Hiring contract talent is something businesses do to absorb ebbs and flows in activity or to fill skill gaps that are essential but not required every day. For example, hiring a specialist programmer can bring the fresh ideas and alternative perspective you need to move your product from good to great.
Lots is written to help contractors find jobs but the other side of the coin, the business’ perspective, is explored less often; how can businesses get the most from their investment in contract talent?
Over the years I’ve identified 6 best practices that have helped me be successful working with contractors. They are tightly intertwined and they are all important.
1) Define the requirements.
Being talented doesn’t make a contractor a mind reader. Putting your request on paper has a number of benefits. By taking the time to write out the requirements, to write down exactly what you are trying to accomplish, you are much more likely to get a good product and avoid expensive rework.
For the contractor, a clear statement of work with understandable objectives, requirements and specific deliverables, helps them focus their time and resources on the task at hand.
A solid, thought through requirements doc is as close to a guarantee of success as you are likely to find.
2) Treat them with respect.
Contractors are professionals. They are also people running micro businesses with multiple priorities and limited resources. Respect them as the professionals and business people they are by taking the time to write out your requirements.
Did I mention how important the requirement doc is?
You hired contractors for their expertise, so respect what they have to say, and listen carefully to their advice and feedback throughout the process. Their ideas may take you to areas you hadn’t considered. This may make you uncomfortable, but consider their perspective carefully. It comes from experience and knowledge, gained from many assignments for many companies, experience that can shed new light on your business if you are prepared to hear what they have to say. You don’t have to agree but you aren’t maximizing your ROI if you don’t pay attention. And if you disagree, be respectful and tell them why.
3) Pay their price.
If you want the best work from a contractor, pay them what they ask; it’s what they’ve been getting and reflects their professional worth. Don’t try and hammer down the price. If you accept the price they charge, they will work hard for you and you will get a lot more than what you’re paying for. If their price is beyond your budget, that’s OK, just tell them and look for someone in your price range.
When the project is finished, if you think the price was too much for what was delivered, tell them why you didn’t see the value you expected. They’re professionals, you wont hurt their feelings. And if you were disappointed, they will want to know why so they can do a better job the next time.
If they exceeded your expectations, give them a bonus. It says a lot.
Most contractors are accustomed to net 30 days. Whatever you agree to, stick to it. Pay them on time. Don’t let an invoice go past due. Contractors are micro businesses and gaps in cash flow have a huge impact. If you are a reliable payer, the next time you have an emergency, they will be more inclined to step in to help out.
4) Be loyal.
When you find a contractor that you are happy with, keep sending them work. Loyalty is a two way street. Be loyal to them, and they will be loyal to you.
Situations will arise when you will be reaching into the proverbial hat for a rabbit. Your favorite contractor is more likely to bump a job to help you out if they know the favor will be returned.
This might appear counter intuitive, but tell your friends and colleagues about your favorite contractor. If they stay busy, they will still be contracting the next time you need them. And, by demonstrating your loyalty in this way, they will find the time to join you on your next rabbit hunt.
5) Trust them.
Things will go wrong. When an error or communication breakdown occurs, don’t freak out. People don’t come to work intending to do a bad job. I’m not suggesting you ignore the issue. Part of gaining mutual trust is honest feedback. Talk to them about what happened. Dig into the root cause. They’re professionals, they can handle it, and you will both benefit from understanding what went wrong.
Don’t, under any circumstances, make a contractor the whipping boy for problems. They need to know you have their back. This works both ways. When there is mutual trust, a contractor will alert you to issues they see, before they becomes issues that everyone sees.
6) Thank them.
This is the easiest thing on the list to do, and might well have the most impact. It’s also the best practice that’s most often overlooked. When they finish the job say “thank you.” Circle back to provide feedback on how the project went. Everyone wins from this simple, zero cost, low effort gesture.