How Small Business + Nonprofits Can Benefit from the Gig Economy

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In the US, approximately one-third of all workers are freelance, or nearly 54 million people, and that number is expected to grow. BBC reports that the online freelance marketplace, PeoplePerHour, forecasts that one in two people in the US will be freelance by 2020. The market for gig economy platforms and related services is projected to be worth almost $63 billion globally by 2020, up from $10 billion in 2014.

Cloud-based platforms are making it easier for small businesses and nonprofits to benefit from the gig economy and find the people they need from a global talent pool. For companies who need flexible workers who are willing to work on a project basis, these platforms can be both convenient and cost-effective.

"With millions of experts from all around the world, people can get help with their business within minutes of posting a project," says Matt Barrie, chief executive of Sydney-based Freelancer.com in an interview with the BBC.

"They can scale up or down as needed,” explains Barrie. “It offers flexibility of budget, space and time, and rates that people can afford, with lower overhead expenses."

Freelancer.com – whose clients include NASA – is just one of hundreds of services that can match small businesses with online talent. Freelancer.com also offers a Local Jobs service – an "Uber for local jobs" – allowing companies to find freelancers within a 30-mile radius. This expands the types of work that can be done by freelancers from the online projects one typically thinks of in the gig economy to location-based tasks, such as deliveries, office cleaning, and professional photography/videography.

Some services, such as Upwork, offer freelancers that range from virtual assistants to web development to accountants. While their basic service to post a project is free, they offer a paid service for “Premium freelancers. Handpicked for you.” (That begs the question about the quality of the non-premium freelancers, so I wonder whether they hired marketing freelancers from Upwork to come up with that slogan…)

Which segues to the question of when it makes sense to start hiring freelancers from one of these global platforms. Here at Sinu, we have used them successfully from time to time and suggest the following considerations:

  • Go through a vetting process. Ask for references and examples of some of their work.
  • Make sure they are being managed and coached by someone in-house. For instance, if you have a virtual assistant drafting up some of your correspondences or organizing your CRM, they will need direction on how you want it done. While this can take some up-front time, in the end, it will save you the time and headache of either doing it yourself or having to pay someone on staff who should be focused on other duties.
  • Don’t count on a freelancer to develop strategy on the fly. For instance, if you are hiring freelancers to design a new website, make sure you have a brand and marketing strategy in place that they can refer to, otherwise you may get that particular web developer’s idea of your brand rather than one that takes into consideration your customer personas and the philosophy and goals of your organization.
  • Be careful about how and where you share high-risk data or proprietary/confidential information. Remember, hiring freelancers is not the same as hiring full-time employees. They could be working with your competitors the following week! But as long as you're careful, you -- and other small businesses and nonprofits -- can benefit from the gig economy.