This Woman is Helping Seasoned Workers Ditch the W2 — or Keep It

Published on November 25, 2019

If you’re like 1 in 6 workers, you’re interested in transitioning into the gig economy. But what if you want the benefits of freelancing without the sky high insurance premiums, back office administration, and other drawbacks of self-employment? For marketers and project managers who want work style flexibility without sacrificing corporate benefits – meet Simplicity Consulting, founded by former Microsoft sales director Lisa Hufford.  

Hufford shares with Grit Daily her journey growing Simplicity into a 200-person company that matches freelancers with plum projects at top tech firms and how seasoned freelancers offer a competitive edge for hiring managers looking to adapt to changing conditions. 

Grit Daily: How did you come up with the idea for Simplicity? 

Lisa Hufford: In 2006, I was scrambling to catch a plane home to my two young kids after a particularly packed day of client meetings. I found myself hurrying through the airport with my briefcase … and my breast pump. That wasn’t the first time I thought about how I wanted to balance my career with the needs of my growing family.

And it wasn’t the first time I thought about doing something different, but way back in 2006 that meant picking between black-and-white options: quitting the workforce to be a stay-at-home mom or continuing to climb the ladder with nannies raising my kids. I didn’t like either option. The memory of that very long day persisted and pushed me to create a new option that spoke to me.

GD: So, what was the new option you created?

LH: I went to what I love. I love building, creating things, and helping people grow. I also loved working with my Microsoft colleagues and broader network. So, when I leaped into consulting, I brought my outside perspective to working with the people I knew. 

GD: What were the early days like? 

LH: I started taking on projects to build new revenue streams and enjoyed seeing an impact. Then 2008 hit, and the recession caused waves of layoffs. By then, I had developed a reputation as someone who had successfully transitioned out of corporate life, so people who found themselves in transition began to seek me out for coffee dates. We would work together on packaging up their skills to put their best foot forward as a consultant, from resume to interview and helping them add value to their own network. As these professionals landed projects my company began to grow and I found a new calling to support these professionals instead of taking on my own projects.

GD: You pivoted your business model again in 2011. Why did you expand to placing consultants? 

LH: Helping people focus on the work they love and making it happen for themselves is a rejuvenating experience. I still do this today even though my usual day-to-day now is running all aspects of the company as the CEO. In 2011, great companies I’d previously worked with  – including Amazon, Microsoft, and Tableau – began asking if I knew qualified candidates from my network and I had met so many great people it seemed natural to evolve to professional matchmaking.

By then, I had worked with hundreds of people. I realized I could build a unique consulting company that would fill consultants’ needs for a flexible career option and at the same time, fill the growing need for project-based work created by companies need to get work done. Companies’ tighter budgets normalized the idea of working with on-demand talent.   

GD: How has Simplicity grown?

LH: It’s been over 13 years since that frantic day at the airport. The staff of 16 and our all-female leadership team support nearly 200 active consultants, more than 70% of whom are women with marketing and project management backgrounds in search of the same work flexibility I sought.  

Over that time, what’s stayed constant is my love for helping people package up their skills and my desire to keep building. I built my solo-preneur business and evolved it into one of the largest private women owned businesses in Washington state. I’m focused on building a culture that lives the transparent, supportive values that made Simplicity successful from Day 1. I connect people with each other and let them do the work they love. My staff takes care of the compliance requirements that large companies require for their freelancers and the back office paperwork, insurance, and matching 401k benefits that they want.

GD: What is your take on the state of the gig economy and its future? 

LH: Digital transformation is accelerating a perfect storm. Disruptive tech is enabling businesses to move at break-neck speed. At the same time, today’s workforce demands purpose and flexibility. This rapid speed of business demands a new level of corporate agility  – and a new way of thinking about talent.

Traditional hiring is broken. There’s a fundamental disconnect between what corporations are asking for and what talent is demanding. To succeed in this new world of work, companies must shift their mindset to include the total talent landscape. Modern hiring managers must source talent from a broader talent pool – for both short and long-term work – to meet their goals.

The ability to navigate the new world of work will be the primary competitive advantage – for employers and talent alike. 

Lise Feng is a Spotlight Columnist at Grit Daily. She is a millennial entrepreneur and brand strategist based in Silicon Valley. She has led Communications programs that contributed to six acquisitions totaling nearly $9 billion. She won the first-ever award for Communications Professional of the Year at RSA Conference 2015. She covers the startup ecosystem.

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