In the marketing world, independent contractors are readily available for hire. Agencies and other businesses often find them to be more cost-effective, flexible, and useful. But, if you’re going to hire contractors and use them with any regularity, you’ll need a plan of action.

The Rise of the Modern Contract Worker

For years, society has undergone a significant transformation – particularly when it comes to careers, how people work, when they work, and how they view their work in the larger context of their lives. The rise of the contract worker, or freelancer, is the culmination of all of these factors.

According to a joint study conducted by NPR and Marist in 2018, 1 in 5 jobs in America is currently held by a contract worker. Within a decade, the anticipation is that this ratio could swell to 50 percent or more. And it doesn’t matter the industry. From marketing to manufacturing, employers and workers alike are extracting immense value and joy from contract work and the progression of technology will only make it more practical and mutually rewarding.

Perhaps the most telling piece of data is that, according to economists Alan Krueger and Lawrence Katz, 94 percent of net jobs created from 2005 to 2015 consisted of “alternative work arrangements,” such as freelancers, contractors, and temp workers. In other words, virtually all new jobs are going to contractors. If this trend persists, employees will soon be in the minority.

When to Hire a Contractor

On the business side of things, the question is, when do you hire a contractor? In other words, what set of factors justifies circumventing the traditional hiring process and partnering with a 1099 contractor?

There are dozens of unique factors in play for each business, but it usually comes down to a few simple questions. As you consider a specific marketing task, project, or need, ask yourself:

  • Does your staff lack the expertise to handle this task?
  • Does your staff already have too much work on their plates?
  • Is there a better way for your staff to use their time?
  • Are you missing out on opportunities by handling this task in-house?

If you answer “yes” to more than one of these questions, then it’s a sign that you need to hire a contractor.

Working with a contractor (versus a full-time salaried employee) offers several distinct benefits. Although you’ll typically pay more per job (or per hour), you’ll save money as a result of not having to pay benefits. There’s also no long-term commitment, which enables you to use your contractors during busy seasons and then not use them when things are slow. There’s greater flexibility, no wasted salary, and the ability to build specialized teams to handle very particular projects and challenges.

Tips for Managing Contractors

For marketing agencies, contractors can be hired to handle SEO, web design, graphic design, content writing, copyediting, and even administrative grunt work. In fact, you can run an entire agency with only a handful of core employees and dozens of contract workers.

If you plan to enter into relationships with freelancers, you’ll need an intentional approach to management. Here are some helpful suggestions:

Do Your Due Diligence

Just because you aren’t hiring a full-time employee, doesn’t mean you can afford to go with anyone with a solid portfolio. In addition to quality work, seek out freelancers who are reliable, honest, ambitious, and available. Do your due diligence, ask for references, and trust your gut.

Avoid Contractor Reclassification

According to Human Outsource, there’s a very fine line between an employee and a contractor (legally speaking). If you aren’t careful, you can hire a contractor, only to discover 12 months from now that the person views himself as an employee and wants to be treated as such. In the world of human resources, this is known as independent contractor misclassification – and it’s not a road you want to go down.

There’s a massive grey area that exists between employment and contract work. Your goal should be to avoid this murky area altogether and to stay on the contract side of things. Here’s how:

  • Never manage an independent contractor like an employee. In other words, don’t set their hours, require them to attend regular meetings, expect them to work overtime, etc. Be cognizant of the “independent” portion of their title and respect it.
  • Create a bulletproof contract that sets very clear expectations for contractors and be sure to review every single line item with each freelancer before they begin working with your agency.
  • Limit the amount of on-site involvement a contractor has with your business. It’s okay if they occasionally come into the office to deliver a project or perform a specific task that requires their presence, but this can’t become a regular thing. (Under no circumstances should they be issued a parking spot, key card, badge, or company equipment.)

It’s easy for a contractor to feel like part of the company – and in one sense they are – but you have to draw a line before the relationship moves into a grey area. The only way to fully protect your business is to make this a black and white issue.

Master Communication

Because contractors aren’t working onsite (or at least shouldn’t be), communication can become a huge sticking point. Make sure this isn’t the case by taking a purposeful approach to how you connect with your contractors and relay information.

The goal is to stay in touch with contractors so that you know what progress is being made, but not be too domineering. During a project, a daily check-in is advised. This could be a quick phone call or Skype chat. At the end of each day, it’s helpful to have your contractor deliver a daily email summary explaining what was done, where things are, and if the project is still on track to be finished according to the terms. (Better yet, use a project management app or platform to keep everyone on the same page.)

Never make yourself off-limits to a contractor. The more open you are to communication, the less risk there is of something being misinterpreted or overlooked.

Wow Your Contractors

Contract work can be difficult for freelancers – particularly in the crowded marketing space. Sure, projects and jobs are a dime a dozen, but so is unreliability. Talk to any contractor who has done work in this industry for longer than a few months, and they’ll be able to tell you about a time they were burned or mistreated. That’s just the cold, hard truth.

Flip your perspective around for a moment and think of your work arrangement from the contractor’s point of view. If a company does what they say they’re going to do, pays on time, makes it easy to get work done without unnecessary distractions, and provides a reliable stream of work, you’d want to keep working for this company – right?

By wowing your contractors – and this simply means doing what you say you’ll do – you’ll find that you’re able to attract the best designers, writers, editors, etc. Not only will your best contractors stick around, but they’ll tell their peers. You’ll have your pick of the best freelancers on the block. It’s a cycle that feeds itself!

Adding it All Up

Contract workers are the present and future of the global workforce. For marketing agencies, this notion has become abundantly clear over the past few years and will be further crystalized over the decade to come. By understanding when to hire contractors and how to manage them, you’ll see significant improvements in productivity and profitability (while simultaneously reducing risk).

Always be thinking about the future and how you can set your business up for long-term success. Modernization is an important component of organizational growth and sustainability. Stay abreast of the major shifts in management and adapt in a way that fits your brand’s underlying values and mission.