Microsoft Business Applications – Freelancers vs. Partners


Sometimes people ask me where I come up with post ideas, here’s one way. I saw a LinkedIn post today from a recruiter, suggesting the use of “freelancers” for Dynamics 365, and presumably other Microsoft Business Applications. While freelancers may have a place in the process, there are some very good reasons, that you should seriously consider an actual Microsoft Business Applications Partner instead.

Freelancers

I don’t have anything against someone looking to make a buck. We’re all in business to do that. But, whether a freelancer is a true “hired gun”, or someone who is simply moonlighting on the side, they are, by their nature, an individual person. There is no requirement to pass any certification, or get any license, to post out there that you are available as a freelancer. There is no government, or other body, ensuring that you have any idea of what you are doing. It is a classic “Buyer Beware” situation.

As a partner, we engage freelancers from time to time, and we have found it to be a mixed bag. If a partner, who knows exactly what a true skill-set looks like, can end up with mixed results, end customers must rely on pure luck. Last year we engaged a freelancer for something outside of our wheelhouse. We reviewed his list of great customer recommendations, since that is really all we had to analyze, and moved forward with this project. Fortunately, this was an internal project, as the freelancer did a shit job across the board. I gave him an unsatisfactory review on the site where we found him, wondering how he had so many good ones. Immediately he called me, begging me to remove the negative review, even promising to work for free for as long as I needed, and even offered to refund what we had paid, to get me to change the review. Of course he sucked, so more sucky work for free did not persuade me to change the review, but I guess this must have worked with all of his other customers in the past.

Why Freelancers?

We, like most customers, will sometimes have a need for skills that we do not possess. Freelancers are one path, if you are lucky, to obtain those skills. The customers in the past that I have seen turn to freelancers for Microsoft Business Applications, are the same ones that try to avoid engaging partners at all. In most of these cases, I am fairly sure that the customer does not even understand what a Microsoft Partner does, and simply thinks they are some kind of middle-man. These are the same customers who buy their licenses directly, with no understanding of what licenses they actually need, and always end paying way too much for them. They also have no grasp of how all of the Microsoft Cloud pieces fit together, and hire some freelancer who only understands a narrow slice, and then wonder why the end up with a mess.

Bail outs

I, and many of my partner peers, have been asked to bail out many failed self-deployments, often where freelancers were used to plug gaps. In almost every case, the first thing that we discover is the customer is on the wrong licensing matrix. They are either paying way more than they need to be, or they are using licenses in the wrong way, and are significantly out of compliance with license terms (Team Member anyone). Turning to the actual work that was done, even if the freelancer was good at one thing, they seldom took advantage of everything else the customer had in place. Often, their methods were simply out-of-date, since they are not up-to-speed on everything that Partners are made aware of.  In many cases, they built a house of cards, that ended up costing twice as much to dismantle, as it would have to do it right in the first place. When the customer found themselves in a mess, the freelancer had no channel for advanced Microsoft support, nor did the customer, and they found themselves on the other end of the line with a person, with an incomprehensible accent, asking them if their machine was turned on. I have difficult time feeling sympathetic to this customer, and really lose my shit if they start saying the product is bad.

Why Partner?

To be fair, not every Microsoft Partner is stellar either. In the Microsoft Business Applications space, we have our share of unqualified partners, who instead of referring a customer to a qualified partner, will attempt to learn on the customer’s nickel. Fortunately, they are easy to spot thanks to Microsoft. Microsoft has long used a system of “Competencies”, a certification from Microsoft that a partner knows what they are doing. Obtaining a competency requires having people in your partner organization pass multiple proctored certification exams, as well as having a significant number of successful deployments. By the way, there is no such thing as a Freelancer with a Competency, these are awarded to Partner organizations, not individuals.

You should also be aware that there are many Microsoft “competencies”, and just because you are talking to a partner who has their “Microsoft Gold Competency for Licensing” for example, does not mean they know anything more than you do, about Business Applications. Most of the partners I know, that have their Business Applications competency, really know the product well. In addition, as Business Applications are so central to what Microsoft is doing in the cloud, they also understand all of the surrounding parts, and how they work together. The Partner licensing guide for Business Applications is over 140 pages, that only a Business Applications partner could even understand. Most importantly, if something does go wrong, Business Applications partners have access to advanced Microsoft support resources to get things fixed quickly.

