Over the past few years, the way companies collaborate with on-demand talent has changed. And drastically.
Once upon a time, becoming an Employer of Choice was the holy grail for companies and HR departments. The employee lifecycle was basically eat-sleep-work-repeat, all for one company, until the day you retire.
But in the age of remote work, everybody and their mother is freelancing. Between 2020 and 2021 alone, over 59 million Americans — a whopping 36% of the nation’s workforce — engaged in freelance labor.
And while it’s easy to assume many workers are just dipping their toes into the on-demand talent economy to make ends meet (the occasional evening or weekend Ubering, for example), a recent report from UpWork reveals that the percentage of permanent freelancers is reaching new heights, rising from 33.8% to 35.0%.
Freelancing is becoming more and more attractive for the highly educated, with 51% of college graduates working freelance gigs post-diploma. Motivations range from flexibility to career ownership, and yes — earning that cabbage. 💰
With a shift like this, companies need to refocus their efforts on becoming the Client of Choice as the next talent acquisition holy grail. But that’s not as easy as it sounds. To become a client of choice, you’ll need to create a strategy that guides how you hire, engage with, and retain your on-demand talent.
What we’ll cover
- What does becoming a “client of choice” actually mean?
- What kind of on-demand talent is out there?
- 3 non-negotiables for becoming a Client of Choice
What does becoming a “client of choice” actually mean?
Before we go on, let’s get one thing straight.
Being an Employer of Choice means the top talent you don’t have wants to work for you — and the top talent you do have would never dream of working for anyone else.
Now just swap the word “employer” for “client,” and you can start to see what the future holds for hiring and optimizing this huge slice of desirable, highly-skilled freelance talent.
Already, the Harvard Business Review sees the best talent literally choosing the companies, teams and projects that interest them. But while many business leaders are actively hiring gig workers, they often fail to see the bigger picture.
Creating and maintaining relationships with an on-demand workforce requires a different approach to talent, one that’s not fee-based. After all, freelance and on-demand workers set their own rates — they’ve already got that part covered.
In order to rise above the competition and win top-quality freelancers, you may need to rethink the entire structure of your workforce and talent model.
This is where the idea of a “fractional workforce” comes in. Instead of hiring more full-time workers than your budget can support, employers can tap skills as needed with the help of the right freelancers.
Take Miles Everson, CEO of MBO Partners, for example.
Miles is a huge proponent of the fractional workforce, pioneering a 60-30-10 work model where 60% of MBO’s staff are full-time employees, 30% are freelance contractors, and 10% are offshore workers.
By operating with a solid base of 9-to-5ers and engaging a pipeline of fast-activating ad-hoc freelancers, Miles keeps the skilled workers he needs at arm’s reach. This not only gives him a competitive advantage by making his company extremely flexible and able to turn on a dime, it also saves him a heck of a lot of money.
What kind of on-demand talent is out there?
In short – everything. Everywhere. All at once. (Side note: Did anyone else see that movie? 10/10, if you ask us.)
But with so many platforms and so much talent, it’s easy to feel spoiled for choice. Digital talent platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, and more are growing faster than ever. Less than a decade ago, there were only 80 such platforms. Today there are over 330.
So where do you start?
Let’s break down the three primary types of digital talent platforms so you can choose the one that makes the most sense for your business.
Premium talent platforms
Premium talent platforms connect companies with super-skilled experts who have ultra-specific capabilities — think software engineering, big data scientists and temporary CEOs.
According to Toptal, they pull the top 3% of freelancers, meaning their specialists are the cream of the crop. Experts hired from these sites often serve as a member of a team or strategic initiative and they can work anywhere for as long as you need them to — whether that's a few hours or an entire year.
Demand for this type of highly skilled on-demand talent is growing fast. Catalant documented a 250% increase in demand for supply chain expertise, for example. If you need freelancers with specialized skill sets and seriously impressive resumes, these premium sites may be just the ticket.
Freelance worker platforms
Some of the more mainstream digital talent platforms are also home to skilled freelancers of all stripes.
Sites like Upwork and Fiverr connect companies with individuals who can complete task-based assignments. Whether you need a new logo or an SEO-optimized blog, a freelancer on one of these sites can have it done in no time. And because you pay per task, this is a particularly cost-effective option if you only have a few projects to tackle.
Crowdsourced innovation platforms
If you need the expert opinion of a community of specialists, there’s a platform for that too.
Crowdsourced innovation platforms like Wazoku and Kaggle are built for the inquisitive. Simply post a problem or a question, and the skilled members of these online communities will rush to type out their two cents. From coding snags to complex manufacturing dilemmas, participating companies structure competitions and award prizes for the best answers.
Even the government is doing it.
