You probably chose to become an independent contractor because you prefer working on your own and being able to complete your projects your own way. But when you need some help, it's better to find a subcontractor than to let a project fail because of a lack of resources.
Bringing in a subcontractor can be complicated, especially if you don't have any prior experience hiring and supervising people. A subcontractor's actions and performance will reflect directly on your company name and reputation, so you need to screen carefully. As with any business relationship, you need to have a contract that spells out expectations and contingencies. You also need to make sure that your client is comfortable having that person on the project.
In this first installment of a three-part series, I'll help make your job easier by discussing when you need a subcontractor, how to ease that person into the client relationship, and three ways to find a subcontractor.Note: This article originally published on TechRepublic on June 14, 2001.
Determining if you need a subcontractor and when
Consider bringing in a subcontractor under either of the following circumstances:
- You have more work than you can accomplish in the time available to complete the project.
- You lack a required skill for a portion of the project. (But don't expect a subcontractor to compensate for glaring incompetence on your part. You should always possess the core skills required for the project.)
Timing is also important. Whenever possible, it's better to find your subcontractor before you start a project. Doing so gives you adequate time to evaluate skills and qualifications, and it allows you to introduce him or her to the client.
Bringing a subcontractor into your client relationship
Unfortunately, you may not realize that you need a subcontractor until you're already in over your head. In that case, you'll need to bring the subcontractor into your client relationship as subtly as possible. You don't want the client to think that you've pulled a bait-and-switch-misleading the client as to who would be the real worker bee. So be upfront that someone else will be helping you out and then continue to keep a high profile with the client. If it's feasible, you may want to have the subcontractor do as much work as possible off-site.
Regardless of whether you think you will need a subcontractor, always write up your contract with the client in a way that allows you to use the services of a subcontractor if necessary. The client may want to have some input into your choice, but make sure that you reserve the final right to approve anyone who will be working for you.
For example, all my contracts include an assignment clause. It stipulates that I have the right to hire assistants as subcontractors or to use employees to provide the services set forth in the contract. But it gives clients veto power over the process by also noting that I will not delegate any duties without the client's prior written approval.
Usually, the best way to find a subcontractor is the same way you find clients-through your network. But depending on the type of work you need done and how quickly you need it, you might have to employ other methods.
Using your network
Getting a recommendation from someone you trust is often your safest bet. Here are a few ways to get the word out in your network that you need some help:
- Make an announcement at the next meeting of your professional organization, or place an ad or notice in its bulletin or newsletter.
- Talk to people you've worked with before, perhaps before you were on your own. Depending on the nature of the project, you may find someone who wants to take on some extra work or can recommend someone who does.
- Your current client, or even former clients, may be able to recommend contractors who've worked well for them in the past.
It's always best to try to find a subcontractor you already have an existing relationship with-you know more about what to expect from that person and how to deal with him or her. But if you can't turn up a qualified person, you can turn to the online job boards.
Utilizing the online job boards
Finding a subcontractor through online job boards can be either very productive or very risky. For certain types of work, a keyword search of major sites will quickly turn up someone who seems qualified; for example, it's easy enough to find a coding whiz on the Internet. You can also place an ad at job boards, often for free.
However, you can get burned by searching this way because it can be difficult to assess someone's skills over the Internet, especially if you've never hired anyone before. Use the following tips to evaluate a potential subcontractor:
- Ask for work samples that are similar to the work you need done.
- Check all references with an emphasis on how well the person can meet deadlines and work with minimal supervision.
- Conduct a thorough interview. Present a problem you've already worked through on this project and ask for the candidate's solution for it. If the subcontractor will be working at your client's offices, you should interview in person if at all possible.
You're probably familiar with the major job boards for IT — Monster.com, Dice.com, and so on —but don't stop there. Use search engines to look for professional organizations, Web sites, or job boards that target the specific skill you're seeking.
Contacting an agency
You can contact a temporary agency or consulting firm, although this would usually be a last resort in an urgent situation. The agency's rate may be higher than what you yourself are making on the project, and you may find the hassle of working through an agency to be too much.
On the other hand, the agency will take care of the paperwork for you, freeing you from such tasks as preparing a 1099 tax form next year. In addition, you may find that it's better to pay someone for certain tasks than to do them yourself. For example, using a skilled data entry clerk can end up saving you money in the long run if it frees you up to be more productive in other areas.
An alternative to traditional methods of finding contract help is to offer to mentor someone with an interest in your field. Of course, this would only work in a situation where deadlines aren't tight, the work isn't too complex, and you can take over if necessary, but you may end up getting some help at a reduced rate. Again, word of mouth and your network are the best way to find folks who would be amenable to this arrangement.