Year after year, in good times or bad, one of the main complaints entrepreneurs have is the difficulty of finding qualified workers. An entrepreneur friend of mine called me yesterday because he thought we should (in our spare time apparently) start a jobs board company, since he was having trouble finding “the right” people to hire. I think I convinced him it was a very crowded market and there were easier ways to find qualified employees.
I’m sure many of you find yourselves in a similar situation. You have jobs that need to get done and you don’t have the qualified help to do them. Even worse, many of us business owners are cash poor right now and hiring people isn’t really an affordable option. So what’s the alternative? How do we get stuff done?
For some, hiring interns may fill in a few gaps. But most interns have limited time to devote to your business and their professional skills might not yet be at the level you need. In some states interns either need to be part of an official college program or they have to be paid at least the minimum wage. If you want to list an internship opening, one good Web site to post it on is Quarterlife.com.
Staffing services are one of the businesses that often thrive in recessions, especially those that offer temporary placements. Many unemployed people turn to temp agencies for short-term employment. While this could be an ideal solution for your needs, often you have to manage your temps closely and watch your costs carefully.
If you are looking for people but can’t afford to hire full-timers, before you rush out blindly you should first figure out exactly what your needs are. Do you need clerical help? A temp agency might be your best bet. Or are your needs more project-oriented and demanding? Do you need to create a new Web site or update the one you have? Need someone to write marketing copy? Sell a one-time project?
These needs are underscored by a survey just released by Microsoft Office Live Small Business (full disclosure: I blog for them) and freelance job listing site Elance. The survey revealed a sunnier side of entrepreneurs than most people would expect: 60 percent thought that business in 2009 will be as good as or better than last year. And 86 percent are happier running their own businesses than they were as employees. Slightly more than half of them plan to maintain current staffing levels, despite the bad economy, but almost a third say they need more help than their current staff can supply, particularly in the areas of Web design, marketing, and sales.
Adding to the bad news, a surprising (to me at least) number of business owners (slightly more than 50 percent) don’t have Web sites, even though nearly two-thirds admit they need a site to succeed. Elance has long been thought of as a site where freelance creative workers (writers, computer programmers, and Web and graphic designers) can bid out their services. In fact, over 130,000 freelancers are registered on the site.
But if you look at that number from a business owner’s perspective, that means there are a lot of qualified professionals available to help you — and you (and they) get to determine the price and the terms of the arrangement. The lousy economy has no doubt contributed to the large increase in freelancers offering their services. A former co-worker of mine, a talented editor, found a great book editing project through the site. But the people who hired her (I served as a reference, so I got a chance to talk to them) were even more excited about having an array of talent to choose from.
According to the folks at Elance, they have created an online virtual workplace where over 20,000 new listings are posted every month. Elance handles the payment process, getting the money from you to the freelancers, so you don’t have to worry about additional accounting costs.
These are trying times for business owners. Sometimes it seems we’re trying to tread water and move forward simultaneously. We need all the help we can get. Don’t put off your ambitious projects. And please, if you don’t have a Web site, build one now. No business can truly grow without having a Web presence. If you need help, don’t hesitate to seek it. In the immortal words of screen legend Mae West, “He who hesitates is last.”
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