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Freelance Talent In High Demand Despite Soft Job Market
By Sherril Steele-Carlin

In a new report issued in the McKinsey Quarterly titled "The War for Talent," highly capable employees aren't getting any easier to find, and that's good news for freelancers. Why? Because if talent isn't available inside the organization, the organization will have to look elsewhere for it, and that includes consultants and freelancers. In this update of a 1997 report, McKinsey researchers talked to 6,900 managers (including 4,500 senior managers and corporate officers). They found "89 percent of those surveyed thought it is more difficult to attract talented people now than it was three years ago, and 90 percent thought it is now more difficult to retain them."

Even though the job market may be softening, talented professionals are still in high demand, and so are freelancers to fill in the holes left by departing employees. Since talented employees can still move relatively easily from job to job, freelance opportunities will almost always exist in corporations around the U.S. Many companies are also discovering that even though they hire an employee, they may never actually see that new employee sitting at a desk. Often, employees receive counter offers from their current employer, or take another job offer. In that case, the position is still open, and may be filled by a freelancer until a permanent employee actually accepts and starts the job.

In an interview, Jay Heinrichs, deputy editor of Outside Magazine answered the question, "What do you find most beneficial about using freelance talent?" He said, "We get a variety of the best writing; the writers we go after generally don't have full-time jobs on a magazine staff, and they have the time to write exceptional stories." That's one of the benefits of freelancing, and many businesses who need talent recognize that fact.

Freelancers are in business for themselves, and their work reflects solely on them. An article in PR Agency Insider urges agencies to look at freelancers, saying "If you don't need to develop an entire staff contingent because advertising and marketing needs are sporadic or not that great, think about using freelance talent to supplement your efforts." In its Vendor Qualifications Checklist, The Doc Shop, Inc., a New Jersey based document providers urges managers to "Keep project costs low by using freelance talent." Another editor said using freelancers is kind of like "buying a time-share vacation plan, you only pay for the time you use."

Freelancers often are more motivated than internal employees, because they want to make a good impression, and turn in high-quality work so they can retain the account. Internal employees, especially those who are working for poor managers, may complete assignments with less enthusiasm and professionalism, simply because they can, and still keep their jobs. The McKinsey report states "58 percent of senior and mid-level managers reported that they have worked for an under performer. How did it affect them? Eighty-two percent said it 'Prevented me from making a larger contribution to the bottom line.'"

Unlike full-time employees, freelancers may face less of those internal pressures, simply because they are most often located off premises, and not as involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization. Even if they are working for a less-than motivating manager, freelancers really have the upper hand in completing the assignment. Since they are independent contractors, they are free to choose who they work for. Some managers may be so difficult, they may not want to work with them again. They have the freedom to choose, which can also be a very powerful motivator to completing projects effectively and creatively.

As a sideline, the McKinsey report also found "the companies doing the best job of managing their talent deliver far better results for shareholders. Companies scoring in the top quintile of talent-management practices outperform their industry's mean return to shareholders by a remarkable 22 percentage points." Thus, freelancers working for the companies who hold on to the best talent can be assured of working with the best managers, and may even retain higher fees from these companies who recognize the best talent.

So, great talent is hard to keep, no matter how the job market fluctuates. Freelancers can capitalize on this constant need to find high-quality employees. Whether they fill-in for a missing employee, or complete a steady stream of projects for departments that are understaffed, the "Talent War" can be a boon for talented freelancers.

The full McKinsey report can be found by going to the Current Edition section at: You'll need to fill out a free membership application to access the full report.

Sherril Steele-Carlin
Author of the E-book "How to Get a Life by Living and Working in a National Park"

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