At Business Talent Group (BTG), we’ve seen the rise of high-end independent talent power a new path to organizational agility and performance. We’ve also seen companies stumble while trying to make the most of this formidable resource. In this series, we’ll share best practices that we’ve honed across 10+ years of work with F1000 companies—and help business leaders unlock the real promise of on-demand talent.
So when should you hire a freelancer?
The independent marketplace is as diverse as its full-time counterpart. Each independent consultant has a unique professional background, domain expertise, and strategic strengths. Corporate projects are equally variable, as are the specific skill sets they require. To find the best fit, think about:
- The most important problems you face
- The most compelling opportunities you’d like to explore
- The skills you’d need to tackle them successfully
Then, consider how having on-demand access to those skills would change the way you think about your priorities. What, or what else, could it help your team accomplish?
Here are some specific moments to think about engaging independents.
1. Targeted help or expertise—for a finite period of time
This is the most straightforward reason to contract an independent consultant. Maybe an important project is behind schedule and your team doesn’t have the capacity to catch up. An independent project manager with relevant domain expertise could get things back on track. Maybe you’re exploring a new opportunity and need strategic guidance on an unfamiliar market. An independent expert could shortcut your analysis and help you understand how the initiative fits into your broader strategic portfolio.
Independent consultants are used to jumping in mid-project and ramping up quickly. They adjust easily to sharp learning curves and handle the heavy lifting so your employees can remain focused on their own objectives.
2. Consulting projects that are too small for the big firms
A strategic business plan refresh. A tech vendor reassessment. In every company and business unit, there are consulting projects that are important but not huge. So why pay for an army of junior consultants to tackle them when a few smart independents could deliver better results for less? With independents, you don’t just get to choose the specific people who’ll do the work—you also make it easier for your team to digest the learnings by removing the heavy footprint and restrictive workflow involved with traditional consulting firms.
3. Recurring help with specific knowledge gaps
The most agile companies know where their knowledge gaps and shortages lie—and proactively identify points where they could use additional expertise. Whether it’s recurrent, finite projects like business case development or unique moments like a major business transformation, these companies systematically incorporate independents into their resourcing plans. By doing this, they are able to operate leanly without overextending the resources they have on hand.
4. Building a new kind of team
Over the past decade, innovative companies have pioneered entirely new use cases for independent talent. Here are a few things you can do:
- Define and build new functions. Perhaps you sense an opportunity but don’t know which direction holds the most potential—let alone who to hire to find out. Why not tap a series of independent consultants to identify the optimal path, outline the best business structure, and pinpoint the resources you’ll need to be successful?
That’s what a major beverage manufacturer did as it contemplated whether to expand into the restaurant business. After engaging a few independent experts to launch a few pilots and advise on how to structure the business, it built out a permanent team to manage the new venture.
- Manage uneven workflows. Every business goes through time when workflow is variable or hard to predict: after making a major business acquisition, for instance. During these moments, independent consultants can do more than simply round out the team—they can redefine the way you staff and structure it.
When the head of Corporate Development for a F500 B2B company needed to prioritize and act on several potential deals, he began by making two full-time hires dedicated to M&A. Then, over the course of the next year, he brought in six independent consultants to meet his evolving needs. One consultant helped develop an M&A pipeline strategy; others played roles that ranged from analytic support to running and building a new business group. Together, they enabled the client to work leanly and efficiently on a broad range of deals without adding permanent headcount or compromising quality.
Leah Hoffmann is BTG's Marketing & Content Strategist. A former journalist, Leah worked for Forbes.com and The Economist before joining BTG. She is passionate about clear thinking, sharp writing, and strong points of view.