The Gig Economy: your startup’s survival guide during coronavirus

If there’s one thing that the current coronavirus pandemic is showing, it’s that remote work can be done on a massive scale. Remote working might be new for a lot of people but it’s the norm for about 11 million people in the EU currently working in the gig economy – the fastest growing segment in the EU labour market. It’s no longer seen as an alternative work option to supplement full-time jobs, but rather appreciated as a viable choice to earn a living, as well as provide a strategic source of global talent for startups and companies alike.

According to the European Commission’s report on trends shaping the future of work in Europe, jobs are increasingly broken down into projects, meaning that more and more startups will be contracting freelancers for project-based support. During development phases and countless product iterations, freelancers can test out new ideas or change existing ones at minimal risk. For communication or marketing projects, companies can bring on copywriters, bloggers, digital marketers and graphic designers.

Startups can take advantage of the gig economy. And they should, especially during the early stages. Freelancers level the playing field for startups, allowing them access to world-class talents and specialists at a fraction of the cost of hiring full-time employees. In the study released by Malt on European freelancers, over 52% have Masters or PhD degrees and on average have over 4 years’ experience before freelancing.

Given the current climate, your team may not have full-time hiring on their mind. However, working with a freelancer could give your team the opportunity to continue to grow with external expertise, as well as support the freelancers out there whose projects may have temporarily dried up.

However you look at it, the gig economy is here to stay, so here is our take on how you, the founders, can best use it to boost your growth right now.

  1. See working with freelancers as a stepping stone

Due to the current pandemic, full-time hiring might not be on the cards right now. That said, finding a short-term freelancer in a certain market to help boost one aspect of your business, can bring a fresh-eye, some much needed creativity, and act as an extra pair of hands during a difficult period, for as many hours as you need. On the other side of the coin, supporting freelancers whose projects may have temporarily dried up will allow them to stay afloat and could potentially act as a new stamp of approval on their CV. And who knows, if the collaboration is successful, it could help you think about an old problem in a new way, or lead to something bigger, like the expansion of your business or product in an unexpected but welcome direction.

2. Breakdown the project into manageable tasks

Break down the big picture into easily digestible chunks. This way it is much easier to match the task to the freelancer you will need. It is also easier to keep track of the progress of the project this way. Rather than hiring one person with the right blend of skills to handle many tasks, consider outsourcing specific needs to specific freelancers (which leads to our third point below).

3. Choose the market that best serves your needs

These days there are so many marketplaces, both multi-purpose and dedicated to specific freelancers, like graphic designers, copywriters, virtual assistants, finance and accounting professionals, developers and even for legal advice. The key point is finding a marketplace you can trust, then easily sourcing freelancers from a global pool within 24 hours.

4. Support your fellow startups

It might seem like there are only larger or more established freelance platforms out there, but on a closer look you’ll find many startups offering similar services, and who could probably use your business right now. Some examples of startups that offer these services are Wishu (specifically for creative projects), WorkGenius (streamlining the hiring process), crème de la crème (specifically tech and data, digital marketing, or design and product), or expertlead (specifically for tech projects).

5. Interview candidates and set up trial tasks

Before you choose your freelancer, its worth having a short call with them to verify their time zone, availability, fit for the team and see if they really are keen to work with you. You can gather a lot from a quick call, and it might save you time in the long haul. You can get some more tips on the practical side of evaluating freelancers in our article How to hire freelancers and create successful collaborations in the age of the digital nomad.

6. Communicate regularly using digital tools

Communicating regularly and efficiently with your freelancers is essential. Set expectations clearly and explicitly to avoid setbacks in your project, and don’t leave room for misinterpretation of tasks. Build virtual workflows and do not hesitate to use the best and the latest digital tools, such as email, videoconferencing, team collaboration platforms, project management software, task handling and assignment and various messaging platforms and apps. Check out our article 10 cool productivity tools for startups to explore during quarantine for some ideas.

7. Don’t get bogged down with invoicing

In testing times, the last thing you want is to waste time handling invoicing. Make sure you also have a clear audit and repository of output documents. Keep it simple by explaining the invoicing process to freelancers before you start working. You could draw up a draft invoice template and send to your freelancers as an example of what you expect. To make things even simpler, you could even use a tool created by a startup, like Zervant.

8. Integrate freelancers into your team

As mentioned earlier, over 50% of freelancers have a masters or PhD, over 4 years’ worth of experience and typically have work experience across a broad spectrum of industries. It’s smart to bring them on board to leverage their experience and perspective to enhance your startup. The best way to do this is to integrate them into your team, and recognize them as team members, particularly those who have worked on several projects over time or regularly for periodic assignments. More importantly, recognize their contributions and thank them for their work. Keeping them engaged will help you retain a pipeline of reliable freelancers you can call on when the need arises, and hopefully, when the time is right, bring them on board full-time.