By Julia Kermode, chief executive of the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA)
Let’s go back twenty years to the ‘90s when the air was thick with rumours that the traditional workplace was soon to be a thing of the past. Hot desking was about to replace offices and workers would reject jobs for life in favour of portfolio careers armed with a phone and a laptop. In 2015 the revolution mooted back in the day has not been quite as radical as some suggested then but nevertheless we are heading in that direction with 1.7m+ freelancers, contractors, interims and consultants choosing to work self-employed in the UK today. These workers offer experience, expertise and knowledge and small businesses can glean the benefits without committing themselves to all the costs (and risks) that come with hiring a full time employee, such as NI contributions, holiday pay, sickness pay, maternity/paternity rights and so on.
Here are some questions for a business to consider before turning to a freelancer or contractor for support.
Is your business growing?
If you need to find staff quickly bringing in seasoned freelancers who can hit the ground running makes good sense. An organisation might need more staff in order to get the job done and grow the business but it needs more clients and more business to justify taking on more staff. Using freelancers gives you the flexibility to manage the peaks and troughs. It also gives you an opportunity to try before you buy into a permanent employee and the freelancer to work with a company before considering taking on a full time role should they be looking for a permanent position. It cuts both ways.
Do you need specialist skills or are you facing a skills shortage?
Taking on freelancers is a good way to keep your overheads down whilst you optimise access to expert skills and knowledge on an as and when basis. Hiring freelancers can offer a reliable and cost-effective route to specialist skills too. The REC’s Jobs Outlook report published in May 2015 revealed that 84% of employers cited access to key strategic skills as a main reason for using temporary staff, compared to 55% stating the same in 2013 so clearly it is a growing trend that is working for UK plc.
Do you need long term cover?
Businesses face maternity leave, sick leave, sabbaticals and holidays and staffing levels can be reduced when permanent employees are absent from work. Some of those absences are more finite and can be planned for but even then conjuring up the right people with the right skills for the job at the right time can prove difficult and time-consuming. Building up relationships with freelancers you can call on really adds value to your organisation.
Do you need fresh ideas and approaches?
Freelancers can be a source of creative energy and new ideas and can inject refreshment into your business with their new approaches and fresh perspectives. They can invigorate your business and this can rub off on your employees.
Do you have a crisis that needs handling?
Crises can strike any part of an organisation at any time and whatever the cause and their symptoms tackling the crisis demands a high level of specialist expertise at short notice. By turning to a freelancer companies have the flexibility to fulfil the requirements and those freelancers can be released once the problem is resolved and the lessons learned.
Do you know what you need?
Sometimes you might not know what resource you might need for your business in the long term. An experienced freelancer could help a small business to scope out what the project needs and what the role might demand and advise the business accordingly. A freelancer can often think outside the box and help you to ascertain and understand what you might need from them.
If you can answer yes to some or all of the above questions then hiring a freelancer could be the best solution for your business. There are two ways of doing this – you can do it yourself or you can appoint a recruitment agency to find the right freelancer.
Recruiting in-house demands a significant investment in time, energy and resources which as a small business you might not have. By briefing a reputable and creditable agency you will gain access to an already vetted crop of freelance consultants as well as advice on the legalities of the process. Agencies can help smooth the hiring process and you can reap the benefits of knowing that those freelancers who come your way fit the bill.