How to Accomplish Specific Tasks Using Temporary - and Skilled - Services

Bringing in new employees is expensive even when business is booming. What if you need specific tasks done - either on a one-off or on a recurring basis - but those tasks do not justify hiring a full-time employee? You could try to hire a part-time employee with the right skills.

Or you could outsource the task to a skilled provider.

Here’s an example. Your business has a website. You provide information about products and services, share resources (like how-to guides or other information) and post news and upcoming events. You don’t need to modify or update your website every day, so hiring a full-time web developer does not make good financial sense.

If you don’t have the skills in-house, a freelancer can fill the gap nicely. Fortunately, freelancers are easy to find, and easy to manage. You can ask other small business owners for recommendations. Or you can use a service like upwork.com or Guru.com to find a freelancer with the skills you need.

All you have to do is post the job you want performed, and providers bid on that job, describing deliverables, milestones, and of course the cost. You can check provider references, review feedback from past customers, ask for samples of previous work performed, and even interview providers by phone or email.

A wide range of skills and services are available: Web development, programming, writing, engineering, administrative, accounting, advertising and marketing, customer service, research - virtually any business function.

While it might sound complicated, hiring a freelancer to perform a specific task is fairly easy. The key is to describe the task you want performed as thoroughly and accurately as possible. For example, say you want help writing a customer newsletter.

You’ll start by describing your subject, your audience, and what you hope to achieve, since those are key items every good writer must know in order to deliver a successful project.

  1. Create a project description. Let’s assume you are a lawyer, and your firm focuses on real estate law. You send a monthly newsletter by e-mail to past and potential clients. Your newsletter is a valuable marketing tool, but writing the articles takes time you just don’t have.

    How could you describe your project? Here’s one way:

    "I am a real estate attorney, and I need four articles written each month for inclusion in my newsletter. I will provide article topics, but I am open to suggestions as well. Article subjects might include title searches, property liens, tenant relationships, leases, building contracts, easements, property transfers, etc. Some articles will provide useful information for people new to real estate issues, while others may be intended for a more sophisticated audience. I do not want the articles to be sales pieces, but I do want readers to understand the complexity of real estate law and understand that I am skilled and experienced and would be a great person to help them with their legal needs. Each article must be between 350 and 450 words in length. Four articles must be submitted by the 15th of each month so I have time to review and request any edits or revisions necessary. Interested writers should provide a brief description of their experience and background as well as samples of similar articles, even if those articles are not real estate related."

    Based on this description, some freelance candidates might ask for additional clarification. Most will be able to provide a detailed bid based on this description alone, though.

  2. Narrow down the field. Once your project is posted, providers will start bidding. Some of the bids you receive you might immediately discard due to price or time of delivery. Others you may not be interested in because the freelancer does not have the skills required to complete your project. Some providers will quote a good price, good delivery time, and have a great feedback history. Those providers should go on a short list. Your goal is to narrow down the field to the best two to four potential providers. Try to narrow your choices to the three or possibly four best providers.
  3. Ask more questions. Go to your short list and dig a little deeper. Contact each provider and ask some additional questions. Using our example, you might ask:
    • What experience do you have in real estate (either writing about real estate or practical real estate experience or, best of all, both)?
    • How will you research subjects you are not familiar with?
    • What input do you expect from me? How do you wish to communicate?

    The answers to these and other questions may help you narrow down your short list even farther. Then:

  4. Check out samples of previous work. Ask for samples that help you evaluate each provider’s skills where your needs are concerned. Our project is for newsletter articles, so ask to review other similar articles. Just make sure you don’t compare apples to oranges: If your project is for web design, reviewing samples of iPod apps isn’t particularly helpful. Also remember that a freelancer may not have directly relevant samples, and that might be okay. For example, a good writer can write well on a number of topics.
  5. Make your decision objectively. When you reach this stage, one provider should stand out. Be sure you decide objectively, though, and not just based on interpersonal skills or because a freelancer "seems nice." Your goal is to hire a freelancer to perform a specific function. Find the best freelancer for your job you possibly can.

Then, break the task down into smaller parts so you can further evaluate the freelancer’s skills. Instead of contracting for twelve newsletters, hire the freelancer to write the first month’s newsletter. If it goes well, you can expand the engagement. If not, you can part ways a little disappointed but otherwise not the worse for business wear.

Freelancer or Employee?

Freelancers aren’t company employees, and they don’t have taxes withheld from their pay. They also aren’t eligible for company benefits like vacation pay, sick leave, health insurance or retirement benefits. The IRS has rules about who can be considered a freelancer and who must be brought on board as a company employee. If you’re using freelancers or independent contracors, it’s important to make sure you’re categorizing and paying them appropriately.

The test can be complicated and it’s best to get advice from a lawyer or accountant if you have doubts. But in general, the more independent the person is, the more likely they’re an independent contractor. Indicators of independence include deciding how and where to do the work, and using one’s own tools and equipment.

The more you control the work environment and tasks, the more likely the person should be paid as an employee. Control might include specific requirements for how the work will be done, requiring someone to come to the office, and having them use your work computers.