The Outsiders

The number of free agents has grown, but is a backlash looming?

Last winter, Tarek Kamil, CEO and founder of Cincinnati tech company Incigna Inc., had a highly specialized project none of his 10 employees could handle. His solution? Outsource the work to a free agent. "I use them on client projects where I don't have enough resources," says 32-year-old Kamil, whose company brings in about $1 million annually. "They're a piece of the puzzle. I wouldn't be as successful without them."

Maybe so, but is an employer backlash looming against the "free agent nation"? Workplace consultant John Izzo, co-author of Values Shift: The New Work Ethic & What It Means for Business (Fairwinds Press), sees resentment of freelancers as employers fight to hang on to their full-time employees in a tight labor market. While many employers realize they need to outsource certain aspects of their businesses to be cost-effective, they now want to create loyal stakeholders in their businesses. "There's an acceptance that free agents are part of the landscape," says Izzo, "but there's [also] a trend toward wanting people who have a financial and personal stake in the company."

Certainly, employers see risks in using free agents: high cost, possibility of culture clash, loss of control over projects and confidentiality, to name a few. Mike Nikolich, founder of Arlington Heights, Illinois-based Tech Image Ltd., a 17-employee media relations firm, used free agents regularly a few years ago but has since quit because he finds them too fleeting and costly. "I'm looking for employee commitment, and free agents are only committed to themselves," says Nikolich, 43. Still, there are times when outsourcing is the inevitable answer: This winter, Nikolich paid a free agent $500 to analyze his business plan.

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Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the June 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Outsiders.

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