Crash course in: Using freelancers

There seem to be plenty of people in offices without much to do, but it's hard to find anyone suitable for that new project. Bring in freelancers, though, and you'll have people to do the work that needs doing ...

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Why hire freelancers? 'The main reason is flexibility,' says Emma Brierley, founder of agency Xchangeteam and author of the CIPD guide to using freelancers, Talent on Tap. 'Companies want someone with the right expertise, but don't need that person to be a permanent, full-time employee.' And Andy Turner of online resource site OfficeCavalry.com adds: 'Project owners typically use freelancers for short-term projects and assignments - when they don't have the required resources in-house and where the project has a specific deliverable as part of the scope and agreed price.'

Use word of mouth. 'If there are people you've worked with and you know they are tried and tested, that's a good option,' says John Brazier, managing director of the Professional Contractors Group (PCG). 'Networking and word of mouth can be a good way to find the right person, or try an agency that specialises in the skills you need.'

You get what you pay for. Online sites will let people bid for your work, but the lowest bidder is unlikely to do the best job. If the skills you need are in short supply, be prepared to pay what the market demands. That may be more than a salary would be, but you save on overheads, benefits and employing people when you don't need them.

Manage the relationship. 'It's not an employee relationship but a business-to-business one, so you should structure the relationship accordingly,' says Brierley.

Be specific. It's vital to communicate the job clearly. If it's a project, that means agreed timescales and deliverables, as well as milestones and KPIs. Unless the assignment is short, put them in a contract.

Trust their judgement. 'You're engaging freelancers on the strength of their skills, so you have to respect their ability to find the right solutions,' says Brazier.

Keep HMRC sweet. The Revenue will clamp down if it thinks your freelancer is really an employee looking to pay less tax. 'There are three main principles to establish that they are not,' says Brazier. 'They must not be under your direction and control; the client should have the contractual right to a substitute if the person is not available; and the company has no obligation to provide work beyond the contract, nor the freelancer to work for it.'

Plug them in. Whether they're working on your premises or not, think about the systems and people they will need to access within your organisation. If necessary, get them to sign a confidentiality agreement.

Do say: 'Thanks for taking on this task. We look forward to seeing your solution.'

Don't say: 'Emma from the typing pool is going on maternity leave - do you want to contribute to her leaving gift?'

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