Managing your freelancer workforce can be as simple as recording names and phone numbers in your phone book. But there's a point when you need to get serious about managing your freelance and contingent workers.
In this guide:
You don't have to think back too far to remember a time when hiring a freelancer was a very irregular event. But as more and more organisations see the benefits of an on-demand workforce, it's fast becoming the 'norm' to engage freelancers on a regular and ongoing basis.
However, many organisations rely on DIY or 'improvised' methods and systems to manage and organise their freelancers.
Here some of the common DIY methods of managing a freelance workforce, with some of their associated pitfalls:
Arguably the most common form of DIY freelancer management. Excel and other spreadsheeting programs are capable of listing, sorting and filtering your freelancers. If you know how to work some of the more advanced functions, you could probably connect your freelancers with the projects they are working on.
The main pitfalls of using a spreadsheet to manage your freelancers are:
Storing your freelancers contact details in an email program like Outlook is freelancer management in its most rudimentary form. Whilst managing your freelancers in your email program might make communication simple, it will lack most other essential functionality (like projects, contracts, onboarding or reporting).
Storing your freelancers into a project management system, like Basecamp for example, is essentially the same as using an email program like Outlook. By using a project management system, you do have an advantage of being able to easily add your freelancers to project workflows and communication.
The main pitfalls of using a project management system are:
"As each of our freelancers is essentially a supplier, let's put them in our current vendor management system" sounds pretty reasonable. From a reporting perspective, your VMS might even do a good job. There are however a number of issues with trying to squeeze freelancers into your VMS, the main ones being:
Even though there are sizeable pitfalls with the above DIY, improvised solutions, they can work if your requirements are very basic. For example, if you only work with a couple of freelancers regularly on an ongoing basis, managing them with your VMS may be perfectly fine (of course, ignoring the potential IR35 issue).
There are some requirements that are a good indication you're ready to implement a freelancer management system.
The first indication you're ready for an FMS is simply how many freelancers you engage. A good rule of thumb is if 10% or more of your workforce is freelancing/contracting.
Whether your organisation is 500 or 50,000 people strong, when your freelancer population grows to 10%, the cost starts to represent a significant proportion of your wage bill, and should be managed correctly.
Freelancers are commonly used for short-term and often, one-time projects. This means there is always churn in your freelancer workforce. Purely from a practical point of view, as your churn rate increases so does the management overhead of keeping DIY/Improvised systems up to date.
If your freelancer churn rate is over 25%, you could reduce your management overhead by simply switching to an FMS.
Freelance marketplaces make it possible for any hiring manager with a credit card to engage a freelancer. Of course, this can create security and compliance risks as the freelancer can unwittingly bypass important HR onboarding processes.
If you are concerned about freelancer compliance (for example, IR35), an FMS can help you to standardise freelancer onboarding processes, including the management of ID checks, contracts and nondisclosure agreements.
As you increase the amount (regularity or duration) you engage freelancers so too do you increase the financial impact of a mis-managed freelance budget.
A common issue with using DIY solutions is you are typically reliant on freelancer invoices being coded correctly and your finance teams providing reporting on your freelancer spend. As you can see, credit card payments and inconsistently coded invoices quickly make DIY freelancer spend reporting inaccurate.
An FMS provides a 'central point of truth' by facilitating and/or consolidating freelancer payments, making it possible to report on spend at an organisation, department, project or individual freelancer level.
A benefit of using an FMS is being able to share and recommend freelancers to other hiring managers in your organisation:
FMS platforms enable effective sharing of freelancers by incorporating reviews and recommendations.
Getting started with a freelancer management system is a four step process:
The audit should help you to understand your pain points. Build up a picture of how and where your organisation is using freelancers. What roles are they fulfilling? How much are they costing? How are they engaged? What problems are you seeing?
Selecting a suitable FMS partner is only the first step. In addition, you should empower and incentivise internal teams and stakeholders to make a change.
With the right FMS technology and an empowered team, you should create a small, managed scenario to deploy an FMS. If you are a global organisation, this could be a particular country, market or region.
The pilot process will create both new challenges and learnings. What went better than planned? Did anything not go as predicted? What feedback did you encounter?
As you plan for a staged roll-out, incorporate as much of your pilot experience and feedback as possible.
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