Tech & Work

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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