5 Tips for Building a Flexible Workforce Erin Posey Ready to scale your business? It’s probably going to require the help of other people. That can be challenging if you can’t afford to hire full-time permanent employees. For many small business owners, the answer is building a flexible workforce. A flexible workforce can take many forms. Often, it consists of freelancers and contractors, but sometimes it may include temps and part-time employees, as well. The advantage of a flexible workforce is you don’t have the responsibility that comes with adding full-time, permanent employees to payroll. The downside is that freelancers, temps and contractors may not be available when you need them since they likely have to do other work to make a living. So how do you build a flexible workforce you can rely on when the pressure is on? Here are some strategies to deploy. Determine where you need help. When you’re the owner of small business, you probably cannot afford to hire all of the help you need. That means making some strategic decisions about where to deploy the money you spend on personnel. Generally, it’s best to hire people to do that you’re not good at or that are not the highest and best use of your time, like routine administrative work. Figure out how much you can afford to spend. Hiring a flexible workforce is a good way to keep your personnel budget under control, but it still costs money. Before you bring on help, take a look at your budget to make sure you can afford to it. Whether you hire someone as a freelancer or a part-time employee, they will expect to be paid in a timely way, so it’s essential to make sure you have enough cash flow. If you don’t have strong enough cash flow, devote yourself to increasing your sales for the next couple of months and reducing overhead enough to pay someone to help you, and then revisit your decision. Choose the right work arrangement. Labor laws on how to classify employees are strict so make sure you familiarize yourself with both state and federal laws by looking them up before hiring anyone. Check out both the U.S. Department of Labor website and your state department of labor’s sites to familiarize yourself with the rules. Generally speaking, if you need hourly workers on a recurring basis, you will need to set them up on payroll as employees. If you need help on a self-contained project, like designing your website, and you’re hiring a professional services firm such as a web design shop, you can usually pay the provider as a freelancer or contractor, meaning you don’t have to put them on payroll. If you hire freelancers through a major freelance platform, they typically often offer questionnaires that will help you make the right call on how you classify your employees. If you do need hourly workers but not year-round or on a very unpredictable basis, consider retaining them through a temporary agency. In addition to traditional types of temps such as administrative assistants and day laborers, these agencies now offer professional services like attorneys and accountants, too. Try a test project. Most employers don’t have time to conduct a lengthy interview process with each freelancer or temp, but it is important to make sure any member of your team can perform well and get along with key team members before you commit to assigning them larger projects. Assigning a small test project to a new freelancer is a good way to evaluate whether there is a good fit. Pay attention to things like the quality of the work, whether it needs revisions, whether the freelancer made the deadline, how the freelancer interacted with you and your team and other factors that matter to you. Show them you care. Some employers treat freelancers like second-class employees. For instance, while they take time to explain complex projects to their team, they don’t set aside the same time to make sure their freelancers can succeed. Or, while they always pay their W-2 workers on time, they make freelancers wait months to be paid. If you want the best flexible workers to clear the decks for your projects, simply extending the courtesies you provide to other team members will go a long way and differentiate you from the many employers who don’t. In a recent survey, the freelance platform Kalo found that freelancers greatly valued clear communication, appropriate use of their skills, inclusion as valued members of the team and timely payment, so those are excellent places to start. Although freelancers and temps may not be permanent members of your team, they can bring a lot of talent to the table—and the more you nurture your relationships with them, the better the situation will be for both of you.