The alternative workforce: Expert360’s Bridget Loudon on why startups shouldn’t necessarily be hiring

hiring contractors freelancers

Expert360 founder Bridget Loudon. Source: Supplied.

We all know how important the first few hires are for a startup. Whether it’s a chief financial officer or a marketing whizz, they’re often highlighted as decisions that could make or break a business. But, what if those high-pressure hires didn’t have to be hires at all?

Speaking to StartupSmart, Bridget Loudon, co-founder and chief of Expert360, suggests it may well be worth considering contractors, freelancers or gig economy workers to fill those gaps on a flexible basis.

“Do you need to hire permanently?” she asks.

Founded in 2012 when Loudon was just 25, Expert360 is a marketplace and management platform helping businesses find and hire contractors and freelance workers.

In 2017, the startup raised $13 million in Series B funding, and appointed AirTree co-founder Daniel Petre to the board.

Now, it’s used by more than 450 companies, and has more than 23,000 freelancers available on the platform.

Back in May, Loudon presented a TEDx Talk at the ICC in Sydney, calling for more flexibility built into the workforce.

According to Loudon, more and more people are choosing to work for themselves, while startups and big businesses alike are looking for more flexibility.

Rather than ‘flexible working’ relating to employees with flexible hours, it should relate to a much broader segment of self-employment options.

“A lot of people think about the gig economy as the future of work — it’s not the future of work,  it’s just kind of the way work works now,” she says. 

“What’s changing is that people, rather than being ad hoc about how they bring people in and out of their business, are starting to be more thoughtful and strategic about their alternative workforce.”

A free lunch?

For startups, Loudon recommends reaching out to freelancers or contractors for jobs that are “lumpy”, or those that require specific skills but don’t necessarily need to be done every day, such as marketing or content writing.

“You don’t necessarily need a full-time writer … but you still want people who write super well,” she explains.

“And you want specialists. You need someone who is a genuine expert.”

For the workforce, while some people want the stability of full-time work, others crave flexibility and freedom. The trick is finding the balance of what is right for the employee and what is right for the business.

About half of the current workforce are millennials, Loudon notes. And they’re not approaching their careers in the old-fashioned way.

“How do we attract, maintain, motivate this very different demographic? There’s a misconception that it’s the free lunches and the fun stuff,” she says.

According to Loudon, what millennials want is much the same to what anyone else wants: to work with interesting and inspiring people, and to work on issues they care about.

“They want to work on problems that are worthy and that are important. They want to solve problems, they don’t want to do tasks, and they want diversity.”

“Great HR directors are recognising that.”

Loudon also notes that employers tend to differentiate between categories of talent: contractors, employees, freelancers.

However, she urges startups to treat them all in the same way, with the same level of respect and employee perks.

“At the end of the day, these are all just people who want an experience. They want to learn and grow and they want to be connected to great work,” she says.

“Don’t let your legal contract determine how you treat them.”

“It takes time”

Although she says she never really saw herself as an entrepreneur, Loudon has always been hustling.

As a student in Ireland, she had “a bunch of little businesses”, she said, including buying textbooks online and selling them to her peers who still distrusted Amazon.

“Our student union shop was selling them for like €105 euro,” she says.

“I could buy them for €22 and sell them for €45.”

She found herself setting out to solve problems, she explains.

“If I found a better way of doing something I would just go and do it.”

This is what drove her to create Expert360, and what continues to drive her now.

To be a successful entrepreneur, she says, it’s important to identify a problem you feel passionate about and tackle it head on.

“You’ve got to get up every morning with the same level of energy and hunger — almost uncomfortably so — to solve that problem and get your product into the hands of more people,” she says.

“Building a business that changes the world, it takes time.

“We are only getting started.”

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