From “Freelancer” to “Expert:” Getting the most out of Gig Workers

If you or your company are not already working with gig workers, chances are you will be soon. According to the findings of the ‘Freelancing in America’ report commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union, some 57.3 million Americans — or 36% of the workforce — are freelancers. And, the majority of freelancers say they would not leave freelance work behind for a full-time job. Not surprising given the attraction of flexible working hours and being your own boss.

Question is: are employers getting the most out of this growing, and in many cases immensely talented, workforce? Are they leveraging freelancers fully to power not only their business performance but also to accelerate the growth and development of their employees? Our experience at Martellus suggests that the answer is “not always.”

In most cases, employers tap into freelancers as substitutes for full-time staff. Makes a ton of sense given that one of the major drivers of the freelance economy is the need for public companies to trim HR-related costs. And this works. If you need to get out a product and don’t have the resources, a “quasi” freelancer – an individual who essentially becomes a full-time member of your team, sometimes for years at a time – fills the need. And at Martellus – an Expert network committed to helping women find work that fits with their lives — we’re all for companies affording their employees rich parental leaves, with Martellus Experts stepping in to provide coverage.

That said, 1:1 substitutes for full-time staff are not the situations where non-traditional workers truly shine as performance accelerators. In addition to leveraging freelancers to back-fill open roles, think about where “Experts” with deep functional expertise (and experience driving results across large organizations) can power the performance of your business. In other words, to truly jump-start performance, consider uplifting “freelancer” resources to “Expert” resources. Especially consider supplementing a team with Experts when:

  1. Leaders/teams are new to roles or have new responsibilities:In my career, I spent fifteen years in marketing before taking on leadership responsibilities in operations. I would have LOVED to have a behind-the-scenes Expert helping me understand my new function, uncover opportunities, set priorities…and give me the handwritten list of things that could get me fired if I didn’t keep my eye on them. I got there on my own eventually, with the support of my boss. I would have gotten there months quicker with an Expert at my side who had my back. With a shorter learning curve, I would have been more productive, faster – and so would the 150 people who worked for me.
  2. You need to jumpstart a time-sensitive deliverable:You have signed on a new partner. Perfect. You need to develop a marketing plan that fully leverages all their channels in 12 weeks. Perfect opportunity to bring in an Expert to work side-by-side with your team to get it done. If you look in the right place, you will find someone with deep experience in exactly the area where you need support and counsel. In one recent case at Martellus, we paired a client looking for expertise in partner marketing with an Expert with experience in partner marketing with that specific partner. Our client was thrilled we found her the unicorn Expert to take the partnership to the next level.
  3. You have funding for one person, but actually need two:“I need someone with superb strategic thinking skills, who also thrives on execution. Unfortunately, those two skills don’t tend to come in the same package,” bemoaned a friend recently.  Experts are the answer. A half-time excellent strategist and half-time excellent driver are almost always more productive than a full-time super strategist who is a so-so driver (or the other way around).
  4. You need out-of-the-”building” thinking (or saying): Organizations get stuck. Often an external resource is needed to extract the wisdom that is already resident in the organization. Or to say things that internal folks may not be comfortable saying – “this service is no good” comes to mind as a real and frequent example. Consider bringing on an Expert if your organization is going around and around an issue without making a decision. An Expert with extensive experience and credibility in the function may be just what you need to facilitate cross-functional conversations that drive to decisions.

Once you decide to go with an Expert or an Expert team (for all the right reasons), it’s critical that you set them up properly. Make sure you provide tightly defined deliverables, a proper introduction to the team (“they are here as a resource to you, not because you can’t do your job”), the tools and access they need to do the work, and a clear definition of what constitutes a job finished and well done. Then watch as the folks on your new, blended team, encourage and support each other to work bigger and better.

If you want to continue to the conversation, connect with me on LinkedIn or email


Martellus is a certified women-owned strategic consulting group that pairs practical, experienced Experts with companies in need of their specific skills. We take on engagements only in areas where we have extensive expertise. Action-oriented, our Experts come in and work side-by-side with clients to quickly make a difference.