Disclaimer: This is not an ad for our services. Really thought we’d be that blunt? Think again! 😉
So you’re (kinda) convinced that you need a freelance product manager?
You might’ve read one of our pieces, like How Freelance Product Managers Help you Scale your Product Organization, and thought „Hey – maybe they‘ve got a point!“
You might‘ve worked with a product management freelancer in the past, but that person is currently unavailable.
Or you might find yourself backed against a wall, and in need of someone to call.
In case of the latter — hate to break it to ya, but you’re gonna need to be very lucky or make a compromise; the really good ones are booked for far in advance most of the time.
Really in a rush? Here’s the TL;DR cheat sheet:
- The best sources are, of course, personal recommendations. If you’re a line manager or entrepreneur, having a great talent pool of professionals is absolutely crucial — ask your most esteemed peers, get a handful of recommendations and reach out to them proactively.
- Runner-ups are high-profile recruitment and talent agencies. You’re going to be paying 2 people (the talent and the agent) instead of one, but you’ll have the added benefit of scaleability and SLAs.
- On the other hand, we absolutely discourage the use of exploitative “freelancer platforms” which promise you the cheapest freelancers in the market (you get what you give!). You’ll be mostly wasting your (and others’) time there.
Still reading? Let‘s move on:
The Paramount: Recommendations
Yeah, we get it — this isn’t groundbreaking news. But please indulge us on why you should take this very seriously:
As @levi outlined in our post Scoring Your First Client as a Freelance Product Manager, reaching out to his close network was pivotal in scoring his first client.
This works both ways — so please excuse me pointing out the somewhat obvious that it would behoove you to ask around and/or identify good sources for references in your network during a time in which you don’t have an urgent need, so you can be prepared for said times.
We’ll be real with you — yes, it can be awkward to ask around for help.
But not doing so out of pride (or fear that it may make you seem less knowledgeable/connected/whatever than you think that people perceive you) will only work to your disadvantage.
And if you do, you might well be surprised how useful your network can be.
That said, you shouldn’t rely solely on one personal recommendation:
- The recommended person may not be available.
- The collaboration might have worked with others, but not with you.
So get all the info that you want/need to make your decision about the people recommended to you.
A Trusted Partner: Agencies
Now — we understand that building your own shortlist of trusted & high-potential freelancers can require quite a bit of work and time. Given that we all regularly need to adapt to sub-optimal conditions, we recommend agencies as the next-best source of top talent.
Agencies and professional communities such as CodeControl, Uplink and Product People (unpaid advertising!) are a great way to outsource that vetting, as well as covering administrative bases (legal details, liability questions etc.) around getting that talent.
Recruiters provide value by finding the right talent for you when you don’t have the time and/or connections to get there on your own, and absolutely deserve to be compensated for that.
We personally know (some of) the folks that run the aforementioned agencies, and can affirm that they’re highly dedicated to and professional about providing the solution to your problem.
One thing you’ll clearly need to bear in mind is that you’ll be paying (at least) two people (as opposed to one if you contract directly, as per a personal recommendation) — recruiters provide value by finding the right talent for you when you don’t have the time and/or connections to get there on your own, and absolutely deserve to be compensated for that.
Also, you should be aware that despite their best efforts, the brokered talent might not be exactly what you want/need — a risk you’ll need to take if you don’t have the time to vet talents yourself.
Two quick notes:
- on the large players in the space: they’re stronger in terms of compliance and broadness of portfolio, but usually more expensive and less spot-on for specific areas of topic than niche agencies. Still, a good option overall.
- on freelancer platforms: There are a few good ones, like Malt, Toptal and WorkGenius, which will require you to do (some of ) the recruiting part on your own — but they’re usually affordably priced and offer benefits like automatic contract & paperwork generation and insurance, which is neat.
But for the majority of freelancer platforms, our recommendation’s clear:
Don’t waste your time: Freelancer Platforms
So — you might want to ask:
“What about freelancer platforms like? I heard some buzz in the news/myth on social media that it’s a great source of affordable quality talent!”
The short answer: don’t waste your time on those.
Care to elaborate?
Thought you’d never ask:
I’m going to omit the aspect of how crappy the experience of freelancing on these platforms is — it’s not really the focus of this piece, and a lot of others have already written about it. If you’re curious though, here are a couple:
Actually, those platforms pretty closely resemble an offensively titled but oddly popular Subreddit:
But I digress; as a client, they lure you with the promise of very low prices, a large talent pool to choose from and a system that automates a lot of the administrative overhead.
Sounds pretty good, I guess?
Almost too good to be true? Because it is.
Let me break it down real simple:
- Because the experience on those platforms sucks, all good freelancers (i.e. with skill and reputation) steer clear of it.
- That only leaves freelancers without skill ( you don’t want those, right?) and those without reputation on the platform.
- To spot the few good novice ones (i.e. without reputation), you’ll need to find the proverbial needle in the haystack.
- So you’ve spending a ton of time looking for someone suitable — with pretty unfavorable odds.
Thought you looked for a freelancer because you needed a problem solved? Looks like you not only failed to do so, but also created another one!
To be fully fair — in niche cases, platforms like Fiverr offer value to clients and freelancers alike, which is mostly for creative content services. So if you need something written, some stock music or audio production, graphic design or video editing, that can work well — but you’ll still be very busy searching for the best fit, and the good ones aren’t a bargain either.
For product management freelancers and consultants (as well as their clients), these platforms don’t offer any value — on the contrary, they’re a time (and thus also a money) drain. That’s why we can only re-iterate our recommendation: don’t waste your time.
So, how about it?
What’s your experience with finding the best freelancers? Do you agree that recommendations are the best way? Have you found great people though agencies? Have you even found good people through freelancer platforms (lol)? 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 7 minutes, you could’ve literally done anything else, and we’re very honored that you decided to dedicate them to our piece! ❤️