In a brand-new study about how firms think about talent. Catalant Technologies reports:

CEOs and other leaderst frequently cite their inability to hire the best people, time to fill roles taking longer than ever before, and difficulty identifying and optimizing the skills of their own workforce as critical short-term obstacles to their growth. Each of these challenges can be tackled differently with a move towards a more agile talent management.

We’ve all likely had mixed experiences using freelancers or other non-permanent workers, but the same is true about full-time staff. We’ve all had employees who didn’t work out. When that happens, the time and cost to correct that situation is far more significant than swapping out contractors.

The fact of the matter is, whenever we deal with people, challenges arise. It’s naive to believe that just because someone is an employee he or she will be more dedicated, easier to train, more compliant with policies, or better at performing certain tasks. What matters most is skill, and the ability to seamlessly work within your existing culture. Oftentimes contingent workers are far more adept at both because their livelihood depends upon their mastering of blending in and adding immediate value.

Here’s the cold hard truth:

Key to agency success is scalability – quickly growing or shrinking your operations as the work demands. If you’re too small, you’ll miss out on meaningful engagements because clients don’t believe you have the resources to meet their needs. If you’re too big, your overhead becomes burdensome and forces you to either increase your rates (thus damaging your competitiveness) or decrease your margin (thus reducing the benefits of being in business for yourself.)

In addition, running a lean organization purifies your value proposition because you will only pursue projects that are perfectly aligned with your ideal outputs, rather than compromise your standards and accept less desirable work just to keep under-utilized staff billable.

Agency owners don’t exist to keep their employees busy; they exist to solve meaningful client problems. As those problems grow more complex, they need access to more diverse – and short-term – subject matter expertise. Accessing other agencies or solopreneurs to meet those needs is critical to your firm’s viability.

Sure, every agency owner has a handful of preferred providers they love to use, but you should always be looking for ways to increase your access to a much deeper talent pool of proven experts with niche specialties that trump the knowledge and experience of your existing Rolodex. When your products are people, and your income is 100% dependent upon having real-time access to people who can do hard things, you can never know too many proven practitioners.

One of the biggest roadblocks preventing more agency owners from more fully embracing contingent workers is that many agency principals aren’t very good at managing outsourced relationships. If you’ve had several bad experiences with freelancers before, the common denominator may be you. It takes effort (but typically much less effort than keeping in-house employees productive and motivated) to outsource properly. Also, freelancers aren’t superheroes who can do work in less time, and for less money, than your firm can. In my experience, outside help feel like they are often assigned unfair tasks – asked to turn around world-class work with a poorly written brief, in a reduced time frame, for below market rates. Situations like that are destined to fail from the start.

Here’s my advice to the givers and takers of short-term projects:

    • Don’t outsource responsibility for maintaining client relationships. Your ability to properly service accounts, and to become your client’s trusted advisor, is foundational to your firm’s success.
    • Be slow to outsource anything directly tied to your firms’ core competency. Only do so in times of peak demand, and only then as a compliment to your in-house team, never to run a stand-alone project.
    • Bring in experts to support fringe activities. For example, assume your core expertise is website development and you’ve been hired to build a new e-commerce site. Throughout the engagement, your client has come to trust you. Your team has become familiar with the client’s brand, business objectives, team members, and culture. As the site nears launch, your client needs additional services to support your website, i.e. a launch plan, email marketing, SEM/SEO, website analytics, ongoing content creation, social media integration, etc. You’re doing your client a disservice by not offering to provide those assets or help shepherd a coordinated effort. While none of those disciplines are within your firm’s core competency, managing your client is. So negotiate attractive rates from 3rd parties that allow you to make a margin on their services you oversee. Add value by assuming the burden of sourcing them, and making sure their deliverables are on brand, on brief, and on budget.
    • Take full advantage of online talent management tools and platforms, such as, TopTal, or Upwork. These online communities make it easier to procure vetted marketing service professionals. But be careful. They are not all created equal. Pro Tip: Avoid generic platforms that sell every service under the sun, and don’t utilize services that charge hefty commissions on the work they facilitate.
    • Hire contractors either in your local area or in the markets where you clients reside. Face-to-face conversations help propel progress and can help create synergies which can lead to even to better solutions.
    • Seek out small agencies more so than freelancers. Agencies often have more sophisticated views of business, more realistic expectations, tighter deliverables, and can more easily facilitate mutually beneficial relationships in which they take work from you, and provide work to you in return.
    • Always protect your intellectual property by signing non-disclosure, non-compete and non-solicitation agreements.
    • Clarify expectations regarding availability and service levels. If you want their fully dedicated attention for the duration of your project, pay for it. Also, buy deliverables that meet specific deadlines, don’t buy hours.
    • Be completely transparent with your clients. Much like good general contractors in other industries, be honest about who is full-time staff, and who are sourced from your preferred network of subject matter experts. Good clients appreciate the effort required to find great talent and will respect your honesty.

The Catalant study states:

The nature of work is changing dramatically and irreversibly. The future belongs to the forward-looking enterprises who recognize these changes and adapt to them, transforming challenges into growth opportunities. The companies best suited to exploit new realities are thinking more about how to “borrow” the right skill at the right time rather than “own” the skill dramatically increases solutions available to fill skills gaps at a company.

I wholeheartedly agree!

Check out the origional Post by Chris Kneeland on Linkedin


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