Q. Secret to great contracting relationships? A. Two-way communication


2 min read
01 May
01May

Introduction

I am an ex employee-turned-business owner who now works with a range of businesses. Some work is on a contract basis with large agencies. I have taken on gigs that are hands-on & managerial, junior & senior, data & analytics focused. I have experience of both sides of the fence, I have hired contractors too. 

I was thinking of writing a "guide" but, who for? A core takeaway is that there is no secret formula. Contractors are individuals with different motivations and skillsets, Businesses who hire them have equally varied needs and constraints. The trick is for both sides to appreciate this and talk to one another throughout. 

Here are some of my own experiences and observations: 

1. Contractors are business owners.

At a purely commercial level, the contract model is often transactional, which may place parties at odds from the start. The hirer wants the most time for the lowest fee. A contractor opts for a gig nets them the most money for the least input. Of course, that is too simplistic - but it often plays a part in decisions on both sides. 

Contractors may be unwilling to work all hours if they are hired on a fixed day rate without option to bill overtime. If a workload demands 12 hours a day but the standard rate covers 8 hours, increase it by 50%. That may sound expensive, but contractors give time for money. A firm’s other welfare perks are irrelevant to them.   

I tend to find also that once I have worked with a client at a rate, there is an expectation that the rate applies for all future work, even if the work is different. When I was an employee, I expected to be paid more to manage than do. Even more still to lead or direct. As a contractor I also expect these differentials.

 

2. Money is not everything.

People get into freelancing for all sorts of reasons. More control over on what, when and where they work is a good summary that covers a whole range of life choices. Contractors who are ex-employees, especially, may have the skillset you need - but also have strong preferences about the types of work and roles that they take on.

I take roles as analyst or manager, but I am honest about my preference to work in the background on hands-on assignments with agencies. That is where I am happiest and so produce my best work. I find it awkward to be ‘there & gone’ in client facing roles, especially when I am introduced as a full team member.

I make commercial decisions about alternative opportunities, but I also have ‘red lines’ that are not related to money. A couple were crossed recently, and I decided to cut that contract short rather than continue to work in a way that was at complete odds with my personal and company values. Which I publish and talk about often.


3. The importance of Plan C

Hiring a contractor is maybe already a Plan B. It is well-documented that it is more economical, easier to manage and less risky to resource a project with permanent staff, especially a large one. But it is a good idea to have a contingency in case a contractor decides to leave before you expected them to. 

Notice periods are a good example, especially if the contractor is in a ‘key man’ sort of role. If you cannot deliver the end goods without them, agree a notice period that prevents them from leaving before the project is delivered - or at least one that allows you time to onboard a replacement. 

As a business owner, I am also always adjusting my Plan C. I regularly evaluate how my engagements are going. If there are issues, does/can anything change when I raise them? If not, can I afford commercially, to leave? Can I afford from a health and happiness perspective, to stay?     

Wrapping it up

All these complexities can be eased with clear, two-way communication from the start and throughout. Contractors and hirers are sometimes too quick to commit without asking enough probing questions. Each party may also get stuck into the day job and forget to keep that communication exchange going. 

I have read this back and realised that it may sound like I am a right princess who is not worth the hassle. Reserve that judgement until you hire me! For context, in the four years that I have been providing freelance services there is only one instance where issues were irreconcilable to the point that I terminated. That company were always too busy to really hear. 


Please ask before reproducing my material partially or wholly for commercial use.
© Jo Gordon Consulting Ltd 2021

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