Consider the pufferfish. Normally it’s a small fish that looks like a tasty snack to predators. Like most prey animals, its first defense is to run away. But when cornered it fills itself up with water rapidly, transforming into a huge, spiky, and rather unappetizing ball. Elizabeth Eiss, founder and CEO of ResultsResourcing, a Manhattan-based online freelance concierge, says small businesses can be like pufferfish with the help of freelancers: adding talent at just the right time can help an undersized organization punch above its weight at a crucial moment.
“There’s been a shift in the economy in how work is done,” Eiss says. “There’s been movement towards more and more flexible talent.”
Eiss will speak at the Ellevate networking group on Tuesday, April 23, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Tigerlabs at 252 Nassau Street in Princeton. Tickets are $25, $10 for members. For more information, visit www.ellevatenetwork.com.
Eiss will discuss the gig economy from two perspectives: that of a small business, and that of a freelancer. (Although the difference between the two is not very cut and dried: many freelancers function as businesses themselves, and Eiss believes this is often the best way for them to work.)
Eiss’s presentation is geared towards knowledge workers rather than the Uber and Lyft drivers that make up much of the gig economy, and which are the most public and controversial faces of the shift towards freelance labor. ResultsResourcing deals with white collar workers: for example, one of her clients was the marketing director of a Fortune 500 company before deciding to freelance.
Eiss says hiring freelancers offers small businesses a way to access talent they never could get if they had to compete with big corporations for hiring for full-time positions. It also allows small companies to access more specialized skills than they normally would. For example, a good Facebook marketing specialist spends most of his or her time keeping up with the platform’s ever-changing algorithm and coming up with ways to push content to the top of users’ news feeds. A small business could never dedicate a fulltime employee to this task. But that freelancer could make a good living by being the Facebook expert for several small businesses at once.
“In the old days hiring freelancers was about offshoring and sending work to the Philippines and India and Eastern Europe,” Eiss says. “That’s still possible, and there are pros and cons to it, but now there are amazing U.S. workers that want work on their own terms.”
In the world of higher end freelancing, Upwork is the equivalent of Uber or Taskrabbit: a giant platform that connects workers to employers. Linkedin is getting in on the game too, and now allows you to tag yourself as a contractor looking for freelance gigs so potential employers can find your profile.
Sites like these usually have special programs to comb through these profiles and present clients with the cream of the crop. Usually this service is reserved for large corporations that hire many workers at a time. (Eiss’ company essentially does this for small businesses, and its talent pool is invitation only.) She also offers something the big platforms lack: Human help.
The key to making Eiss’s business affordable is that the platform is fully automated, saving on overhead. There are only five employees in the company, but the overhead of administrative tasks is taken care of by the system, so they can be available to assist customers. Eiss also uses a lot of freelancer help. “We drink our own champagne,” she says.
She says businesses use freelancers on three levels. Most start with hiring an administrative assistant, or some other “tactical” need. If this works out, they often move on to hiring someone in a revenue generating position such as ad sales, blogging, or doing social media work. Lastly, they hire “strategic” workers to lend a hand with branding strategy, business coaching, or other high-level decision making. (Ironically, business coaches who freelance their own talents are among the biggest users of Eiss’s platform.)
Eiss also offers advice to those on the other side of the hiring desk. Although she sees a future for the American workforce that is more and more based in freelancing, she warns it is not easy. “You have to be realistic about what it takes,” she says. “So many people have profiles that even if you’re great at what you do, that doesn’t mean work is going to come right away.” Eiss says a successful freelancer has to be good not only at the actual skill they offer, but at business development and marketing of themselves. “People need to start thinking of themselves as small businesses and brands,” she says.
Eiss didn’t grow up in one place, but traveled around the country with her parents, who were teachers. Her father was also a superintendent and a university professor, and the family moved around a lot as they pursued different opportunities. Perhaps this is where Eiss got her knack for exploiting opportunities in her own career. Determined not to follow in her parents’ footsteps as educators, Eiss went into the insurance business after graduating from Mount Holyoke College.
“I didn’t always want to be in the insurance industry growing up,” she says. “I don’t think anybody really does. I was a kid just out of college and they offered me a chance to travel and an expense account.”
She ended up in commercial underwriting, where she learned a lot about business and contract law, working her way up to being an executive business leader. She made a career switch about 15 years ago, pursuing her interest in technology by becoming the president of a tech startup. In that role, she relied heavily on freelancers, and she became an expert in finding good workers. This experience led directly to her current business. Today she lives in New York, where she has been for the last 20 years.
If Eiss is right about the future of the workplace, understanding how freelancing works will be crucial to businesses and workers alike.
“Particularly, small and medium sized businesses need to understand what is happening with the gig economy,” she says.