Work needs to get done, and there’s no time to waste. You need to find a savvy, highly-skilled independent professional who respects a strict budget and has the specific expertise you’re looking for.
So, where should you start looking, and how do you effectively screen and monitor the talent you find to protect your company’s best interests? Follow these four important steps to find the right independent contractor to fulfill your project needs.
1. Define Your Project Goals and Vision in a Request for Proposal (RFP)
A good place to start is in the procurement phase, with a request for proposal (RFP). Independent contractors often receive RFPs as a result of their membership in a trade or professional association, business listing, referral, or other means. When they receive an RFP, independents typically evaluate their readiness to fulfill the described requirements and conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine the value of the opportunity. As the sponsoring business, it is in your best interest to carefully craft the RFP after conducting an internal needs assessment with all relevant stakeholders.
When creating an RFP, define the specifications and requirements necessary to successfully complete the project. Keep in mind that your RFP does not have to be lengthy or overly complex. In fact, while you want to be clear about the project scope and requirements, you don’t want to be so restrictive that it hinders independent contractors from proposing creative solutions to the problem you are trying to solve.
Independent contractors submitting responses to an RFP should meet all stipulated requirements for style, format, and timeliness. Ensure their answers and supporting details don’t contain overly self-promotional language or claims, and check to see if they establish their qualifications and capabilities in a clear and concise manner.
2. Evaluate Proposal Responses
Next, interested independent contractors will prepare a proposal document in response to your solicitation. While proposals can be labor intensive, the effort required to collect the necessary information and prepare a suitable response may be a good measure of interest.
As you evaluate the proposals you receive, you should determine:
- Ability to perform the requirements: Does the independent contractor have the knowledge, expertise, and resources to complete the job?
- Viability of the solution: Is the proposed solution realistic for the budget, scope, and needs? Does it require a change to your operation, and, if so, is that change reasonable?
After the initial evaluation, a secondary vetting phase that includes in-person interviews, background screening, key reference interviews, or a presentation of samples is common. In this phase, you are not only seeking to determine fit for the proposed project, but you also want to validate that candidates qualify as an independent worker. Criteria to consider include:
- Does the contractor have other clients?
- Does the contractor market their services?
- Is the contractor seeking work as a solo business owner, or are they looking to ultimately be hired as a direct employee?
More subjective determinations such as personality, approachability, and flexibility may further narrow down your pool of suitable prospective candidates.
3. Draft a Contract
When you determine a match and extend an offer, you and the independent contractor may enter into a binding service contract. A contract establishes specifications such as the start and end date of the project, as well as procedural or operational requirements. When committing these elements to define a business relationship, work closely with the independent contractor to define resources, restrictions, and terms of your engagement.
4. Write a Detailed Scope of Work (SOW)
A Scope of Work (SOW) is a clause within a service contract that defines what the independent contractor is and is not responsible for, details timelines and milestone deliverables, and sets expectations that your business holds necessary in order to label a work project “complete.” It should include any provisions for revisions and changes.
A SOW also details responsibilities incumbent on your business. While the independent contractor is charged with executing a project, there are shared and reciprocal responsibilities between a contractor and your company to facilitate project completion. These include timely submission of background resource materials, providing access to systems and data sources, timely responses to questions, and reasonable review periods.
The SOW sets a foundation for good communication as well. You want to ensure that you discuss the details and define a SOW that clearly articulates what will be done, how it will be done, in what time frame, and for what cost. Don’t assume that something will be done as part of the project; discuss it with the contractor ahead of time and spell it out in the SOW.
An effective SOW is critical—even if it is only appreciated when pressures rise, or a miscommunication is claimed. A well-defined SOW protects both the contractor as well as your business. Detailed, clear parameters can establish the rights and responsibilities of both parties and limit liability.