Trying to Get a Startup off the Ground?

Hiring Freelancers Is a Great Way to Get Started. Here’s How and Why.

  • Freelancers are a great way to put together a quality team quickly
  • 57 million people worked as freelancers in 2019 and the number is growing
  • “Skilled services” like programming, business consulting, and marketing make up 45% of freelance work
  • Hiring freelancers are a less expensive proposition than permanent hires

Do you love freelancers? You should. There are plenty of them out there — as of 2019 there were 57 million Americans working as freelancers, more than a third of our workforce. Due to COVID-related layoffs in multiple industries, there are more active freelancers than ever before. Almost half of all freelancers are “skilled,” people with business consulting, copywriting, graphic design, content marketing, programming and social media skills (to name just a few). This means there is fantastic talent out there, particularly if you’re a startup.

Starting Out

It’s the American dream, isn’t it? A few friends come up with an idea, put it into play, get other people excited about it…then you’ve got a small company up and running. Take Airbnb as the textbook case: three friends rent an air mattress in their apartment in San Francisco in 2007 — by 2020 they’ve created one of the world’s largest travel companies, one worth $31 billion (the company plans to go public this year). If you love ideas, hard work, marketing, networking, pounding the pavement — if you have an entrepreneurial spirit, you might be a perfect candidate to put a startup together.

You don’t need $50,000 or $100,000 to get started — some non-tech startups can get off the ground for $5000 or less. Your greatest expense at the outset will be staff. You can do much of your work online, hold meetings at Starbucks, use your kitchen table as your office…but you’re still going to need real expertise when it comes to copywriting, web development, marketing, and social media outreach. Whatever your idea is, a new app or software, it doesn’t matter: You want to focus on building your dream widget and convincing investors to come on board; you need experts to whom you can leave the ancillary stuff. Let’s look at the benefits of hired guns.

  1. Freelancers Are Quick Hires

Yes, you’ll probably interview the freelancers you hire, and you’ll review their portfolios, just as you would a potential employee, but the pressure’s off — this isn’t a permanent hire. You’re hiring someone to write your website text, manage your social media, design your logo…you’re hiring each individual to accomplish a single task, and you’re paying them for this task, most likely by the hour. Depending on the task, a freelancer may only be working with you for a short period of time. There’s usually no need for background checks, school transcripts, etc. Just a portfolio, a resume and references from a few previous or current clients, and you have what you need to make a decision and get everyone working.

2. It’s Less Expensive to Hire a Freelancer Than a Permanent Employee

The math is pretty simple. You don’t pay freelancers benefits, nor do you pay their taxes — you give them a 1099, as opposed to a W-2. This also means less paperwork for you. How does it work? You sign a contract with the freelancer covering the parameters of the project and the freelancer’s fee. The freelancer:

  • Pays all his or her own taxes, including federal, state and local, as well as social security and Medicare
  • Provides his or her own laptop, software, Wi-Fi (though you can provide your freelancer with a corporate email address if it streamlines your internal processes)
  • Invoice your company once individual projects are completed

The current hourly rate for freelancers as of the 4th quarter of 2019 was about $28.

3. Freelancers Give You Flexible Hours

It’s 2020, and most freelancers are working as many hours as possible — welcome to the gig economy. What this means for you is your freelancer’s efforts aren’t confined to business hours. Some copywriters, for example, can speak with you late Monday afternoon and quite possibly get you a draft article or blog post by the following morning. What’s most important to freelancers is the deadline. They’re usually hustlers, go-getters…they’re often quite entrepreneurial, which is something you’ll have in common with them. Deadlines are their bread and butter.

4. Hiring Freelancers Gives You Entrée to a Marketplace of Experts

Rather than hiring a few people to take on a variety of projects, hiring freelancers lets you hire experts, true specialists, for each project. This means your copywriter doesn’t need to know HTML, because you can also hire a web developer; your web developer, in turn, doesn’t have to have design skills, because you can also hire a graphic designer. Hiring freelancers means you don’t have to train anyone, you don’t have to ask anyone to figure something out…you’ll also find your freelancers have outstanding networks, so your copywriter can point you to an SEO expert, your graphic designer can point you to an amazing videographer, your web developer might know a spectacular social media person…let your freelancers help you find more of the people you need as you ramp up, shift direction, take on new projects, bring new ideas to fruition…with the right freelancers, you’re plugging into a great network.

5. Try Before You Buy

Another great thing about working with freelancers is some of them are willing to consider becoming employees if the situation is right, and their tenure at your startup gives you, and them, the opportunity to “try before you buy.” You can think of the work some of your freelancers are doing for you as a trial period, a test run: You might contract with a graphic designer who does such a fantastic job with your logo and your corporate color palette you might want him or her to remain with the company to take on all your visual branding work; conversely, your web developer might put together a fantastic website for your company, but he or she might not have the temperament or energy level or commitment to collaboration you might want in a full-time employee. Working with freelancers gives you a chance to see what kind of people you want on your team and what kind of people you don’t; it gives you the chance to find the people who can help you build the kind of culture you want at your enterprise.

6. Inspire Advocates for Your Brand

Even if some of your freelancers are only with you for a short period of time, if they have a great experience with you, they’ll support your brand for a long time to come. This means they’ll be proud to include the work they did for you in their portfolios, and they’ll probably be glad to share your social media content via their own channels. And you might want to hire some of them again for a new project. If you’re the founder and CEO of a startup, you’re the key ambassador for your brand. While you’re wooing investors and potential customers, don’t forget to develop strong relationships with your freelancers, too. Think globally but treat everyone as if you live in the same small village (a village that’s home to just one coffee shop). Make it so your freelancers, even after they leave your employ, are your fans — they should benefit from your reputation management efforts as much as your other stakeholders.

There’s never been a better time to find a great freelancer. If you treat them right when they need you, they’ll likely be there for you when you need them in the future.

Written by

Scott Hirsch is an internet marketing pioneer who is widely recognized as an expert in ecommerce, digital data and the online marketplace.

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