Contracting Demystified - Part 2: Myths and misconceptions

Contracting Demystified - Part 2: Myths and misconceptions

Posted on 19 August 2015 | Reading time: 5 minutes

In the first part of this 2-parts post I’ve briefly talked about the differences between several forms of employed work, including contracting and freelancing and what are the pros and cons of each.

In this post we can move on talking about a couple of myths and misconceptions I’ve bumped into over the years. This will really be just a list of stuff that make me mad every time I see. If you have any other to add to the list, I’d love to hear that in the comments section below or on Twitter.

Just wrong: my employees are incapable of doing X, I’ll hire an agency to do it

Let me explain this better. When companies need something, let’s say a video for a new product or a new ad to display in town, they’ll seek someone to do it. Especially when a company is small, like a startup can be in early stages, the first thing that comes to mind is hiring friends or acquaintances to do it. After that, come external agencies and freelancers. That’s absolutely right and it’s the only way to go some times.

What I’ve unfortunately seen people fail at is recognising that they might actually have the talent in house already.

One of the last clients I had, was a company that had a couple of designers in house. One of them made a company’s rebranding from scratch when he joined and was promoted ‘Head of Product Design’. Later on, the company changed direction and part of the management team and decided to go for another rebranding. The in-house designers were barely told anything and an agency was hired to do the job. My wife had a similar experience too.

Of course that’s not nice for employees and something like that may lead people to leave their job to seek a better environment. People want to feel valued, and if you as a manager fail to recognise the value of your employees and/or don’t ask for their advise before making such decisions, you’ll end up wasting money and find yourself with a high turnover.

Myth: Contractors and freelancers don’t care about their clients

While it may be true that the level of attachment of a contractor or freelancer for a company / product might be lower compared to one’s employees, I don’t agree with this idea at all. Sure some agencies, freelancers and contractors see their clients as just another cow to milk, but professionals don’t.

Professional contractors, freelancers and agencies see their clients as partners, rather then an email address to use for sending invoices. They want to provide the best service they can and help the client be successful. They want to put their expertise to work by advising the clients and share their knowledge with the client’s team if any.

Myth: Contractors and freelancers don’t work as hard as employees

Again, not everybody is the same, and there are people who are just lazy or simply don’t care. But professional contractors and freelancers base their reputation and therefore the ability to find new and better jobs on the work they do for you. Hence, they’ll probably work harder to keep their clients happy and make something they can proudly show to prospects.

Misconception: Contractors and freelancers need to follow the same rules as employees

Throughout my career I’ve seen companies working with contractors, freelancers or agencies and trying to treat them as employees. With one of my last client I was shocked by a request of the company’s CTO, who had just hired an agency to make an Android app while I was completing the iOS version. He wanted the agency to have the people in charge of the project to work in the company’s premises, and when they rightly refused, he asked me if I wanted to go to work in the agency’s premises to ‘check on them and help them with the knowledge I built whilst working on the iOS app.’ I don’t know about you but this sounds foolish to me. An agency will have several clients at a given time and even if they allocate a set of people for a project, they might need to change or have some of them work on more than one project at the same time, or even just participate in meetings or help others with matters that don’t concern a certain client.

That’s not all. I’ve seen people try to enforce work hours on agencies, freelancers and contractors. They would complain when this workers had to put the project on hold for a couple of days or take time off for holidays.

Trying to enforce work hours is similar to try to enforce the work-place for self-employed workers. It’s a common request for contractors, but it just isn’t right. Being self-employed or a whole other company, the worker is free to work when and where he/she likes. When doing otherwise, this workers are in fact doing a favour to the clients. Of course there are jobs for which you can’t do any other way - builders can’t build a client’s house where they like, for example.

Putting the project on hold, on the other hand, isn’t nice, especially if you’re an agency. As an agency you’re expected to have people that can replace others that are working on a client’s project at moments notice, or hire people if you need extra help. As a contractor or freelancer, doing so, or taking some time off that may delay the project with little or no notice is also seen alien when you’re committing to a project. In both case, however, that’s hardly something companies can control.

As an agency, you may have a few people assigned and working on each project you have at a given time and if somebody on a project gets sick or leaves the company, you may not have enough workforce to replace that person. In that position, you’d better delay one project than risking of delaying multiple projects by letting someone else split his own time between two projects. In such case some time will be lost even if the agency decided to hire a freelancer or contractor to replace that person, as they’ll need to get on board and familiarise themselves with the work done so far.

As an independent contractor or freelancer, you may get sick yourself, or something may happen in your life that requires your immediate attention, or simply you may have other interests and commitments. In any case, at some point you’ll need/want to take some time off.

What most companies seems to fail at, is recognising those same things could happen if the worker was one of it’s own employees. People get sick and have their own life. Sometimes, just sometimes, a worker’s life or project may be more important then you their client’s.

Of course professionals will try to avoid or mitigate any problems that might occur or will give a sufficient notice to their clients before leaving a project or taking time off, but you need to prepared to everything when you hire external help.