Magic happens when the most talented, rather than the most convenient, people get to work on the right project. That’s how we put a man on the moon and how we built self-driving cars.
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And, today, we’re seeing that level of innovation happen more and more, as a rising number of people float between companies, between projects and between managing multiple job roles. They’re doing this either by leaving full-time jobs to become independent agents, or building portfolio careers or working on outside projects as a side hustle.
More and more people, in fact, are working wherever they want, whenever they want and, crucially, for whomever they want, because they know that businesses need their talent.
Managing a career in this way isn’t new, of course, but the scale at which it is happening now marks a seismic shift in the world of work. The estimated number of U.S. freelancers, according to Edelman Intelligence, hit 57.3 million in 2017, up from 53 million in 2014 — an impressive 8.1 percent ncrease in just three years. If this uptick continues at its current pace, half of the American population could be independent workers in a decade. The message for employers? Whatever their path to an independent working life, this is a breed of workers who should be treated with respect.
Given this significant a shift in work world, you’d think business leaders would place more value on their freelance and remote workforce. Yet, while some companies, like the Airbnbs and Expedias of this world, are growing more innovative at the same time that they’re relying on this army of independent workers, other employers are lagging behind, either ignoring this powerhouse of talent or treating them like second-class citizens.
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That’s puzzling because these same global corporations are pouring millions into improving their “employer brand” to attract full-time staff. My message to those companies: If your business still sees a “freelancer” as a temporary solution or an option of lesser quality, then … you’re already losing the talent war.
Luckily, companies looking to consistently attract and retain the best freelance talent needn’t undergo a transformational shift. Instead, they can simply rethink the way freelancers are viewed and treated within their organization. An excellent place to start is to begin to understand what freelancers themselves actually care about and value most.
How to do that? Here’s what I’ve personally leaned from the more than 140,000 freelancers working for brands through my freelance system Kalo.
Invest in your freelance culture.
Consider how much you invest in internal communications, employee satisfaction initiatives, training and development for full-time staff. Many large organizations are spending anything from $129,000 to $335,900 on employer brand initiatives. Now, start thinking about how many of these initiatives are suited to your own freelance workforce.
Simple initiatives such as creating a welcome guide for freelancers kicks things off on the right foot: Offer a meaningful and personal message thanking them for joining your company and remind them why their contribution matters. Include an outline of your communication process, expectations around approval and submission of work, and clarity around payment schedules.
Keep the conversation flowing.
We’re all getting used to working from our mobiles, benefiting from their flexibility and remote capabilities. And clearly our methods of communication are perfect for a remote and freelance workforce. Unfortunately, in some cases, the freelancer/employer relationship can quickly become transactional and remote workers can feel left out of the-loop with the rest of the team. They may miss out on day-to-day sharing of information, or be forgotten altogether.
This doesn’t benefit anyone, and it should be a key consideration when you’re building your freelance culture. Because freelancers are more likely to work remotely, you have to work to keep communication flowing and keep it positive. Make sure contract workers have a point person on the team who can be their “go to” person, to make sure they’re included on group chats and instant message platforms. This point person should also schedule regular video conference calls to pick up on any issues.
Get payments right.
What would happen if your full-time employees had to wait 90 days for their paycheck, or had to chase late payments every month? They wouldn’t hang around long, and the same truth can be applied to your freelancers.
A recent PayPal insights report showed that half of the freelancers surveyed had had a client fail to pay them for their work at least once. The Freelancers Union has said that its members, on average, are owed thousands in unpaid invoices.
With the bar so low, a business that builds a reputation as a timely payer will be more competitive when it comes to attracting freelance talent. So, take the time to build your company’s payment strategy. Implement the infrastructure that works for each department — and attends to payroll, finance, legal and management issues– to get freelancers paid on time. An integrated approach to payments, tied closely to a comprehensive freelancer management system, works best.
What’s your freelancer happiness score?
Building a freelancer-friendly culture within your company can seem like a daunting challenge, but if you want to find, engage and retain freelance talent, you simply need to acknowledge that these people’s needs are as important as those of a full-time employee.
Focus not only on your employer brand for people on the payroll, but also think about what I call your Freelancer Happiness Score. With the average freelancer working for multiple companies at any given time, a poor experience with one company can lead to a damaged reputation for that company among what is often a small, tight-knit freelance community. The opposite is also true.
Just like with full-time staff, a positive culture can set your company apart from the competitors. At Kalo, I have seen first-hand how businesses have increased, by an amazing 65 percent in some cases, the level of their net promoter score — which indicates how likely a freelancer is likely to work for one company over another.
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Can you and your company make the tweaks necessary today to put you ahead of competitors in this race for talent tomorrow?
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