IT Employment

Hiring independent contractors to help with small projects is a win-win

Now is the perfect time to hire an independent IT contractor to work on small projects that are on the back burner. These projects can lead to small wins that make users happy and provide the contractor with some much-needed income.

Now is the perfect time to hire an independent IT contractor to work on small projects that are on the back burner. These projects can lead to small wins that make users happy and provide the contractor with some much-needed income.

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Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in testimony before the Congressional Joint Economic Committee on Tuesday noted that there are signs of recovery in the U.S. economy but that unemployment will lag any recovery. Bernanke says that this lag will be because businesses will want to wait and see what happens before they commit to a permanent hire.

In light of this, there are opportunities for IT leaders and our fellow IT workers who are still looking for work. You know all those little projects that have been on the periphery for the last couple of years, but larger projects keep pushing to the back burner? Well, bring them out and dust them off.

There is a lot of IT talent out there willing to do short-term project work at reasonable rates. The price is right when you do not have to go through an agency or consulting company and go directly to independent contractors; the rates can be nearly half of what you would normally pay. The difference is, the IT contractor gets all of it. Also, getting independent contractors is a lot easier today. The challenges of going with independent contractors are the liability issues and guarantees regarding the quality of work. However, with the current employment market, getting independent contractors with referrals from people you know and trust occurs a lot more frequently.

What kind of projects are we talking about?

We recently had contractors work on a couple of small projects that took far less money and time than we originally thought and are making our internal customers very happy. We managed to get a mini contact management database (sort of a bridge to a larger CRM system) with 16 hours of developer time and six hours of systems administration time all deployed on existing infrastructure. The quality of the resource did not require us to provide a lot of oversight or additional management time to make sure the project was successful.

Once we started down this path, we found a bunch of small projects that would cost $1,000 to $5,000 each that the IT department didn't (and still doesn't) have enough time to focus on. What's more, we found a lot of resources available to do the work. Within weeks, you can get a bunch of small wins that make your users very happy and provide an independent contractor with some much-needed income. In this economy, there really aren't that many win-win situations -- take advantage of the ones you can.

Here are examples of projects that are perfect for contract labor:

  • Backup error messages: Come on, admit it... your backup error messages could use some cleaning up. Once we put in a backup system and set up all of these alerts for failures and successes, it becomes noise that tends to get ignored as time goes by. Do a three-day contract with a good systems administrator to clean up the alerts and make them relevant. Maybe even tie them into your help desk.
  • Small data applications: We all have a ton of these. HR may have a recruiting database that needs to be automated or an Excel spreadsheet in finance that needs to be automatically generated instead of having to manually enter data. Marketing probably has a ton of small data-based projects as well.
  • Microsoft SharePoint: For those of us with a SharePoint deployment, an independent developer can light up different applications or enhance existing ones to aid with company collaboration and communication.

I am not advocating busy work but rather several small projects that make your life easier, your customers happier, and your company more efficient. Note: Many projects that appear to be busy work are only busy work when you have to pay $175 per hour to have it done. With independent rates from $50 to $90 per hour, you actually may have a compelling business case for some of these projects. Not only that, but you have a resource pool wiling to do one day or one week projects. Most consulting companies would rather have longer-term engagements to support their overhead.

A side benefit to all of this is that you get the opportunity to try before you buy. When the labor market starts to turn around, you already have a relationship with a high-quality resource that has demonstrated value within your company. It's a perfect try before you buy scenario.

So look around in your IT lockers and dust off those small projects. Everyone -- from your customers to your company to the laid-off IT workers to Ben Bernanke -- will be grateful.

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7 comments
The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Let me see... Cash is at an all time low so how do we pay for this exactly? but you say.... ...good to provide the contractor with some much-needed income? Yeah, good for them perhaps. Sorry?

