Why Employers Need to Build a Contingent Workforce Bench in 2022

January 11, 2022
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Your project is finally greenlighted. You have the budget and a timeline. And you put in a call to your favorite freelancer to get things rolling, only to find out that your A player — the freelancer you KNOW can get the job done —  isn’t available. Call it a contingent workforce fail. 

So now what? 

It’s an all too familiar story for those of us who depend on contingent workers to deliver on our project commitments. We do our best to plan ahead and find great freelancers who understand our business and who consistently deliver high quality. 

But project planning by its nature has an element of uncertainty to it. We never quite know when that project approval will arrive. And these days, we can’t always count on talent being available when we need it. Top-notch freelancers aren’t sitting around waiting on our call. They are in demand and have other clients. 

And unfortunately, when those top freelancers are unavailable we rarely have a plan B to turn to. So you end up scrambling to backfill the role/job, calling around, posting to Linkedin, or (gasp!) settling for a freelancer you know isn’t half as good. 

You need contingent workers. Do they need you?

According to Gartner research, 32% of surveyed organizations are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure. Business spending in the contingent workforce area rose 22.8% year over year. Whether it is by choice or by necessity due to the current labour shortage caused by the Great Resignation, employers now rely on contingent workers to get #4%@ done. 

But freelancers are by nature free agents. They get to choose the jobs they take on and the clients they work with. They don’t have to settle and with the volume of demand for their skills rising, they can have the luxury of saying no. To attract and retain top freelance talent and to be the client EVERYONE wants to work for, employers must up their talent management game as it relates to the contingent workforce. This means improving the way you plan for and resource future work and the way you manage your contingent workers. 

Most employers of contingent workers will admit to using a mix of tools to manage projects and their freelance resources. There’s the good old management by spreadsheet strategy. But that doesn’t show you who is available, or who is working on what. It’s basically just an inventory of freelancers and their contact information. There are tools like Trello or Slack or Monday which kind of sort of help managers control the flow of work and a freelancer’s relationship to a project and to that manager. Again these are point solutions.

Valuable freelancer data is trapped in silos and spreadsheets 

The problem with all of these tools is that this very valuable information is siloed and “owned” at the manager level. There’s zero visibility or sharing between managers. There’s no sharing of freelancer information or ranking of their performance. So for an organization that heavily uses freelancers, information is duplicated over and over again, hoarded and is full of duplication and contradiction.

Take for instance a publisher that has a heavy reliance on freelance writers. Every editor has their own list of freelancers. There are probably duplicate resources on that list as the good writers are likely working for multiple editors and other publishers. With information trapped in individual editor’s spreadsheets or contact databases the organization never is able to fully capitalize on that freelance talent by sharing with that resource a complete pipeline of upcoming work. And if the freelancer has no visibility into that forthcoming work, they go find work elsewhere. 

This challenge is even more greatly magnified in industries such as tech agencies who have a heavy dependence on freelance software developers, UX design experts and such. Here, project managers often have to match up freelancers with specific technical skill sets to the work at hand. Lack of visibility into the availability and expertise of talent undermines the business’s ability to take on new client work with confidence, which in turn limits growth. And because demand for technical talent is high, the risk of churn on a project is high. The loss of a freelancer can set a project schedule back by weeks. 

A freelance management tool purpose-built for the job 

So how can employers improve their project forecasting and resourcing and better manage their valuable freelance resources? It comes down to using the right tool purpose-built for the job that allows you to build a bench of talent that is pre-vetted, monitored for availability and shared across the organization. A freelance management platform such as JobBliss is designed for this purpose. Similar to the way customer relationship management evolved and improved an organization’s visibility into sales activity providing the business with a total roll-up view it’s aggregate sales pipeline, a freelance management system becomes a centralized solution for managing a business’ contingent workforce. Managers can look across the entire organization, find pre-vetted talent to fill their bench and backfill in times of need. They’ll know if the resource is available, and they can  engage them in a streamlined way. They can also come together as a team to build a funnel of demand and a forecast of resource need that allows the entire organization to better attract and retain high-quality freelance talent. 

Just imagine how the relationship dynamic with a valuable freelancer would change if you could sit down with that individual and with confidence let them know that they are valued by your organization, that there is a steady flow of work coming their way and that they are the first call you’d make when projects are greenlighted. 

Just imagine with a clearer picture of your contingent workforce how your organization’s approach to planning, forecasting might change. With a solid bench of vetted performers at your disposal and their availability well understood, you’d likely find yourself taking on more projects or clients with confidence. You never have to resort to costly recruiters to find talent in a pinch. 

And because you are organized, can commit to them in the way they commit to you, you earn the loyalty of the very best freelancers in the business. In short, you become the one they all want to work for. 

Tips for getting started on building your contingent workforce bench

  1. Get your team on the same page in terms of your freelance management strategy. Bring together your operations lead, your hiring managers, folks who do recruiting or talent resourcing and your finance folk together. Now is the time for everyone to see the benefit of a consolidated view into the contingent workforce and the benefits of building a bench. Time to get rid of fiefdoms and the culture of resource hoarding. This is for the greater good of the organization. 
  2. Create a preliminary, consolidated forecast of contingent workforce demand. Take a best guess at the number and nature of projects, the duration of work and the skill sets involved. It won’t be perfect but it will be better than nothing. And know that in time a freelance management system will help aggregate this information so your forecasting will become more accurate. 
  3. Build a consolidated inventory of your contingent workforce army. Be prepared to be surprised by the duplication and by the wealth of riches you didn’t even know you had. It may also expose some gaps in skills or talent that you can then resource against. 
  4. Share your forecasts with your valued freelancers. Let them know they are valued, that their loyalty to you will be rewarded and that there’s a pipeline of work available and coming their way. You’d be surprised by the trust this builds. 
  5. Follow the rule of 10 when building your bench. For example, if you think you’ll need one .net developer this year, go out and build a bench of 10 of all levels.
  6. Maintain a regular dialogue with your top freelancers, giving them insight into the kind of projects you’ll be looking for to keep them in the loop and excited about working with you. 
  7. And remember to just touch base to say hi and to let them know that this relationship is important to you. It’s time to start treating your top contingent workers in the same way you treat your internal talent superstars. 

Is 2022 your year for building a contingent workforce bench?  The good news is, the talent and information you need to make that happen may be hidden right under your nose – trapped away in your manager’s spreadsheets. 

Time to go mining for gold. Try JobBliss.