Building Your Ultimate Team From Freelancers

Many startups rely heavily upon freelancers when building their businesses. It’s a clever, cost effective strategy that leads to a shorter on-boarding process, less paperwork, and a quick-start approach in terms of getting the ball rolling on projects. But what if you could build an entire team of freelance, remote based, workers? Think about it… you’d have a global pool of talent to choose from, with the benefits of crazy low overheads without an actual office to account for.

The concept of fully distributed companies is seriously in fashion right now, with the likes of Buffer, eOrigo, and Zapier paving the way for the next generation of remote based teams. Having a ‘fully distributed’ team means that every member works remotely — so, you could have a lead developer based in Estonia whilst your marketing manager lives in Arizona.

But how exactly do you get started? Right here!

Luckily, we have Hakim A.O. Peay on board to help you out. Hakim is a Creative/Development Lead who has built his own remote team over, and he has years of experience in the area managing of distributed teams. When we asked Hakim what inspired him to create a remote team, he gave us some pretty interesting insights into the key benefits of building your team from freelancers;

“It offers a lot more freedom, it lowers liability, it’s better for taxes when dealing with workers that are I9 eligible, there’s no workers compensation and no benefits packages to pluck away at the bottom line.
Remote based talent and assets allow my company to continue to have sustainable growth with less red tape and overhead expenses to worry about, while I get to focus on my clients and delivering a time efficient turnaround and the best product possible.”

Pretty convincing, right?! So now, rather than continuing to talk about the benefits of remote work (we’d be here all day) we’re going to jump right in and talk about how to build your ultimate team of freelancers from the ground up.

Assembling Your Team

Before you even start to put together your team, there are a few things you need to consider;

What do you need to outsource?

First, you need to figure out exactly what you need to outsource to your team. This is pretty easy; you figure out what you’re good at and outsource anything that doesn’t make that list. After all, if you wouldn’t hire a web designer to write a press release, would you?

Who can you outsource it to?

Once you’ve identified your need, it’s time to find the right freelancers/superheroes who can fulfil that need.

There are a few ways of doing this;

  • Review your current pool of contractors and see if anyone fits the bill (if you have one in place)
  • Get networking and reach out to reputable freelancers online — via LinkedIn, Twitter, Freelancer Websites/Portfolios, etc.
  • Word of mouth: ask your current network for referrals/recommendations
  • Freelance marketplaces (these sites are a last resort, because they’re pretty hit and miss — but they can definitely be worth a look.)

What’s the timeframe of your project?

Although many projects will be up in the air to begin with, it’s really important that you give your freelancer as much detail as possible so that they can do their job properly. Before you even start looking for freelancers, you need to be crystal clear on your project scope.

For example; if you’re hiring a web developer, how long do you need them for? What exactly needs to be done? When do you need the work completed by? There’s a big difference between hiring someone to cover a 48 hour gig and hiring someone to work full-time on a project and asking them to scale back any other commitments.

Do you have a backup plan in place?

When you’re hiring remotely, it’s a pretty standard thing to arrange everything virtually. Often, you’ll never actually meet the person face-to face and you may not even talk on the phone! So, it’s important to have a backup plan in place in case your ‘perfect freelancer’ decides to go AWOL mid project.

Critical deadlines need to be reinforced with your veteran staff in the initial stages, because relying on a new freelancer to hit the mark on their first run typically doesn’t happen that often. In this instance, having a rolodex of experienced staffers that might be interested in a specific project is a goldmine worth investing in.

According to Hakim, this is one of the most crucial risk management steps you need to take as an entrepreneur running a remote based team.

“It’s always a gamble, and you have to have a contingency plan, which involves maintaining good relationships with freelancers and other business owners in the field, and knowing a talent scout or three. I must ensure as much as I can that the vendor has proven themselves, whether that’s been by working and delivering on past projects with me or with a source that I trust. All projects have an ebb and flow, and as an owner of a web design and development business I specialize in project management more than anything else. And that means vetting and hiring the the best workers possible for individual projects, while making sure to have backup in case they act up. Or become ill; experience technical difficulties; or in some cases - plain disappear.”

What about a trial period?

One of the key things Hakim mentioned is the possibility that your freelancer could just ‘disappear’. This is something you always have to be prepared for, but what if you could mitigate that risk beforehand? The good new is that you can, and it starts with the on-boarding process.

You don’t really want to go into a situation where you hire someone untested for a full-time position, unless you have the room for that person to grow into the role over a few months — and one of the best ways to establish that line of trust is by extending the offer of an initial trial period. This allows both the entrepreneur and the freelancer to assess whether they can work together and it significantly reduces the risk of your freelancer bailing (or failing!) on their first week on the gig.

Do you have good communication lines in place?

When delivering a project brief to a new freelancer, you can never give too much detail. Seriously, freelancers love detail. Sure, it’s nice to have a degree of creative freedom, but it’s also imperative that your freelancers know exactly what’s expected of them — especially if you have concrete goals in place that you want to achieve within a short period of time.

Once the project is up and running, you can use various tech tools to ensure that communication is ongoing, and come up with a system that works best for you. This will differ according to the size of your team and the time zones you’re working across, but there are a few apps that you really can’t steer wrong with — such as Buckets for collaboration and task management; Slack for instant chat, Skype, and Google Docs.

Hakim utilizes all of these and more, on a daily basis, and he’s a huge advocate of being available for his team at all times; “I use Skype, Workfront, Trello, Sharepoint, and recently Buckets, and Slack. I like to have an open dialogue, and be reachable by mobile devices, phone, email. And my phone line is always open.”

What’s your budget and can you budge on it?

When it comes to hiring freelancers, your maximum budget is pretty important to work out from the get-go. If you go too cheap, you risk getting sub-par work and losing out in the long-run, but with the likes of Fiverr and Upwork, it’s a still tempting solution for a lot of new entrepreneurs.

This is where the trial run scenario becomes even more important; you may be able to negotiate a lower rate for this initial period, which you can offer to increase once the freelancer has learned the ropes and proved their reliability. The last thing you want to do is lose a potential asset to your company, strictly because you can get someone cheaper in the short term who may not be as valuable in the long run.

And lastly, Hakim has some great advice for anyone who’s thinking of building a remote team;

‘Do your homework, hone and sharpen your communication skills, be patient, vet your sources, hire proven talent with references, and cross your fingers–a little luck never hurt anybody.’

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