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The phrase “gig economy" has been bandied about quite a bit in the past five years, and for good reason: according to Upwork's Freelancing in America survey, there are currently 57.3 million freelance workers in the U.S., and that number is predicted to reach 86.5 million by 2027.

HR professionals and management teams have complex relationships with freelancers. Companies rely on them, and many have as much impact on the bottom line as regular staff members. Despite the importance of working with freelancers, however, they're often disrespected for their seeming inability to adhere to a daily grind. After all, they're not really part of the team, and they're replaceable, right?

Wrong. They're not as replaceable as you think, and you could be throwing money down the drain by considering them temporary workers instead of strategic business partners.

Take Advantage of Their Unique Perspective

Your freelancers, aka “solopreneurs," are critical to your operation. Brought on for their skill and expertise, these are individuals that play key roles in the execution of your plan. When treated with respect and brought into vital conversations, they can advise you on how to get the most out of your expenditure, see issues from a non-employee point of view and deliver work more effectively than full-time employees that get bogged down with day-to-day activities. They add bandwidth, skill and strategic ability to your baseline human capital investment. If you make them part of planning and execution, they can bring in additional value.

Make Them Part of Your Success Story

Solopreneurs who are treated as business partners typically act as such. Many refer candidates and business leads, some going so far as to promote their clients' businesses beyond their contractual obligations. They can help you build your business, make strategic connections and improve your overall operations. Treating freelancers well is part of having an inclusive corporate culture. Make everyone a part of the success story, and they will all want to keep playing a role.

It's time we stopped perceiving freelancers as extra hands that are less important than our other employees. We should consider them clutch players and be open to their strategic business contributions. With a small change in mindset, you can make your freelance relationships more productive than you ever imagined. After all, who doesn't want to cultivate strategic partnerships that bring a business closer to achieving its goals? Let your freelance relationships help your business reach its full potential.

Photo: Creative Commons