The Top Level

If you really want to insure success, there is one more step you can take beyond making sure the partner organization has their Business Applications Competency, and that is MVP status. The Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) designation is an individual award. It is given to individuals who are at the top of their game in whatever category they are awarded. One of those categories is “Business Applications MVP”. I am humbled to be a part of this exclusive group of the true “brain trust” for Microsoft Business Applications, along with 161 other exceptional individuals from around the globe. MVPs are the people who are really on the forefront, as Microsoft continuously consults directly with them on the products. In fact, for anything you might want to do with any Microsoft product, including Business Applications, you might want to save some steps, and just start your search here.

8 Comments

  1. Then there are MPN/MBS/CSP/ISV partners who are individuals and may consider ourselves freelancers in that we are self-employed and do contract work.

    We take all the training but don’t have the time or budget for 20+ expensive exams for competencies that change every year – not to mention the thousands in fees just to attain a silver or gold badge.

    The MSPartner program training and benefits are great but competencies are just a costly racket of ever-moving goal posts.

    Buyer beware, agreed, but there are likely many hundreds of ‘Freelance’ MSPartners that turn out more customer value than any employee at ‘Big Gold Partner Z’

    $0.05 – keep the change.

  2. Sam Malak

    Your comment and opinion of freelancers is not accurate. neither is your assessment that partners that hold certification are the go to organisations to implement business applications. As you have mentioned it is people that get the certifications not organisations. by virtue of working for a partner, the partner gets the silver or gold badge. I can send you a long list of partners in the UK that are silver and gold certified alongside their failed implementations and out of pocket customers that I, along with other freelancers helped make right at a fraction of the cost that they were paying the partner. you are also omitting to your readers that an important part of the Gold certification is based on licencing revenue.
    Freelancers also invest in Microsoft, learn, adapt and engage faster and better than partners since they don’t have the huge overhead that partners have. so in summary, horses for courses. there are cases where you want to engage with partners and cases where you need to engage with freelancers. sometimes, you need to do both to keep everything in check or so to get the best of both worlds.

  3. Jake

    Decent rundown. I have to disagree on the MVP thing. I’ve been working with Dynamics CRM for 12 or so years and have more successful implementation skins on my wall than I can count. A couple of them have been awarded as innovative at Convergence. I tried for MVP and was told, “You need to post a lot more on the community forums”.

    MVPs are great and very skilled, but the amount of community work you have to do is 20 hours a week at least. I’d rather concentrate on making happy clients.

    1. There are a few other social media comments on this post regarding MVPs also, similarly attempting to diminish their value. Obviously, engaging an MVP does not guarantee success. It is also a fair statement that what it takes to become an MVP, does not guarantee that an MVP is an “expert”. What is clear is that many people do not seem to know what role an MVP plays, once they become one, and instead assume it is simply a badge added to an email signature.

      As a small subset of the overall partner community, Microsoft can, and does, lean on MVPs heavily. What I have found, is that once you become an MVP, your level of understanding about the products skyrockets, partly due to being automatically added to all the NDA private previews for your category, and partly due to continuous direct access to the teams that build the products that we all work on. In addition, there are numerous calls setup up by product managers with small groups of MVPs, to get feedback very early in their processes. Much of what you see ultimately released, was significantly influenced by the MVP community.

      Is it an unfair advantage? Probably. Could a customer benefit from working with someone who helped craft, and is already up-to-speed on, new things the day the rest of the channel learns of their existence?

  4. In short, some customers can implement Dynamics 365 on their own. Some can’t. Good freelancers can help. Bad ones can’t. Sometimes a Microsoft partner with an appropriate competency (even though a competency is mostly an award for sales and passing a technical exam that a customer or freelancer can also pass) can help. But not all.

  5. James

    Nicely put. Also add the occasion when the client enguages you at a ‘partner rate’ which they think is exorbitant but then does like the hard truths you tell them. Instead they believe they can get what they want because a freelancer chasing a six month contract tells them I can build that for you. Can and should are two different things! They might build it but will they be there to maintain it at the end. IF yes they why are they not permanent because never ending contractors make no sense, if not whose going to pick it up. Buyer beware is week said.

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