Learn how to acquire and maintain freelance talent with our 5 winning strategies.
Working with freelancers provides your company with the on-demand talent and expertise you need when you need it. But freelancers are like vendors and work with many companies. So once you’ve found great freelancers, how do you ensure that you have a reliable talent bench? How do you ensure that these vendors will prioritize your company when you offer new projects? How do you retain your best freelancers? The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a shift to remote and hybrid work while also increasing the number of independent workers. The future of work is now. As companies become more comfortable with building and integrating on-demand workers into their talent strategy, more companies are realizing the value of building a virtual talent bench.
What is a Virtual Talent Bench?
A virtual talent bench is a pool of freelancers, independent contractors, vendors, and small agencies whom you’ve sourced, vetted, and are ready to work with. Having a virtual talent bench allows your team to quickly staff projects as needed, particularly as work shifts from being role-based to project-based.
Why should you build a Virtual Talent Bench?
Building a virtual talent bench makes it easier to deploy independent workers to work on critical special projects quickly. By creating your own in-house virtual talent bench, you’ll save time and money by reducing the time to find and onboard talent — and save fees you may have paid to sourcing agencies.
In addition, building a virtual talent bench well before engagement allows businesses to properly qualify, vet, and onboard talent. Having advised startups for most of my career, I’ve seen many companies bring on talent without formal contracts or vetting simply because of an eagerness to get to work. Without sufficient vetting and executing appropriate contracts before onboarding talent, companies open themselves up to worker misclassification risk and intellectual property issues.
Now that we’ve established the importance of building a virtual talent bench, here are five strategies for building your virtual talent pipeline and bench.
1. Start by assessing skills gaps
Start by assessing the skills of your employees against the work that you do and may do in the future. You’ll likely find areas where additional resources, specialized skills, or expert advice could be helpful from time to time. Once you have a sense of what kinds of people you need on your virtual talent bench, you’ll be able to start looking for and recruiting the external talent you need.
2. Identify experts and other independent contractors
There are many ways to find experts, consultants, and other independent contractors, but I’ve found that trusted referrals are the best way to fill your virtual talent bench. Ask your existing virtual talent to refer other freelancers and independent contractors to you, and ask your network to share their trusted talent with you. Freelancer marketplaces like UpWork or Catalant are also another source of virtual talent if you’re having difficulty sourcing referrals. Or, if you are open to establishing a relationship with a company with a deep bench, you could look into consulting firms like Business Talent Group or our own firm, FlexTeam. These firms are built on virtual talent benches so that companies don’t have to build their own roster of talent.
3. Develop processes to vet and onboard talent
Once you’ve identified talent, it’s important to make sure they’re vetted. Check references, run background checks, and make sure they are seasoned independent professionals. Then, when you’re ready to onboard your virtual talent, create a standardized onboarding process that makes it easy for your company and your talent to work together. Using automated and electronic onboarding processes makes it easier to make sure all the proper contracts and tax forms are signed quickly and stored safely. Vendor management systems like Liquid, our offering, can help you manage all onboarding, contracts, and payments for your virtual talent bench.
4. Develop Relationships and Prioritize Communication
Working with a virtual talent bench can be transactional, if you choose. But you’ll find that building relationships with your virtual talent bench improves outcomes. Not only does relationship building make it more likely that your virtual talent will want to work with you in the future, but it also makes each project run more smoothly. Make sure you’ve documented and communicated best practices and expectations to your virtual talent. Communicate frequently and clearly, both during projects and outside of projects. Engaging your virtual talent bench even when they aren’t actively working with you helps keep you top of mind — making it more likely that your virtual talent will choose to work with you when the time is right.
5. Create Procedures for Providing Feedback and Assessing Performance
Providing feedback to your virtual talent during each project is critical to building strong partnerships. Start by creating a procedure to assess performance and give feedback. Make sure that all employees who have interacted with your virtual talent bench are asked to provide feedback. If appropriate, ask your virtual talent to provide feedback on the other individual freelancers or consultants that they may have interacted with during projects at your company. In addition, store the feedback in your virtual talent bench database for future reference. This information should provide you with actionable insights to help improve future engagements.
Be sure to compile the feedback to share with your virtual talent. I’ve found that freelancers and consultants are eager for feedback, excited to learn, and keen to build new skills.
Transitioning to a Blended Workforce
To successfully compete, companies need to be agile and have workforces that can flex to meet a variety of challenges and opportunities. With a virtual talent bench, your company will have a flexible, blended workforce. That workforce will be able to quickly tackle problems and take on new opportunities. Ready to start building your virtual talent bench?