Gig or On-demand? How Modern Managers Engage Outside Experts

02/25/2020 6 min read
Lisa Hufford
Lisa Hufford Founder & CEO of Simplicity Consulting—the Pacific Northwest's preferred on-demand marketing and business consultancy for the new world of work.
Gig or On-demand? How Modern Managers Engage Outside Experts

Attracting and retaining full-time employees (FTEs) used to be the sole focus for hiring managers. In the new world of work, hiring is a much broader proposition that includes all talent—from full-timers to consultants and freelancers.

Today’s innovative managers leverage on-demand experts to drive meaningful results. This approach is part of a total talent strategy, allowing organizations to access the best talent through every available channel. The choices for sourcing outside talent can seem overwhelming, but the best options are usually found through gig and on-demand talent companies.

As CEO of Simplicity Consulting, I’ve learned that it’s essential to understand what kind of outside expert is right for your business. It’s equally critical to understand when to use a gig platform like Upwork or Fiverr versus an on-demand talent company like ours or Toptal.

The Anatomy of Today’s Workforce

The future of work is now. Disruptive technologies are enabling remote work, changing consumer expectations, and creating new business models. The pace of business demands a new level of corporate agility.

In tandem, the modern workforce has evolved. The best talent now chooses how and where they want to work. More than one in three Americans (65.7 million) are freelancing today (a growth of 4 million in four years). Generational shifts abound as well: 42% of millennials are freelancers, intentionally beginning their careers in a very different way than their predecessors. Seasoned experts are also shifting to a freelance work style—30% of freelancers are high-end professionals using freelancing as a primary income source.

There’s a fundamental disconnect between what corporations want and talent demands. Enterprise companies must create on-demand business models that consider relationships, infrastructure, workflows, and culture. They must think beyond traditional full-time teams to succeed, keep pace, and stay relevant.

Teams with a Capital T

When advising managers, I urge them to broaden their perspective from team to Team.

A team consists solely of FTEs.

In contrast, a Team—a total talent-based strategy—includes a collection of resources helping an organization reach its goals. There is no standard template. A Team can be any combination of FTEs, consultants, freelancers, vendors, agencies, and contractors.

Reframing from team to Team will open up the total talent landscape, enabling you to:

  • Access the total talent population. The best talent isn’t in your town, time zone, or even on your continent. The top SEO expert might only do freelance work. The perfect writer for your brand and industry might be game to build out your next campaign and then move on to a totally different project. You might need a Python expert now and a JavaScript expert in two months.
  • Leverage experts—only when you need them. On-demand workers provide expertise that you may not need full-time. Instead of hiring someone who can “pull off” graphic design occasionally, you can hire an expert-level graphic designer on demand when the need arises.
  • Free your teams to focus on what they do best. On-demand workers can be hired to fill in-house deficits. This allows teams to make the most of their time by focusing on high-impact work that most appropriately matches their skills and passions.

External Talent Options

There are many ways and places to find an outside expert, but the two most common options are gig and on-demand talent companies.

First, let’s look at gig platforms. These are self-service options for finding the talent you need. When using a gig platform, you have to find the right talent. The process usually goes like this:

  • Define your project requirements: type of work, required expertise, location, and budget.
  • Find the talent that best matches your requirements or post your project and hope the right talent finds you.
  • Vet and review the talent and make a selection.
  • Manage the deliverables and performance of the talent you selected.

On-demand companies differ in that they provide curated, vetted talent and client-focused service. While gig platforms require you to do this heavy lifting, on-demand companies take a more consultative approach, partnering with you to understand your business and its needs. They then provide a trusted individual or team. On-demand companies manage the performance of the talent, allowing you to focus on the deliverables.

How’s a Manager to Decide?

Think of projects as a spectrum ranging from small, one-off, or discrete to big, ongoing, strategic work.

Solutions in the gig economy are well-suited for projects on the far left end of the spectrum. They’re an attractive option for small, well-defined projects that don’t require a lot of oversight. Projects like presentation or collateral design, photography, and minor website updates are great examples of projects that gig platforms can help service. They’re one-off projects with a clear deliverable.

On-demand talent is ideal for more complex work or ongoing business needs. For example, a company may bring in a developer or even a small team of developers to create and test a new digital application. Leveraging on demand for this work means the company doesn’t have to commit to full-time hires (or the lengthy time to hire that entails) to bring the application to fruition.

On-demand talent companies are often built around specific industries, which allows them to dial into their niche and build a pool of the best talent. Toptal, for example, vets talent specializing in software development, design, finance, and project and product management professionals. At Simplicity, we’ve curated a community of marketing, communications, and business operations experts for clients in the tech sector.

As a personal example, I wanted a video montage for a family event. I knew exactly what I wanted, including the clips, style, and genre of music. However, I didn’t know how to make the video. I turned to a gig platform, received 70 freelance bids within hours of posting, and chose someone based on their skills, my budget, and the deadline. It was a discrete task with clearly defined parameters—a gig platform was the obvious choice.

However, if the video montage had been part of a major marketing project, finding the best talent would have required a different approach. Digging through 70+ candidates would have been daunting—I would have turned to an on-demand company.

Matching Services Matter

Savvy on-demand companies pair clients with the right talent at the right time. From my time leading Simplicity, I know this requires more than an algorithm or online marketplace. In an increasingly digital world, relationships and people still matter, perhaps more than ever.

Vetted, Curated Talent Communities

Screening and vetting talent takes time and expertise, and on-demand clients appreciate the extra legwork. When they call looking for an expert, they expect someone who is ready to hit the ground running on day one.

Hiring on demand avoids headaches like:

  • Digging through hundreds of resumes to determine who has the right skills and experience
  • Spending countless hours interviewing candidates who aren’t a good fit
  • Endlessly reworking the project description to attract the right person

Toptal, for example, boasts the top 3% of freelance talent within their specialties. Compare that to searching for a software developer through the gig economy. Some talent would be qualified for your needs, and some would not. Just as importantly, some would be the right fit for your team, while others would not mesh with your organization’s culture.

Personalized Matching

At the end of the day, on-demand companies are professional matchmakers, which is not an easy job. It takes the ability to pair both the right hard and soft skills.

Because we partner with our clients to understand their goals, challenges, team dynamic, and needs, we know how to select the right expert. Sometimes, a client needs someone with executive presence. Other times, they need someone who’s comfortable sharing a dissenting opinion with a leader.

We take the time to gain a thorough understanding of our talent community. We know what environments they excel in and what types of roles wouldn’t be the right fit, even if they look right on paper. Doing so ensures fast, accurate matching.

It takes significant time to dig through hundreds of options, vet skills and experience, and gauge what’s good branding versus the real deal. An on-demand company can do the time-intensive work for you, allowing you to focus on your business rather than hiring.

FTEs and External Talent: A Recipe for Agility

Competitive companies are agile and have the ability to quickly collaborate and innovate. Agility requires a diverse skill set that’s almost impossible to maintain solely with FTE hires. Therefore, an on-demand strategy that taps into the global marketplace is critical for every enterprise.

The new rules of talent require the acquisition of the best available talent in the market, no matter where they’re located. Whether your company finds this top talent through a self-service gig platform or a partnership with an on-demand talent company, doing so is imperative to staying competitive, relevant, and organizationally healthy.

Lisa Hufford
Lisa Hufford Founder & CEO of Simplicity Consulting—the Pacific Northwest's preferred on-demand marketing and business consultancy for the new world of work.