Using Freelancers: Pros and Cons

I work with freelancers on many tasks / projects and find using freelancing force very meaningful in many aspects. I have been working as a freelancer myself on and off as well, so to some degree I have a double insider view on IT freelancing phenomena.

So when I run into an old and rather popular article 101 Reasons Freelancers Do it Better I was compelled to comment; yet while reading I realized that regular comments just won’t do it. I saw that I could play devil’s advocate pretty much on every point made in the article, e.g. just a few random notes

Reasons to Freelance Nick as Devil’s Advocate
Save on child care: Instead of paying for full-time care, you may be able to cut care back to part-time hours or even work out a schedule with your spouse that allows you to eliminate child care altogether. Oh yes, and all the money you lose by shortening your work day. And of course the quality of your work will skyrocket with kids hopping around and helping you type.
Your level of career-loathing spending is reduced or eliminated: Expensive vacations, trips to the spa and gallons of fruity alcoholic drinks are often indulged in because of a need to release work- related stress. Freelancers are generally happier and more satisfied by their work, so
this type of spending is not as prevalent.
Absolutely. No career thoughts, aspirations, politics, anxiety – total nirvana. You probably should take it even further, drop working altogether. That will be especially helpful in releasing stress that comes from freelancing commons such as waiting to be paid, bidding against 10,000 me toos, being screamed at by a client.
Diversity: Instead of doing the same thing day in and day out, you can pick up a variety of projects to keep you occupied. That’s phenomenal – learn java today do graphical arts tomorrow, learn one customer’s domain and apply it some other. Become a pinnacle of multi talent – Jack of all trades
and respected master of None…

I guess any Smart Alek can do the same and it would be much more meaningful to look at the freelancing as an option from a VPE’s standpoint. Freelancing is a complex phenomena and covering it in detail could keep a few very prolific bloggers busy. Take for example a look at freelanceswitch.com For this post let me take a high road and cover only some of the main Pros and Cons of Freelancing:

Pros of Working with Freelancers

  • No job is too small is a common freelancing motto. So when you need things like light graphic touch up, setting up a yahoo store, basic SEO services, etc. using freelancers is often the best option. You can have the entire project done by the time a sales team from a large agency schedules initial meeting with you.
  • One of great advantages of sourcing through freelancing is access to a huge pool of resources. Nowadays with powerful aggregators / directories of freelancing resources such as odesk.com, guru.com, and elance.com you can probably find almost any specialty or skill you may need. See the list i compiled so far.
  • Nimble, fast and flexible freelancing community caters to ever changing needs of businesses quite well. The difference in turn around time between freelancers and even small service oriented companies is staggering.
  • Low commitment on your part combined with a large resource pool caters toward disposable outsourcing model exceptionally well (read more about disposable outsourcing ).
  • One of the unadvertised benefits that a freelancer could offer comes from cutting corners and that could offer some huge short time benefits – need someone to pull an all-nighter to push a change to production, need access to some expensive software and ready to close your eyes on it’s being properly licensed, want to build a prototype without going through mandatory steps required by corp. SDLC… all that could be done with a right freelancer(s) on the job.
  • Competitive pricing – sometimes cheap, sometimes ridiculously expensive freelancers bring great competitive offering to the market place. The price freelancers can charge is market regulated and fluctuates with market; it includes minimum overhead and typically is substantially more competitive than the rates offered by outsourcing companies.
  • Many solid talented professionals end up or start up as freelancers because their true passion for what they do and that makes them so much fun to work with. I had a pleasure of working with amazingly talented freelancers in all areas of creative and technical aspects of IT – writers, graphical artists, developers, and security pros and I can not even start to describe how much their passion for work elevates the quality and productivity not to mention positive energy they radiate…

Cons of Working with Freelancers

  • Some jobs are just too big for freelancers to handle. That is a fairly obvious issue, more so, there is an important aspect to it as well – some jobs grow to be too big for freelancers to handle. That is potentially a serious trap. You start with something that appears to be a freelancing sweet spot, the spot starts to grow (scope creeps, a few cans of worms get opened, etc.) and before you know the project is out of control…
  • The word freelancer starts with “free”, not with “process” or “restrict”, and that reflects something you have to be prepared. Following strict SDLC or other processes is not typically freelancing MO. That could become a serious obstacle in project delivery, significantly reduce productivity, and in general annoy the world out of you.
  • On a similar note even basic discipline is not exceptionally common among freelancers. I guess working on the project while at home wearing your PJs affects the mind set and eventually bleeds into all aspects of professional life. Creative arts freelancers are in particular notorious for being casual in treating basic obligations – they are late for meetings, miss due dates… and sometimes (that’s my favorite) forget to bill you.
  • Finding good freelancers even with help of marketplaces such as oDesk.com or Guru.com is a challenging task. Just recently for one of my projects I needed to find a few bolggers, that seems like a no brainer, there literally millions of them… well that’s a part of the problem – you end up dealing with a lot of spam (people that reply to you post without even reading it), a lot of people who are not remotely qualified, and so on.
  • Quality of freelancing resources is very much a gamble. In my experience for every gem you have a several dozens of pebbles. It is in particular notable for short ramp up technologies and skills like “web developer”, “blogger”, etc. Pretty much anyone with PC and internet connection can claim to be one of those. With the short nature of freelancing projects by the time you realize that you got someone with no substance or skill half of your budget is gone.

Freelance workforce is just one of the tools in tech leader’s portfolio. If you apply the tool to the right job and handle it with care you can achieve some pretty impressive results. It is a powerful tool and could bring a serious damage if used by someone who doesn’t know how to use it though…

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