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

I loved contracting to small firms for small projects. More clarity, more impact, better environment, better pay. That was my sweet spot.

robin.juliano
robin.juliano

What are the risk associated with going directly to an independent contractor? With a Vendor contractor our risk is minimized if contractor creates theft, etc. With independent contractor we also pick up the administrative expense for producing paychecks, training under HIPAA, etc. The Vendors have these responsibilities.

cooperl
cooperl

Few consulting companies that would charge $175 keep their "employees" if there is more that a few weeks of downtime - regardless of how much they make per headcount. The majority of so-called recruting firms are nothing more than pass-throughs who do nothing more that cut cheques for mostly exhorbitant per centages. And again their is little loyalty. At the end of the day, regardless of where the resource comes from, it is the resource and not the company from whence they came that determines ability to the do the work at hand.

michael.d.whittle
michael.d.whittle

It's a great idea. Companies might look beyond the "recruting/consulting" firms. A lot of talent could be overlooked because of not being able to see all the available talent, only what the firms want to present to them to fill the position. Avoiding this and searching at places like Sologig.com, they could aquire the talent they need, for far less than the $175.00 per hour fee. Just think of saving $100.00+ per hour on your project just by doing a little leg work. A 12 month project, and you save the company $48,000.00 or more per independent? So, hiring an independent in this economy? Who can argue with the numbers.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Great post. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Every manager should have a stable of independent consultants/contractors that they can call in at need. The truth is very few contractors (companies) are really contractors ... they're recruiters masquerading as a contractor. Are there exceptions ? ... yup ... and you should be able to tell who they are fairly easily because they stand out. They have real employees who stay for long periods including downtime just as a start. Are they worth $175/hr? ... yup. And that's for a basic 75,000/yr (=$75/hr) person (whatever that equates to in your area or need). But a lot of the companies are really just recruiters ... you need somebody, they find you somebody, permanent, short term whatever you'd like. Didn't work out? Under six months, they'll find you someone else. Over? You're on your own. And quite frankly they aren't worth $175 hr.. Would you pay them $75,000 to find you a $75,000/yr ($75/hr) person? Didn't think so. The truth is much of the time, you don't need a $175/hr company to provide the service. Sometimes you do. When you do, hire a real consulting company. But the only time you really need to hire a recruiter is when you can't find someone yourself. And using this economy as a time to hook up with independents is a great way to build your own stable of troubleshooters. Glen Ford, PMP http://www.trainingnow.ca

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

First off, you need to separate (vendor) contractors into two groups ... true contractors and temp agencies. You'll find most of your vendors are actually the second group. True contractors have employees and they do their best to avoid losing those employees. No different from your own company. They also accept a portion of risk. Temp agencies are simply a third party recruiting agency which may or may not provide extra services. Do true contractors reduce the risks you mentioned? Yes, no argument. But if you are dealing with a set of independent contractors you've already reduced the risks to below that of hiring employees. Do temp agencies reduce the risks you mentioned? No. How can they? They just go out and find someone for you and then bill you a large markup. Both of you are dealing with the same (sub)contractors. Therefore there are the same risks. As for expenses ... training and similar costs break into three types, government or legal mandated, project related and personal development. Government or legal mandated are your responsibility in any case. Why? Because they exist to protect your company from lawsuit -- not the vendor. Project related -- yours again. Why, because it is project related and has no value to the contractor/sub-contractor after the project ends. So the cost will be passed along (either visibly or otherwise). Personal development is typically the responsibility of the sub-contractor (not the (vendor) contractor). The second set of costs you mentioned are administrative. Independent contractors generally (not exclusively) get paid as a vendor. So there is no extra cost from the client's viewpoint for single contracts. While some vendors will consolidate contractors generally it's done on a contract by contract basis. Since the discussion is for small contracts there isn't any consolidation possible. Contract employees (i.e. W2 contractors), do entail slightly more administrative effort but don't mistake the amount. The difference is minimal. The only difference is which department (payroll or purchasing) is doing the administration. Sorry, these are the arguments that temp agency salesmen use all the time. They simply don't hold water.