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Freelance Product Managers in: Startups

Freelance Product Managers in: Startups

I actually don’t have a snarky subline for this one. The startup lore on this is captivating. Photo by Lagos Techie on Unsplash

In this mini-series, we’ll look at utilization of freelance product managers in different environments; when it makes sense, and — yes, also when it makes less sense.

This week: Startups!

Example image of a startup’s to-do/staffing ratio. Photo by Per Lööv on Unsplash

Freelancing in Startups — The Real Hustle

Ah — startups. A term that’s laden with buzz and lore, and also equally heavily misused (not every small company is a startup). The main allure of startups are arguably their speed and agility — what larger companies enviously lack. Accordingly, it’s imperative to bring in experienced talent to ramp up quickly — before the competition passes you by.

Thus, freelance product managers seem like the best pick for startups looking to scale. Counterintuitively, some founders will rather try to find (junior) on-staff people — for cost reasons. This strategy rarely pays off.

Rarely. Photo by Jordan Rowland on Unsplash

Here’s why — given that you have the cash flow to…well, pay anyone who’s so good that they have a bigger price tag, you should look into utilizing freelancers for your startup:

Scale Fast

As aforementioned, you can easily get a freelancer up and running — and also offboard them easier if you have no need for them anymore.

Cost Control

Yes, the per-hour might be quite a bit higher than that trainee-level hire you’d like to bring in, but you can easily tie the cost to the (expected) business ROI, and ultimately have better cost control. 

Think of it this way — staying at a hotel comes at a higher per-night rate than renting an apartment, but you have all amenities included, and you can check out and move on very short notice.

 Now — what’s the point of moving into an apartment when you don’t know where you need to be staying just yet, and you yet need to figure that out?

Cut Hours before Per-Hour

Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

If you’re still budget-conscious — absolve yourself from the need of a full-time person. An experienced freelance product manager can produce the same amount of results in less than 20 hours as a junior can in 40+ hours — which only makes sense, given that the junior is still going through a lot of time-consuming learning.

The Best Mix: Get Both — Trainer and Trainee

The good news is — you don’t need to choose! You can also get both an expert on a consulting-basis as well as a junior hopeful, and pair them up — you’ll quickly get through that initial phase of storming and norming, skipping that trial-and-error struggle, and build a loyal and high-performing team!

Starting from Scratch

A pack of fresh and energetic minds in a small room with improvised workstations — if things are a little messy at that stage, it’s not going to be an issue. Who’s the product manager? Or the product owner? Or the team lead? Or the CPO? 🤷‍♂️ Doesn’t really matter as long as you’re making progress. 

If you’re successful doing that, your team might very well grow. And that’s when that creative bustling might turn on you.

Growing Pains

Time for some process? Photo by Sam Burriss on Unsplash

At some point, you will need some amount of process, best practice and systemization to make real progress. This can feel like selling out, like going corporate. But it’s actually just adulting for companies – you’re learning and improving (hopefully, at least).

To build a product organization that truly excels and innovates, you’ll need to bring in the necessary expertise — and if you don’t have the means to nab a high-profile product leader, freelance expert consultants are a great alternative to level-up your product organization.

Opportunity — and Risk

Working at or for a startup is an invigorating experience — but it is definitely not for everyone. 

The most existential differentiator is risk tolerance: some people just cannot in good conscience sustain a job where their paycheck might be delayed, or their entire company shuttered on short notice if funding dries out.

On average, freelancers tend to be less risk-averse than employees, but also the “blank canvas” and the creative chaos around it might just not be the right thing for some.

Working for a startup is definitely a rather purpose-driven exercise — if both parties, freelancer and startup client, have good common ground and opt into the associated risks, a successful professional relationship may result!

You knew I was going to use this gem again, didn’t you? Photo by Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash

As a Startup, why should I hire Freelancers?

  • Faster onboarding and scaling — less red tape and risks associated with hiring people (some startups don’t even have HR at first!)
  • Better cost control (over ‘hidden costs’ associated with employees — see our article on A Cost-Conscious Case for Hiring Freelance Product Managers for reference)
  • Fast-track & optimize building a product organization from scratch

As a Freelancer, why should I work with a Startup?

  • An exciting work environment and the promise of making lots of change very quickly!
  • Usually shorter/lower-volume contracts (if that’s in your interest)
  • If you’re mostly deathly afraid of boredom, you should be safe from that.

So, how about it?

As freelancers, do you have startups in your client list? Do you prefer working with startups? If you work for a startup, what’s your experience with working with freelancers? We’d love to hear from you, please leave us a comment below!👇

Interested in more stories around freelancing in Product Management? We publish regularly to our Freelance Product Manager publication & would appreciate a follow! 👆

And as always,

Thanks so much for reading!

We acknowledge that with the 5 minutes, you could’ve literally done anything else, and we’re very honored that you decided to dedicate them to our piece! ❤️

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