Recently, the US Transportation Security Administration — or TSA as it’s affectionately (yes, affectionately) known — ran a Kaggle competition to help fine-tune the threat-predicting algorithms found in airport scanning equipment.
The winner took home a cool $1.5 million, and TSA was sitting pretty with an expert-approved, crowdsourced solution. Talk about a win-win.
3 non-negotiables for becoming a Client of Choice
On-demand talent and the gig economy are major players in business models that support the future of work as we know it.
If you want to stay on your A game, you need to know how to hire and keep top-notch freelancers.
Here are a few can’t-miss tips for becoming a client of choice in today's on-demand talent economy.
1. Get limber, but stay firm
No this isn’t fitness advice. But if you’re trying to incorporate elements of a fractional workforce into your 9-to-5 model — you do need to get flexible.
First, redefine the way you and your team think about work. Rather than relying on the restrictive rote task model, break down the work into carefully defined components. These bite-sized tasks are easy to hand over to freelancers, or easy to complete in-house.
But the success of this method relies on strong management.
Vague instructions won’t cut it with the fractional workforce. Both your leadership team and your freelance candidates are going to need strong direction regarding which work should be handled internally vs. externally.
By taking the time to really think about which tasks go where, you’ll create a clear division of labor and an actionable pathway toward success that everyone can get behind.
2. Leverage your network
Now you know which job boards to recruit from to get the most bang for your buck — but the buck doesn’t stop there.
One of the best ways to hire freelancers who gel with your brand is to go straight to the source.
Your current team — both employees and freelancers — are your best recruiters. They know the projects, the culture , and the kind of talent they need and want to work with.
To keep it simple, use an ATS with an easy-to-operate employee referral portal. With convenient employee referral links, existing team members can pass your open freelance roles on to their friends and family.
Which reminds us, a truly ace freelancer is not going to take the time to go through a neverending application process, even on the advice of someone they trust. Your teammates need to be able to say: “Hey — I met this incredible designer on the plane, she is perfect for this project, here’s her LinkedIn.”
And there’s your employee referral, done and dusted. Keep in mind that freelancers book their time within hours, not months. Clients of choice (that’s you!) will be able to take the ball and run with it.
3. Step up your company culture
If you want to become a client of choice, you need to create an employer brand that top talent strives to work for. And because most freelancers already set their own rates, you’ll need to dig deeper than cold hard cash.
You know what that means. It's time to offer up the bennies…as in benefits.
Just because freelance workers aren’t full-timers doesn’t mean they don’t want to retire or don’t need health insurance. If you really want to stand out as a client of choice, start thinking of ways to help on-demand talent find the kind of security that comes with traditional employment.
One easy way to ensure freelancers get a seat at the table is to offer them access to voluntary benefits like pet insurance and student loan repayment. They can opt-in or opt out, but this gesture shows you’re paying attention to their needs.
Another way to add value to freelance contracts is through subsidies. Subsidies help cut down on the rising costs of health insurance or dental coverage without the red tape and paperwork.
Sounds too good to be true? Take it from the pros. As a result of Proposition 22, Uber now offers its California drivers a monthly health care stipend along with occupational accident insurance, protecting their freelance drivers in more ways than one.
Another easy way to show freelancers you care seems simple, but too many companies let it slide…and that’s to pay talent on time.
Most employers wouldn’t dream of simply ignoring a payroll because they would rather invest the resources elsewhere. Yet it’s all too easy to delay payment to a freelancer. If they’ve already delivered the work, what’s the real recourse?
A study from the Independent Economy Council confirms this tendency to delay payment, reporting that nearly three-quarters of freelancers aren’t getting paid on time.
Maybe we should take the word FREE off of the title? We digress...
Clients of choice (are your ears burning?) will jump on solutions that help organize, manage, and pay freelancers across the organization , focusing on making the experience for freelancers as awesome as the one they’ve meticulously designed for their employees.
The on-demand talent economy is here to stay. Are you ready?
The on-demand talent market is here to stay, and we need to start acting like it.
Businesses who make the most of the on-demand economy can build a base of ready talent, closing skills gaps in a more mindful and growth-oriented way. Rather than just engaging freelancers on a project-by-project basis, consider how you can incorporate on-demand talent into your long-term business strategy.
Because when you have the talent you need when you need it, you can grow faster and stay competitive. And with the right people to support your agile operations, you can deliver a better ROI on your strategy every time.
With one-click posting to leading remote and freelance job boards like WeWorkRemotely and FlexJobs, you can instantly publish your open roles, identify your best freelance candidates faster, and deliver a first-rate hiring experience that helps you earn that Client of Choice title.
Check it out for yourself totally free for 14 days.