Our digital world has led to a digital gig economy, with an ever-growing number of workers employed part-time, in temporary work, or as full-time contractors or consultants. Fewer and fewer people are employed in a traditional manner, where they work in a defined role for a salary from a single company for 40 hours a week throughout the year, earning benefits like health insurance and paid time off. Part of this move toward less traditional employment is due to the economic downturn of 2008-2009, where many employers found themselves unable to maintain traditional salaries or benefits for workers. But in the decade since, the gig economy has also opened up opportunities for entrepreneurs to build careers that better suit their interests and preferences.
As a digital marketing agency, LuckyTamm Digital Marketing works with contractors, consultants, and other B2B partner agencies often to help augment our existing capabilities. Depending on the client project, we’ll often reach out to any number of professional photographers, graphic designers, writers, or subject matter experts to help us perfect our service offerings. These relationships help us achieve a level of quality for our clients while remaining flexible and nimble.
In our years working with independent contractors, consultants, and B2B partner agencies (and in some cases, working as independent contractors ourselves), we’ve heard any number of horror stories about bad clients and processes. We’ve come up with a few ways to build good relationships with these folks and keep them happy so they’ll continue to provide the best possible work for us when we need it. If you’re interested in working with independent contractors to expand your business’s offerings or capabilities, we highly recommend following these guidelines.
Start with a Solid Contract
Contracts are a basis for any working relationship, and explain clearly what the relationship entails, including expectations and boundaries for both sides. A good contract will keep both your business and the contractor safe from issues going forward, and can help keep everyone on the same page. The contract should include:
- Any time expectations or limits for the contractor (e.g. “2 hours per day” or “no more than 30 hours per week”)
- Pay rates (per project, per hour, per milestone, etc)
- Invoicing standards, including when and how the contractor should submit
- Project parameters (especially number of revisions, deliverables, and deadlines)
- Start and end-dates
Many independent contractors, consultants, and B2B partner agencies will have their own standard contracts, but if you work with several contractors, it’s a good idea to have your own.
Communication is Key
This is true of any relationship, from personal to business: keeping clear, regular lines of communication open and functional is a key to success. Give your contractor a way to communicate with you directly and make sure you respond. Email is probably the most common method for keeping in touch, but it’s easy to lose track of important communications if you face an onslaught of email in your daily jobs. Other tools for clear communication include:
- Project management services like Basecamp, Trello, or Jira
- Instant messaging tools like Google Hangouts, HipChat, or Slack
- Social media groups on Facebook or LinkedIn
- Internal communities
Give the contractor access to the tools they’ll need to keep in touch with you or other project stakeholders and ensure they understand how to use those tools.
Make sure they also understand who to contact for each of the following issues:
- Admin questions (invoicing, payment, digital tools)
- Project questions (deadlines, revisions)
- Resources (brand guidelines, samples)
If possible, you can schedule a weekly check-in to let the contractor know they have a set time to ask questions. (Just remember that they can bill you for that time.) Keeping in contact with your contractor will make the project run much more smoothly and ensure quality output.
Know Your Limits
Many companies employ outside contractors because they are overwhelmed with work internally but can’t afford to hire a full-time employee to take over the tasks at hand. If this is you, make sure you know just how much you and your team are going to be able to provide the contractor.
Also, there are legal limits to a relationship between a business and an independent contractor. These vary by state, but for the most part, you should know that a contractor:
- Can only work a set number of hours (e.g. under 30 per week)
- Cannot be required to work from a set location (e.g. your office)
- Must submit a W-9 form to you before they start work
- Will need a 1099 form from you if they earn more than $600 in a year
- Should use their own tools and resources to complete a job
- Set their own prices for the work
- Do not receive reimbursement for mileage or other expenses while on the job
- May not be subject to the same non-disclosure agreements or other obligations as regular employees
You may want to check with a local employment lawyer or workforce solutions center to ensure you know what your contractor can and can’t do for you.
Another aspect of limits is your budget. Knowing how much you are willing or able to spend on a project will help guide negotiations far better than just asking a contractor how much they think the project will cost. If you know you can only afford $1,000 for a graphic design element, the graphic designer can tell you how much you can expect from them for that amount of money. Some contractors are also willing to negotiate their rateif there are other reasons they’d like to work with you, such as a longstanding previous relationship or because they like your mission and values.
Respect Their Time
Recognize that many independent contractors, consultants, and B2B partner agencies may have several other gigs and may not be able to devote all their attention to you. Remember that they can bill you for whatever of their time you take, so it benefits your bottom line to limit unnecessary meetings or revisions. Also, budget your time and responses to them accordingly. They deserve a reasonable amount of time to finish the project for you on their timeline. They will probably have scheduled you into a complicated workflow, and introducing unexpected delays or emergencies can create chaos in their schedule and impact your budget.
This is a no-brainer, but we have encountered so many contractors who have horror stories of having to chase down payment for work they’ve done. Always pay your contractors on time or ahead of schedule! Treat your people right. You should have agreed upon pay rates and due dates in your contract that you established before the work was done. Remember that contractors don’t live in a vacuum, and are just as likely to be your customers as they are your employees. They can tarnish your reputation with a bad review, and not just among other contracting professionals.
Following these tips will generally ensure you have a good relationship with contractors, consultants, and B2B partner agencies who will be willing to help you provide a higher quality of work to better serve your clients.