15/12/2014

By Xenios Thrasyvoulou, Founder, PeoplePerHour and SuperTasker

The freelance economy has grown at an incredible rate over the last few years. Across Europe it now accounts for 1 in 4 professionals and we have seen over 200% growth in the number of freelancers in our community this year alone.

Technology has freed companies from having to collect all their employees in one building every day. Today’s businesses can have employees that live all over the globe who are able to work together as cohesively as if they were working side by side. This means that businesses can take advantage of freelance workers all over the globe as an employee in New Delhi can be as efficient and as engaged as someone working in the next office over.

The negative side effect of technology for businesses is the breakneck pace of change, and the range of skills needed to have a digital presence can seem daunting. Pinterest first launched in 2010, within 2 years it had over taken Tumblr for the monthly unique users and grew to over 3 UK million users by May 2013. Gaining access to these users required a new skill set, one that a head of marketing or head of social media might not have time to build up while aiding the running of a small business.

A shift change in how businesses perceive freelancers can make a real difference to productivity in the workplace as well as giving businesses greater flexibility in times of economic uncertainty. Marketing is one area in particular that can benefit from this change in thinking – businesses are comfortable with hiring an agency to do design work or advertising, but often hiring an agency is overkill, especially for smaller jobs like designing a website or creating social media content. Approaching freelancers as a ‘micro-agency’ for ‘micro-jobs’ allows businesses to get smaller jobs done quickly and efficiently.

The mantra ‘knowledge is power’ is as relevant today as it was 400 years ago; however, how knowledge is shared has changed drastically. In that time it was possible to be a true polymath, one person who is an expert in multiple fields, because our knowledge of fields such as science and mathematics was still relatively poor. The invention of the microscope meant that biology, physics and chemistry all suddenly required a greater depth of knowledge to be considered an expert. Today it is extremely difficult to be an expert even in a very narrow field of science, which is reflected in the exponential growth of ‘scientific experts’ that are invited to speak on the news when their area of study becomes of national interest.

The same can be applied to something like marketing. It used to be possible to be an expert in email marketing, social media marketing, PR and advertising, but technology has made it difficult to be a marketing ‘polymath’ in today’s business world.

To combat this, an army of ‘hyper-specialised’ expert freelancers has developed that businesses can tap into, as and when they need to. Pinterest is a good example, this social network is unique for a major social network as 80% of its user base is female and 92% of pins are posted by women according to RJmetrics. Pinterest is also a great platform because it works well for e-commerce and because women tend to control household spending. To take full advantage of what Pinterest offers businesses, an expert touch is needed when approaching the site, and we have seen an increase of 684% in Pinterest expert freelancers who have been brought in by businesses to craft their approach to maximise engagement.

The end result is a business that has a smaller core of full-time employees who then utilise an international pool of expert freelancers to provide targeted insight. While it can seem daunting for brand managers who will have to manage a flexible workforce, they can also benefit from freelancers seeing their clients as customers. The need to provide quality work is reinforced by the need for clients to provide good feedback, as well as potentially giving freelancers future work. This work dynamic means brand managers are dealing with a flexible workforce, who do not suffer from the comfort full-time employees can fall in to.