Let’s say your company needs a lawyer, or a management consultant, or even an employee engagement expert. How would you go about engaging their services?
In most cases, you’d have to become a customer to the kind of firm that employs such professionals, taking on all the associated business costs.
If an innovative startup from South Africa has its way, however, the whole process could soon be very different.
Founded by Scelo Makhathini, a chartered accountant; Lerato Manaka, a human resources specialist; and Eugene de Beer, an IT expert, LinkdPro looks to make it as easy to acquire the freelance skills of someone in the professional services space as it is to hire a freelance writer or designer.
We recently got the chance to speak to Makhathini about LinkdPro’s journey, the changing nature of professional services, and how technology is enabling new classes of freelancers.
Engage Me: What inspired the launch of LinkdPro?
Scelo Makhathini: LinkdPro is inspired by a trend in the market where professionals, particularly millennial professionals from top professional services firms (i.e. consulting firms, investment banks, law and other advisory firms) are leaving their permanent jobs to pursue work opportunities as freelance professionals.
Professionals are choosing to become freelance professionals in pursuit of work-life-flexibility, working on their own terms and the excitement of running their own businesses.
However, this new emerging workforce of freelance business professionals is highly fragmented and businesses looking to hire freelance professionals for short-term projects are finding it difficult to source them in a highly fragmented market.
Added to this problem, freelance business professionals are struggling to access new project opportunities that fit their skills set and experience.
LinkdPro was formed to solve the above problems and create a solution where freelance business professionals (ranging from management/strategy consultants, commercial lawyers, ex investment bankers, technology specialists and industry experts) and businesses find each other in ONE place.
EM: You’ve deliberately targeted highly skilled people with the platform. What decided you on that?
SM: We think that the professional services model is ripe for disruption. The current professional services model [for top-end business services only] is currently burdened with massive fixed overheads, internal politics, pressure to sell work, pressure to retain high quality professionals and inherent staff constraints.
It is because of our deliberate focus on disrupting this model that we have defaulted to focusing exclusively on top-tier business professionals vs low end skills.
LinkdPro has taken the best out of the professional services model and left behind its inefficiencies and exorbitant fee structures.
LinkdPro provides companies with a flexible and cost-effective professional services delivery model (i.e. same level of skills and expertise at a fraction of the cost of traditional firms).
EM: Did you draw inspiration from any international platforms when it came to building LinkdPro?
SM: We have some international competitors that follow quite closely and are affiliated with. But overall, we draw inspiration from a lot of tech companies doing great things all over the world. We believe that it is quite important to adopt such an approach especially when we are building a global platform.
EM: What have been some of the biggest challenges in building the platform to date?
SM: Getting meetings with key decision-makers within organizations. We continue to strengthen our business development and marketing teams to ensure that we get in front for the right decision-makers within organizations.
EM: What have been some of your biggest successes?
SM: Signing up large corporates listed on the JSE has been amongst the greatest achievements we have had in a short space of time since our inception, and we remain on track to meet our targeted number of key clients in high-growth industries – thus validating our business model and innovative digital offering.
Cementing good relationships with key strategic members, including Alpha Code (a fintech investment vehicle backed by Rand Merchant Investments) and SAVCA (an member organization for venture capital and private equity in Southern Africa), has also been amongst the greatest achievements we have had recently.
Other key successes worth mention include keeping our operations ultra-lean as a result of using our own network of freelance business professionals to work for us. We employ almost 60% of our staff complement as service providers and have benefited massively in keeping our running costs down.
EM: Are South African companies becoming more open to the idea of using skilled freelancers?
SM: Companies in South Africa are turning to freelance business professionals to cut costs, have flexibility around the duration of employment and embrace the on-demand hiring process.
Freelance business professionals are providing niche skills at a low risk and low cost.
Investment/private equity firms are increasingly relying on freelance industry sector experts to assess investment decisions and freelance strategy consultants to create ‘valued-add’ teams on-demand.
Top-end companies who are sophisticated consumers of business consulting services want continued strategic support without having to pay exorbitant fees charged by consulting firms. Our model responds to this need/problem by giving companies access to top-tier business professionals at a fraction of the cost.
EM: Have you noticed a pattern in the kinds of companies looking for freelancers on LinkdPro?
SM: Our model is high in demand from FCMG companies, financial services companies, start-ups, private equity firms and mining companies.
EM: What are your future plans for the platform?
SM: We want to create a global Talent Cloud – i.e. a global professional services firm of the future which is going to use cloud labour for the delivery of professional services.