Navigating the Subcontractor Relationship

At some stage during your solo journey, you will likely face a situation where you’ll need to enlist the help of others either temporarily for a one-time project or on a more ongoing basis. Working with subcontractors can offer you the flexibility of forming a semi-permanent team whenever you may need more hands on deck to get the job done. This edifice of support can also be valuable in multiple ways, not just in terms of providing more people to handle the workload but also showcasing you as offering greater value to current and prospective clients through demonstrating you have the breadth of resources to service them when their needs may go beyond your scope of expertise.

Sourcing and vetting subcontractors

No man (or woman) is an island. Every businessperson needs a support system. Forming a trusted network of colleagues can ensure that you have sustainable, long-term business.

Trusted is the key word. You must discern who is qualified to become a part of your professional alliance. It’s important to evaluate all potential partners’ professionalism, integrity, trustworthiness and technical competence.

Some important actions steps include:

  • Look for complementary skill sets – Does the person you’re considering partnering with, or subcontracting, have a set of skills and experience complementary to yours and/or in alignment with what your client needs on a certain project? If your partner or subcontractor on a project has similar experience levels, knowledge and skill sets, they can easily share the burden of the workload or completely take the reins when needed.
  • Identify specialty niche areas – Are there particular aspects of the project or the client’s industry where you don’t have the range of knowledge and skills necessary to fully service the client’s needs? If not, this is where you may want to be even more strategic about the people you allow to be a part of your network of fellow consultants, vendors and service providers. Drawing on others’ strengths and niche areas is smart and allows you to provide a broader spectrum of services as well as pursue – and compete for – bigger projects.
  • Mine your network (and continue to build it) – Be proactive and develop a roster of collaborators who you can call upon when you need to – before you need to. Have people in place already who you’ve professionally vetted beforehand. To find people to work with, look to your existing network for potential partners or recommendations.
  • Pre-screen potential collaborators – Approach potential partners and subcontractors as you would a prospective client. When first meeting with them about the possibility of working together ask them precise questions that will reveal whether they are someone who aligns with you professionally, ethically and personally. Do you share similar work habits, work styles and levels of integrity? Put together a pre-qualification questionnaire to help steer you during this meeting.
  • Check references – Just as you would with a job candidate, try to get a sense of your prospective subcontractor or partner’s reputation and professional track record. This can be done through a simple Google search and a review of their LinkedIn recommendations as well as asking around within your professional community.
  • Review portfolios – As part of the process of screening your potential team members, ask to see a portfolio of relevant work samples. You can also track their online footprint if they’ve published blog posts, white papers or other type of materials that demonstrate their work quality, especially writing ability.

Lastly, test new working relationships with a small short-term project. This will give you the opportunity to evaluate if the person is a good fit for you before diving into a longer-term project.

Forming the partnership

Deciding on the type of arrangement is also a key part of the process of building a virtual team composed of subcontractors, vendors and/or assistants. These arrangements can be formal (i.e., contractual) or informal where you simply refer each other for projects or share work overflows during busier times. A referral network can provide you with a steady flow of leads to help keep your client funnel perpetually filled.

If your arrangement is more formal and involves conducting work, having a contract in place is imperative. A written contract serves to outline expectations, work parameters and terms of payment for everyone involved – ultimately helping to mitigate risks for each party. Although the content of agreements can vary depending on the specifics of the arrangement, there are some basic elements that should be covered such as:

  • Complete identity of all parties, including full contact information
  • Type of relationship, e.g., employee, independent contractor
  • Project scope
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Project timelines and deadlines
  • Pricing and payment terms
  • Termination clause

Additional considerations for the contractual agreement can comprise conditions related to non-disclosure, non-competes and the ownership of the work.

Legal and regulatory considerations

Coupled with a contractual agreement, a review of the laws and regulations governing consulting versus employment working arrangements is crucial for ensuring you’re in compliance. For instance, be sure to check what legal policies and guidelines govern your area with regards to workers’ compensation requirements, insurance, labor laws and how an independent contractor is defined versus employee (e.g., in Canada) from a taxation standpoint. These regulations cannot only vary from country to country but also from state to state in the United States (and across provinces in Canada).

Working arrangements

Once you have decided to form a virtual team or partnership, create a system for success.

  • Rules of the road – Who will function as the account lead on the project? How will you manage client communication? Will everyone attend client meetings? Are there specific hours you need to be available to clients? Do you need reports from your subcontractors?
  • Accounting– How will you handle billing for projects? Unless the client is paying for subs, it’s best to present a unified bill. Be sure that you have an established timeline for billing and payment. You will also want to consider if you will pay your subs once the client has paid you or independent of client payments.
  • Workflow – You may have processes that you want your subs to adapt. This may include the use of specific apps or systems. Discuss this in advance and plan for time to familiarize everyone, if necessary with specific applications.

Whether you need someone to tap in case of an emergency or are looking for a longer-term arrangement, working with other solo professionals can be a tremendous advantage. Find the right balance and partners to suit your style, and you can instantly build skill sets and flexibility into your business that allows you to compete more effectively.

What are your experiences working with a partner or subcontractor? Do you have any advice or tips to add to the ones we’ve covered? Please feel free to share your perspective in the comments section below.

 

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