Which jobs are a good fit for freelancers vs. full-timers

By Darrell Jones

Part of being a well-managed startup is dealing with the issue of when to hire full-time employees, and when to bring in freelancers. Making the wrong choice can have significant implications on your cash flow and productivity (two pretty import factors for startups).

Naturally every startup is unique, but here are some thoughts to keep in mind.

When to hire freelancers vs. full-timers?

In a nutshell, to stay nimble, startups should look for opportunities to hire freelancers when you can:

• Get the job done faster with a freelancer.
• Get the job done better with a freelancer.
• Get the job done more affordably with a freelancer.

When you’re competing against larger companies and other startups, it’s important to out-maneuver others by getting to market fast with the best offering (while saving some money to start working ASAP on your next great idea for the business).

But what factors come into play in making the decision?

1. Look in the mirror.

First take a good look at what you’re good at. If your team is more from the marketing side, you probably don’t have the skills to create a website or mobile. And more than likely you don’t even know what quality makes a good technical person. It may make sense to find freelance web programmers and mobile app developers online, picking each for specific skills for specific skills. This way you won’t mistakenly hire a full-time technical person who doesn’t have a broad enough skill base. Ditto for startup teams who are technical oriented. Hire freelance marketing experts online to match precise skills to projects.

2. Keep for yourself core competencies and what you love doing.

Again, if you have strengths on your current team, keep those jobs in-house. You may need help now again for quick sprints to the finish line when drop-dead dates approach, but save your freelance budget for areas better served by experts. If you know nothing about writing email copy, find a great writer to tackle promotion while you focus on core competencies. Also, since you’re working 16 hour days to get your startup up and running, make sure you’re doing the work you love doing. If you’re an “idea” person, it’s OK to spend the day doodling on napkins and dreaming big. Don’t feel guilty for hiring a product manager to supervise bringing your ideas to life. You’ll also be fresh and invigorated, giving you the freedom to come up with even more great ideas.

3. Guesstimate the length of the job.

Some jobs need to be done ASAP, while others are either on-going or not necessarily needed to be completed immediately. For instance, if something is broke (say your website is down or your emails are all bouncing back), a freelancer can start working that day. Hiring a full-time person could take weeks and bring your startup to the brink of collapse. Also hire freelancers when your staff is swamped and you need a few extra hands for a week or to as you drive for the finish line. Many startups find it more efficient to avoid this problem by building online teams of freelancers who are standing by 24/7, ready to work (but you only pay them when they actually do work).

4. Consider interaction with your clients.

If the job involves a lot of face-to-face time with your clients, it’s often better to have full-time employees who have up-to-the-minute insights into all aspects of your company. Exceptions might be freelance telesales teams who can build their own relations, and customer support teams for help.

5. Estimate hand-holding time.

Some jobs demand a lot of one-on-one collaboration with your own team. If constant supervision is a must, perhaps full-time workers will be a better solution. This is especially true if a job has multiple facets (such as define the problem, decide how to solve the problem, and build a solution to solve the problem). However if money and time is tight, consider hiring a team of freelancers and divide the project into three jobs.

6. Training wheels.

Take into account the amount of training you’ll need to get the person up-and-running. While a full-time hire may make sense if it’s a job that demands learning a single skill, if the skillset requirements are going to change from month to month a freelancer could be the way to go. With new skills being evolved regularly in web programming and social media for example, hiring freelancers who are already well-versed in the skill can save time and money.

Here are some specific scenarios which may apply to your startup:

Need to get the job done super-fast? Hire freelancers to do the job or support your staff.

Looking for someone to grow into another position? Hire a full-timer and groom him/her into a bigger role by building multiple skills.

Money super tight? Do it yourself, and hire a freelancer to add the final touches.

Does the person need to be onsite? Hire a full-time staffer who lives nearby.

Is intellectual property an issue? This is a tie: Freelancers on Elance sign Non-Disclosure agreements just as your full-time employees probably do.

Will you lose work if the job is delayed? Hire a freelancer to knock it out ASAP.

It’s a fine line, managing the many complex variables you face when running a startup. Hopefully some of the issues raised above will help you make decisions that will take your business to the next level (and beyond). In conclusion, if a long-term commitment to the role is there, bring on a full-time staffer as soon as the money is there. But choose a freelancer when you need flexibility, speed and affordability that makes sense for your bottom-line.

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