancer

How do you find people who are a good fit for working on your project? You need someone who adds technical value to your startup. But it’s equally important that they work well with your existing team and fit into your company’s culture.

Here are three ways to improve the odds of finding quality freelancers:

Design and follow a structured screening process

Marketplaces channel a wide range of talent to your project. Though it is neither structured nor prioritized to suit your requirements. Defining a clear screening process and sticking to it is important for finding talent that fits your unique needs.

The first level of filtering occurs when you post your requirement. Take the effort of writing about what you expect from the role, the project background, your goals and the desired skills in as much detail as possible before you post it on the marketplace.

This will attract the people who are a good fit for the role to apply and discourage the ones who are not ideal. It thus reduces the noise you would have otherwise had to filter in later stages of selection.

Next complement the skills list with more subjective questions that give you a broader sense of their expertise. Here are a few questions you can start with:

  • How much experience should this person to have with the specific skill or tech?
  • Do you want them to have proven success stories with more agile projects or can manage large, long-term projects?
  • What size of teams would you like this person to have worked in (or led)?
  • How did this person measure success in roles in past projects?

Finally, you can request a short proof of concept from shortlisted applicants to ensure the quality of their work matches your expectations.

A detailed screening process refined over time helps significantly improve the odds of finding the right talent for your project while cutting the time spent on finding it.

Use personalized recommendations

Certain freelance networks can accelerate your search by recommending 3-5 profiles best suited to your requirements. Several factors are analyzed to come up with the recommendations – your company’s traits, the job specifications, your hiring history, the top-rated developers on the platform, and more.

You can start off by focusing your energy on these recommended applicants who are hand-picked. The odds of finding your ideal fit resource from this pool are generally very high and thus you can save time.

Use time-based engagement when working with a new freelancer

No matter how comprehensive your search process is, it’s hard to be sure of anyone’s real-world performance. If you hire freelancers from marketplaces this risk is higher as you may not even meet them in person. 

A better approach to start working with a freelancer while keeping your risk low is to start a time-based engagement. You can set this up as hourly, for fixed number of hours in a week, or in the first month without a long-term commitment.

Time-based engagements give your team and the freelancer an opportunity to work collaboratively for a short period before deciding on a longer engagement.

This of course comes at the expense of project stability and a higher hourly rate in the short-term. However, it’s a trade-off that works by giving better results in the long-term.

If everything goes well, you can setup the engagement for a longer time. But If things don’t work you simply compensate the freelancer for the hours worked up to that point and move on.

Quality and reliability matter when you hire freelancers

As the talent shortage for highly skilled roles deepens, more companies are hiring freelancers for finding exceptional talent. Ultimately, the people you engage will play a key role in building powerful products and in bringing your ideas to life.

Highly skilled talent is essential to take your vision to success. Working with freelancers doesn’t mean that you compromise on the quality and reliability of the talent.

You can find skilled freelancers using a refined process for qualifying them. This ensures that the people you engage with start adding value to your business from day one. 

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