Working Successfully with Contractors

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As our agency has grown over the years, we’ve often had more work than our small agency could manage. And as a small agency, there are several types of creative professionals we don’t have on our staff full-time at all, such as photographers, copywriters, and mobile application developers. There are several times a month we have to make a decision – turn down a potential project because of lack of resources, or take on the project and utilize contractors.

At first, the thought of “outsourcing” our work was scary. I remember asking Dave Hecker for advice several years ago, long before he penned Outsourcing Web Projects: 6 Steps to a Smarter Business. He had some great advice, and his ebook is still my defacto guide book for dealing with contractors and outsourcing.

Below are some tips and advice we’ve discovered over the years of dealing with all types of contractors.

Screen Candidates

When we look for a contractor or firm to outsource a project, or part of a project, we screen candidates thoroughly. If we’re hiring a photographer for a commercial photoshoot, we want to see other commercial photoshoots they have done and talk with one or two other clients they’ve worked with. If they are a PHP programmer, I want to review some of their code. Don’t just take their word for it, because contractors—and web professionals in general—often over-promise thinking they can “wing it.”

Communication is Key

I can’t stress this enough – over communicate with contractors and freelancers. It’s much better to give them too much information and touch base too often than to just assume they are on the same page. It takes time to write a project brief, specifications, and other documents, and it takes a lot of time to continuously touch base with contractors. But the alternative is getting a deliverable late, or getting a deliverable that doesn’t meet the requirements and has to be redone. It always takes less time to over-communicate than to under-communicate in the long run.

Set the Right Expectations

If you have a deadline that can not be missed, stress that going into the project. Be very clear about what deliverables are due by the deadline, and at what level (beta, or fully tested and ready to launch?). And, be clear about what the consequences will be for missing a deadline.

Remember to consider client changes going into the project. If there is even a possibility of client changes – even if the requirements are met – make sure the contractor is available to make the changes. It’s frustrating to get a deliverable from a contractor, send it to the client and get some small changes, only to realize the contractor is busy on another project and not responding.

Get it in Writing

This may sound like a broken record, but get everything in writing. Get a signed contract. We also ask freelancers to sign nondisclosure and noncompete agreements regarding the specific clients they are working with.

It’s good to have contractors and freelancers sign a contractor agreement that includes an NDA and noncompete clause, and then draw up a contract for each individual project. Reference any specifications or requirements documents in the contract.

Getting a signed contract isn’t just about protecting you in case you need to go to court. It’s also about clearly setting expectations with contractors or freelancers. By reading and signing their name on the dotted line, they are saying – in writing – that they understand the scope of the project, the deadlines, and the deliverables. Its a negotiating tool in case things don’t go according to plan.

What Have You Learned

Do you routinely outsource projects or work with contractors? What are some tips or advice you’ve learned? Let us know in the comments below.

Pen on the contract papers image via Shutterstock

Brandon EleyBrandon Eley
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Brandon Eley is the Interactive Director for Kelsey Advertising & Design and the co-author of Online Marketing Inside Out.

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