How freelancers will help your team be more agile

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Each year starts with a let’s grow resolution, no matter where you work. 2021 is no different. As a business, in order to succeed, you need to scale. But last year added another lesson to the playbook. You need to move fast, be agile, and flexible no matter how much you grow.

This mantra is being adopted by everyone. Product Managers have to release features fast. Ops Specialists have to optimize processes quickly. Marketing has to reach customers right away. Learning & Development professionals have to help colleagues grow faster.

What’s the main influencer of your agility? Your workforce. In a world that moves at high speed, your ability to find the right people to deliver your projects becomes crucial. Still, highly skilled people aren’t so easy to find, are they?

They actually can be…if you know where to look!

Hiring full-time employees is a bore. There. We said it. The good news is that it’s not the only way. There’s someone else out there, waiting for you to nudge them. They might call themselves side-hustlers, self-employed consultants, contractors, or more commonly, freelancers. Leaders in other departments have been happily using their services for years now.

In L&D though, we’re just starting to discover this hidden resource.

Stats you didn’t know about project freelancers

The best way to get to know the market is by looking at numbers. So we’ve pulled some cool data for you. It will give you the full picture of the market today and its expected growth rate in the following years:

In 2018, 54% of Google’s Workforce were Freelancers

Source: Bloomberg

  1. 41% of those with advanced degrees run freelance businesses. (Source: Forbes)
  2. 61% of freelancers actively sell only 2-3 skills. (Source: The Slash Workers, by and.co)
  3. Between April and June of 2020 freelance job openings increased by over 25%. (Source: cnbc.com)
  4. Freelancers could represent 80% of the global workforce by 2030. (Source: Peerism)

3 freelancing myths debunked:

It’s hard to communicate with freelancers

Err yeah…they won’t be right next to you every second of every workday. But apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams make communication way easier. You can create channels, add everyone who works on your project there, and start chatting away and creating a community with your team.

Communication with a project freelancer is no different than the one with an in-house consultant. Although they won’t be available 24/7 you can set your expectations right from the start about working hours, deadlines, and ways of approaching the project. Furthermore, setting specific time slots will benefit your focus and productivity.

Choosing a communication channel and setting expectations from both parties will make the working relationship similar to the one you have with an in-house specialist.

Freelancers are hard to pick

There are so many freelancers out there. So how are you supposed to pick the best one for your project just by looking at their profile?

You shouldn’t.

It’s perfectly fine to first dip your toe in the water (don’t worry. It’s shark free!) You can start with a pilot project and see how that works. Or test multiple project freelancers at once by giving them a smaller task to check their fit with the skillset you are looking for. Since you’re not looking for someone who is a perfect cultural fit for your organization, the recruitment process will be way shorter than the one for an in-house consultant.

Project freelancers aren’t as skilled as in-house consultants

Since the competition has become so intense, the most important asset project freelancers have is their skills. According to an Edelman Intelligence report, 59% of project freelancers have participated in skills training in the last 6 months vs. 36% of non-freelancers. What does that mean for you? It means they’re up on their game. Huzzah!

Apart from their technical skills, project freelancers gain other hidden skills through their work. First, they have to get themselves in front of clients, so grow their marketing skills. Second, they want you to get back to them with other gigs, so they treat you like a client. It’s in their interest to communicate efficiently, be organized, and stick to their deadlines. So soft skills are no stranger to them. What does that mean for you? It means they’re going to rock at their role—and work hard to impress you.

Why should you consider hiring more freelancers in Learning & Development?

The benefits of hiring project freelancers
You will save money

You will. For real. Let’s break it down!

The average hourly rate of freelancers is lower than that of in-house employees, and you will also lower recruitment, onboarding, and perks costs. You know…you won’t have to buy them lunch, impress them with your super rad ping-pong table, or keep the beer tap overflowin’ for them (though a few kind gestures can go a long way!)

To show you this deep dive, we went into full research mode and prepared some data below.

You will start working on your project faster;

Since your average time to hire will be reduced by at least 50%, you can start working on your projects faster. Of course, like any human being, freelancers need to be onboarded as well. But unlike in-house specialists, you can get right to the point with your newly hired freelancer. You have a project, you talk about it as specifically as possible, and off you go, already working towards your goal. Look at you go.

Project freelancers bring a diverse experience from various industries, companies, and projects;

Most of the time, freelancers won’t work only for you. They will see other approaches, perspectives, and implementations from other companies. So instead of sticking to “this is how we do things” you can actually learn a lot from their experience as long as you ask questions and pay attention to their stories.

The cost benefit breakdown:

Recruitment

On average, it takes up to 24 days to hire someone in HR, the function where L&D is usually found. Before even thinking if this is good or not, you should understand how much you pay to hire an L&D specialist by looking at your recruitment cost.

The recruitment cost is the sum of internal costs (salaries, benefits & perks of recruiters & hiring managers) and external costs (job boards, social media ads, agency fees, referral programs & so on). Let’s use a fictional example:

$2.812. This is roughly how much you’re paying to hire someone in L&D. This is without assuming the onboarding cost, and the opportunity cost for launching your project later which can more than double this number.


