Contractors are at the heart of many small businesses, and anyone whose business relies on quality contract work knows how important it is to find reliable, skilled people, and more importantly, to keep them happy. At Founder Nonfiction, we specialize in nonfiction publishing for small business owners, so not only do we hear plenty of stories from small business owners about the necessity of finding outstanding contractors, but we also rely on contractors in our own business as well.
Contractors Versus Employees
Employees are wonderful to have, but they’re not the right answer for every business and for every work situation. There are plenty of reasons why certain types of businesses prefer to use independent contractors rather than hiring employees (and why some businesses do a combination of both).
For businesses that are seasonal or where the work comes in large bursts with long periods of downtime in between (like our boutique publishing house for small business owners, for example), contractors make much more sense. They work when there is work to be done, and they don’t when there isn’t. As a business owner, it makes sense to only have to pay people when they’re working.
Another reason contractors might be a better fit for a business is if the business is very small. Hiring employees means paying wages and benefits, not to mention withholding all of the various taxes. If the work your business does can be done with independent contractors, then it is financially smart to do it that way, especially at first.
Finding Great Contractors
In this day and age, so many more people have turned to becoming independent contractors than ever before. Internet- and app-based services are popping up in almost every industry possible, and people are putting their skills to use through these services sometimes as a means for extra side money, but sometimes even as their full-time job.
That’s great news if you’re looking for contractors! At Founder, we’ve found some incredible editors, graphic designers, and book layout specialists through sites like Upwork and Thumbtack, and we’ve also found some great contractors via social media connections.
And while there are so many resources available now to find people to do just about anything, word-of-mouth is still extremely effective. It’s convenient when your friends, family, and colleagues can recommend people they already know and trust who have the skills you’re looking for in a contractor—some of the guesswork and uncertainty is automatically removed.
Building Successful Contractor Relationships
It’s not enough to just find the right people to do contract work. You probably need them for some amount of time or for multiple projects, so you need to treat them in a way that makes them want to continue working for you.
Treat them like part of the team. First, contractors know they’re not employees (and that’s often a deliberate choice), so there is no need to remind them of this fact. Regardless of how many projects or how many hours they’re committed to with your business, they deserve the same level of communication and respect that any employee working at the business has. If you make a decision that directly involves the work they’re doing, they need to know right away.
Give clear direction. Contractors need to know the scope of the job and any specific expectations you have. Whenever Founder works with a new contractor, we check in a lot. We try not to do it in a micromanaging kind of way, but we step in to ask questions along the way to make sure we’re giving them enough direction to succeed. We trust that any contractor we hire knows their field, but we can’t possibly assume that they know what our Founder-specific expectations are.
Talk about money. Money is an uncomfortable topic for everyone, but remember that contractors are used to this conversation. They have to have it every time they work for anyone. Make sure they agree to the amount you’re going to pay before work begins, and make sure both parties understand that any changes need to be communicated immediately.
Pay on time. This seems like it should go without saying, but paying invoices on time sends such a strong message to contractors. It says “I value your time and your work” better than any words can. Contractors will continue to do good work time and time again when they are paid on time and according to the agreement—even if they don’t particularly care for the business owner! This is not to say you can treat your contractors poorly if you pay them well, but rather it’s an illustration of just how important this piece of the relationship is.
No matter how the work gets done—with employees, contractors, or a combination of both—you should always treat your people well. Satisfied workers do the best work, plain and simple. But because of the inherently less-committed nature of contract work, you have to put in a little extra work as a business owner to make sure your most valuable contractors know how important they are.