When the highly visible founder of an organization selling professional development to schools retired sooner than expected, the CEO knew it was time to reposition the company. A competent in-house team managed all aspects of their teacher-training offerings. But this group did not have the experience or the time to collect and analyze the market data needed to reshape the business plan. As a result, the CEO turned to an independent contractor to design and deliver a market-research study that will inform the business strategies of the organization for years to come.
Managers of organizations that sell to schools determine their human resource requirements, taking into account the operational needs of their business. The right size, however, is sometimes at odds with the K-12 market sales cycle, opportunities, and expectations. When that happens, organizations discover that independent contractors can quickly get up to speed and provide a timely, cost-effective way to magnify your company's productivity.
Independent contractors are market-savvy experts who can complement in-house talent with strategic thinking and deep tactical expertise. Using their time-delimited services can help companies take advantage of market opportunities by providing business-plan development, product development, design, advertising, marketing, sales, research, organizational development, and many other services.
During decades of working with schools and selling to schools, I’ve hired contractors and I’ve been hired many times as a contractor. The decision to hire an independent contractor for either a short project or for a long-term assignment is as important as hiring any other key employee.
Structure helps define the relationship, opens lines of communication, and keeps projects on time and on task. Here are some structural elements to consider:
Develop and review together a clear project action plan that includes realistic timelines and milestones with mid-course sign-offs.
Build in regular communications. This avoids having either party saying, “I thought you meant …”
Meet deadlines and make decisions in a timely fashion. Missing deadlines or delaying critical go-forward decisions can be costly. They stall the process, cause higher costs, and create lost opportunities.
Identify responsibilities, in particular, shared responsibilities, which is often where projects are bogged down.
Set clear project parameters, including how the project will end (written report? presentation? run for the exit?).
Stay focused on the project’s goals, especially in fixed-fee contracts, which might result in false expectations or cost overruns. Projects that grow in scope or start to take on a new shape need a new plan.
On one project, I had the chance to tour a nuclear submarine while it was being built. On another, I worked on the layout, printing, and delivery of a metropolitan newspaper. These experiences created indelible clarity about the fundamental operations of the organization while showing how my work could make an impact.
Often when I take on a contract that requires me to spend significant time at a client’s site, I am asked to "sit in" on meetings. I always ask whether they want me to listen (to get oriented to the organization) or actively participate. It matters.
Depending on the arrangement, "situated" might mean having temporary access to the organization’s network, entry into the office, a workspace, or special equipment.
While contractors are often brought on board by C-level executives, it’s often a person on staff who supervises the contractor’s project. The sooner this person is identified, the more efficiently the project will run.
Identify who can help clear the way to schedule meetings, book conference rooms, provide technical support, and so forth.
There are always questions when a new person is brought into an organization. Let employees know what the contractor is there to do, how to interact with him or her, and when they’ll be available. This is particularly important when a contractor works primarily off-site.
Many organizations do not have systems in place to accommodate paying a contractor. And if there are unique invoicing requirements, help the vendor get through the system, especially the first time. Like many contractors, I often have to wait an extra cycle or two before being paid the first time.
If you’ve hired someone to solve a problem for you, it’s important to let him or her do his or her work.
Independent contractors can extend the capabilities of your organization. And most independents love what they’re doing, which is why they’ve chosen to specialize. Building effective business relationships, grounded in transparent communications, is the key to long-term success