If you’re using a platform like Learnexus, you don’t have to use a recruiter or a Premium LinkedIn account and Job Ad. Even if you spent as much time finding a project freelancer as you do finding an in-house specialist, the overall recruitment cost would still be lower. We did the math for you. During the same time-frame, you will spend on average 50% less money.

Payroll

Based on 1,231 answers on Payscale, one of the leaders in the compensation industry, these are the average salaries of some of the most popular learning & development roles:

If you’re looking to solve a specific need, you don’t have to pay a full salary in the hopes that other projects will pop up. Instead, you can hire a freelancer that you will pay for a shorter time on an hourly basis.

For example, the rate of our most popular L&D freelancing role, the instructional designer is on average $50.72. Say you hire them for a 6 months project that requires 20 hours of work per month. It will cost you approximately $6,000. If you hire an in-house instructional designer for the same project, you’d have to pay him at least $30.000, when the worth of the project is 5 times less. Imagine that!

Benefits, Perks & Development

The cost of the benefits you offer employees adds up to the salary of an in-house specialist, driving the payroll cost even higher. Freelancers have to take care of their own perks & development, so you don’t have to pay them.

Letting people go

Last, but not least, if something goes wrong in your relationship with an employee, the damage will cost you compensatory salaries, and the lack of productivity of having someone you trust leave your company.

If the relationship with a freelancer doesn’t pay off, it will cost you only the money you have already invested. Which is way lower.

Get to know the Learning & Development freelance workforce

What roles can freelancers play in Learning & Development?

No matter if you want to design an eLearning experience, facilitate workshops, or build complex leadership programs, there’s a freelancer out there for you. For example, on Learnexus you can find Leadership Development Specialists, Instructional Designers, Facilitators, Coaches, Organizational Development Specialists, and many other profiles.

Testimonials

We wanted to give you a sneak peek into how others have previously worked with freelancers in getting the job done. So we’ve sat down with some L&D Leaders and listened to what they had to say. Here are just some of their success stories.

“I put together a Leadership and Soft Skills development program for managers in my organization which I called “Power Skills for Managers” (a term coined by Josh Bersin). I needed help in designing the program and in facilitating the different parts. I called upon one L&D consultant for the design phase and 4 different ones for facilitating peer coaching groups and some workshops.

I was looking for people who could be flexible, adaptable but could also help me bring structure and cadence to the program. I decided to work with freelancers because I specifically wanted outside perspective for participants to open up but also for them to challenge my ideas and have a possibility of thinking without being limited by what was going on internally.

The relationship worked great. We had monthly syncs on the project so we could debrief, share experiences, blockers, hopes, and realign.”  Valérie Gobeil

“The use case for me was: a small training team in the software space with no additional budget to hire, but a small budget to freelance the work.

The skillset I needed was a combination of Graphic design, video editing for instructional courses, and e-learning professionals to create SCORM courses. We decided to go with freelancers as they were cheaper than hiring full-time staff, and we could hire several at the same time to accelerate the launch of our program. I used freelancing platforms and my own network to reach out to those I needed.

They worked on editing videos, creating SCORM files, technical writing, voice over, and some graphic design. It worked well in launching, from scratch, an LMS with basic training courses and 3 customer/employee certifications.” Dallas Jensen

How to work towards hiring someone to fill your need

Now that we have a more clear understanding of the freelancing workforce, there are two more steps — decide when this is an option for you, start looking for them.

Deciding between freelancer or in-house employee

Even after becoming aware of the benefits a freelancer can bring to your team, you might still be pondering your decision. Besides listing the responsibilities of the role you’re looking to fill, there are some other aspects you can explore before deciding.

  • What does a typical day look like for someone in this role?
  • Can the task be done remotely?
  • Does it require individual focus, team-work, or the input of various people in your organization?
  • Does your project require a specific skill-set or a broad one?
  • Is your project short to medium-term or long-term?
  • Which will be more cost-effective? Using the model presented earlier you can estimate costs for both freelancers and in-house specialists.

If your answers involve some of the following, a freelancer might be the better fit:

  • The work can be done 100% remotely;
  • It requires mostly individual focus and some teamwork;
  • The project is short to medium-term;
  • The skill-set you need is specific;
  • It doesn’t require 8 hours of work per day.

How can Learnexus help?

Let’s say you have decided to give project freelancers a try, and now thinking about where to reach them. The Learnexus Enterprise plan will help you with freelancer discovery, getting to know, and hiring an extension of your team for as low as $300/ month or $3,000/ year. Moreover, it will handle worker classification to keep your hiring in compliance, payroll, and government reporting, and get the finance tasks out of your way.

Some learning leaders are already moving towards mixed teams, using freelancers to gain agility, lower costs, and acquire specific skills quickly. Will you join them?

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Looking to hire for long-term or full-time assignments? Check out the  Learnexus Enterprise plan and features.