The professional world works a little differently now that we’ve entered the era of the gig economy. Thanks to the onset of digital communications and new technologies, freelancing is not only more attractive, it’s more viable—and as a result more full-time employees are turning to freelancing as their main source of income.
The flip side of this is that companies now have the opportunity to hire more independent contractors, and hire better people for the jobs they offer. However, hiring and managing independent contractors requires a handful of special considerations (especially if you’re a startup on a budget), which you should adopt in your business:
- Find the right people. When you first start browsing for independent contractors to handle various tasks and projects for your business, you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store. There are dozens of dedicated freelancing platforms these days, each of which can connect you to untold thousands of potential hires. Seeing this, you’ll be tempted to jump on the first contractors you come across who seem to fit the bill for your gig. Instead, I encourage you to wait. It’s far better to take your time and find a perfect fit than to jump in with a decent one. You have plenty of options, so wait for the one with the right skillset, price, and attitude for your brand, especially if this is a long-term contract.
- Set expectations early. Missed or unmet expectations are the primary cause of relationship decay in any situation; if your freelancer fails to meet your expectations or you fail to meet theirs, not only will the partnership break, you’ll probably end up with an inferior finished product or an unfinished project. What’s the best way to avoid this unpleasant scenario? Set expectations early on. Let your freelancers know exactly what you expect from them in terms of communication, work, and performance; in turn, find out what they expect from you. Be proactive and clear about this to avoid problems in the future.
- Compromise on communication. There are dozens of types of communication available; there’s no reason why you can only use one of them, and no reason why you shouldn’t be able to find a good communication workflow between you and your contractors. Negotiate to figure out what modes of communication will work best for you; for example, your contractor may prefer email, while you prefer phone call meetings. You can compromise by opting for email correspondence regularly, with weekly phone calls to touch base. The more diversified your communication strategy is, the better—but the main idea is to come up with a plan that’s mutually agreeable.
- Have designated points of contact. It’s a good idea to keep your contractors working with the same people consistently. That way, you can build a better rapport with them and establish clearer, more effective lines of communication. For example, you might have a project lead or an account manager take charge of contractor management, or you might step into that role yourself. It doesn’t much matter, so long as it’s consistent.
- Give and receive feedback. Your exchanges with your independent contractors won’t be perfect at first—it might not even be good, but it can be improved, no matter what. The best way to improve it over time is through the exchange of feedback. Let your contractors know what they’re doing well and what needs improvement, and open yourself up to feedback from them as well. Together, you’ll work to communicate more efficiently, set better expectations, and ultimately get more work done (and stay happier doing it).
- Build redundancy plans. Even if you and your contractors have great professional relationships, they still aren’t under any obligation to keep working for you for any definite period of time. All it might take is one good offer to whisk them away—and even before that, they may not be available for certain types of projects. There’s no way to avoid this, but you can prepare for it. Build in some redundancy plans to protect yourself against this eventuality; for example, you can have primary and secondary contractors for different lines of contribution, or you can have a “backup” network of contacts to rely on in an emergency.
- Establish trust. Some independent contractors you hire will come and go, but the best ones you’re likely to find will want to stick around—and more importantly, you’ll want them to stick around. Like with regular employees, you’ll need to work on your employee retention strategy here, but the most important factor in getting a contractor to stick around is a mutually established trust. Learn what you can trust them with, and come to rely on that trust; they’ll likely reciprocate by preserving and justifying that trust however they can. On the reverse side, you can build their trust by always keeping your promises, paying them on time, and establishing routines and patterns.
Independent contractors are plentiful these days, and while they have a ton of advantages, they aren’t a perfect workforce solution. Like anything else in the professional world, they aren’t good or bad; instead, they have tremendous potential if, and only if, you know how to utilize them properly. Treat your independent contractors as you would any other worker, with these additional considerations in mind, and you’ll have no problem keeping your workforce productive, focused, and best of all—happy.