Getting the most out of the gig economy as a small business owner

With a stagnant economy and rapidly evolving work culture, is now the time for small businesses to leverage the expertise and flexibility of freelancers?

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Thanks to the widespread adoption of flexible, hybrid and remote work policies and an unpredictable economic environment, we’ve seen several dramatic shifts in the workforce over the past three years. 

Freelance revolution

With Gen Z and Millennial workers turning increasingly to freelancing, the global gig economy is projected to reach a value of $14.39 billion by 2030 – largely fuelled by online workers with specialised professional skills. 

But evolution in response to disruption is nothing new. In the world of work, a similar period of rapid change was sparked by the 2008 recession, with the launch of platforms like Airbnb, Taskrabbit and 99designs introducing the market to new ways of connecting buyers with services – and people with alternative sources of income. 

While various platforms laid the foundations for the gig economy in the late 2000s, the freelance economy has evolved into an aspirational model, with skilled professionals thriving in industries transformed by post-pandemic attitudes to work, and broader acceptance and adoption of remote collaboration.  

For founders and small business owners who have to wear a lot of hats, leveraging the gig economy can be both a lifeline and a cost effective pathway to growth. Having run 99designs by Vista – a platform that connects small businesses and startups with global community of freelance designers –  since 2009, here are a few tips we believe can make outsourcing become your superpower: 

1. Understand what you really want

Ask any freelancer and they’ll tell you there are two types of clients: ones who know what they want, and those who don’t. And there’s no question which group is typically happier with their results. 

To get the most out of a freelance relationship, both sides should be clear on the specifics of a project, so before you reach out, identify the key deliverables, map out any important deadlines or milestones, and specify the objectives for whatever project or task you want help with. To get the best results, you should also be able to clearly articulate the business needs the freelancer will be fulfilling, and communicate who you are as a brand. 

Putting in time and effort creating a really clear and thorough brief will pay off in the long run, both in terms of the quality of output, and your relationship with the person taking on the work. Ensuring everyone is on the same page from the start is non-negotiable for successful collaboration.  

2. Be clear on your budget

When it comes to setting your budget, it’s worth looking at typical rates locally and on online platforms to establish a rough guide, but don’t be scared to discuss budgets with freelancers: people can be willing to tailor quotes based on a number of factors, including opportunities for follow-up work. 

Of course, you need to take into account what your business can realistically spend, but it’s also worth thinking about the value the project itself brings both financially and in terms of time. Ask yourself how much it would cost the business if you didn’t get this work done, or if you were to hire someone full time? What value is delivered by freeing up your own time to focus on other things? 

Remember a freelancer is a small business owner too: their time and expertise is valuable and will help power up your own business, so investing appropriately is a smart move.

3. Prioritise communication and trust their expertise

Irrespective of how talented your freelance partner is, good communication is critical for success. Collaboration is a two-way street, so be prepared to answer questions, provide any additional context and assets they might need, and be ready to provide timely feedback when requested. 

But bear in mind the saying ‘There’s no such thing as too much communication’ isn’t always true! There’s a difference between regular and productive communication and micromanagement: remember that they are an expert and you chose to work with them for a reason. With timelines set, budgets agreed, and a thorough brief provided, you need to trust freelancers to use their expertise, knowledge and skills in a way that will benefit your business.

Treat your freelance partners as an extension of your team: praise for good work, honest and clear feedback (and prompt payment of invoices!) go a long way to fostering trust and appreciation. 

4. Share your values and purpose

While you might be concerned about freelancers caring less about your brand or business than either you or an employee might, that assumption might not be correct. 

The vast majority of creative freelancers want to work with clients and brands whose values align with their own, so sharing your purpose and brand story with freelancers at the outreach stage will increase the chances of working with a partner who is very much invested in your organisation’s mission and vision. 

And while they might not be local, one of the benefits of the broad adoption of remote work is how much better we all are at collaborating online. It’s worth thinking about how you might be able to include longer-term freelancers in your team culture and develop processes to help them feel even more engaged with your business and results. 

Final thoughts

With changing attitudes to remote work and the continuing evolution of the freelance economy, opportunities to connect with creative talent around the world have never been more accessible. Working with freelancers allows you to tap into expert help whenever (and wherever) it’s needed, filling skill gaps and allowing you as a founder to focus and scale your business. 

Patrick Llewellyn, CEO of 99designs by Vista

Patrick Llewellyn is CEO of 99designs by Vista, the global creative platform that makes it easy for small businesses to work with professional freelance designers around the world. 99designs has paid out more than US$400m to its creative community to date, working across brand and logo design, packaging, web design and more.

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