Lauren Winans is CEO of Next Level Benefits, an HR consulting practice offering access to HR experts for short-term projects.
The job market right now is highly competitive in all industries and positions, and even those that do the recruiting and hiring are having trouble filling open roles. Human resources professionals are a critical part of your organization, and they help you create a “best place to work” environment. But what do you do when you can’t find the right person for the job, or you need someone quickly and can’t afford to spend the time searching while the work piles up? Adding employees can slow you down and end up costing you more. As CEO of an HR consulting practice that offers access to HR freelancers, I’ve worked with clients of all sizes and industries. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work as well as what could have been avoided and what circumstances are most conducive to bringing in external help. Here’s when I recommend bringing in a freelance HR expert.
Why consider hiring a freelancer?
1. You need someone now. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, hiring a full-time employee takes an average of 42 days, and for early-stage startups, recruiting for its first HR position can take even longer — think three to six months. And that’s not including onboarding. A freelancer can quickly fill the role and bridge the gap while you find a permanent solution.
2. You don’t know what the immediate future will hold. With freelancers, employers don’t need to state a contracted endpoint or make a long-term commitment. A freelance engagement can be as long or as short as you need: six weeks or six months.
3. You need someone with premium (and relevant) HR experience. The job market is competitive right now. Unemployment is the lowest it has been in 12 months; employers are experiencing high turnover, and employees have many job opportunities to choose from. As such, finding top talent could take longer than usual. This is why some might consider bringing freelance expertise into their organizations, even if only for a few months, to help accelerate progress, instill new skills among employees and complete complex projects in the meantime.
4. You’re budget-conscious and prefer flexible expenses. Freelance HR experts are a flexible expense. You can define their billable hours, use them sporadically when you need them or settle on a mutually agreeable monthly retainer fee. When you don’t have essential work for them, you can cut their hours (or let them go entirely). On the other hand, full-time employees are a fixed cost. You’ll need to consider the costs of onboarding, training, compensation, benefits, taxes and severance.
How can you get started?
Some companies might opt to work with an HR consultant practice to help them find freelance help. Being the CEO of a business in this space, I’ve seen that if this is the route you’re considering, it’s important to ensure the partners you’re researching have relevant experience, can work within your budget and are available during your time of need. Reach out to a few firms or individual freelancers to ask questions and get to know them. Many times, you’ll find that you connect with one more so than the others.
After you have identified the right partner, clearly define your needs and ensure your new partner has properly documented them within the scope section of a Statement of Work (SOW). Agreeing upon the work that needs to be done and the billable rate is important to do before any work begins.
After the scope is agreed upon, you can set the HR freelancer up for success in two ways:
1. Get them the proper network access needed to perform the job.
2. Introduce them to all of the internal stakeholders and business partners they will be working with.
In most cases, it’s preferred that the freelancer can physically do what you want them to do on the company’s network, but this isn’t a requirement. Also, creating the connections and introductions needed within the company as well as ensuring internal team members that the freelancer is here to help (not replace anyone’s role) will help the freelancer hit the ground running.
There are some cases where a freelance HR expert may not make the most sense for your business. Examples include when there are employees within your organization who are able to take on more work or who are interested in special projects for professional development opportunities. If you can use your own employees to do the work, even for a short interim period, you should take advantage of it. It shows that you’re confident in your team, open to employees getting new opportunities to try new things and that you believe in professional and organizational development through cross-training.
However, don’t hesitate to weigh your options and shift your strategy to freelance support if it makes sense for your organization. Freelancers can step in quickly to handle short-term needs when you’re filling an open position, a team member is on a leave of absence or when you just simply don’t have the expertise in-house. In a highly competitive job market, turnover is high and finding quality talent is time-consuming. With these conditions, freelance HR may be an option for you to look into.