Hiring a Contractor? Read This First.

An interview with Communications expert Lauren LaFronz

Choosing the right contractor to help with communications planning, writing, project management, and other initiatives isn’t easy. Your project’s success, and often your reputation, hinges on the contractor’s ability to consistently deliver their best work, on time and within budget.

We spoke with Lauren LaFronz, a 20+ year marketing and communications veteran who went from managing contractors to becoming one herself. Here, Lauren shares best practices on selecting and engaging contractors, and a few lessons she’s learned the hard way.

Q: Tell us about yourself and how you got where you are today.

A: I’ve always had roles with a heavy focus on content creation. I’d been thinking about starting my own freelance writing business for a long time, and recently decided to pull the trigger.

I knew I had something unique to offer since I have a lot of firsthand experience not just in writing, but also in demand generation, SEO, branding, and many other areas of marketing and communications. Since I understand how all these things work and complement each other, I’m able to create content that achieves specific business objectives and integrates seamlessly with other marketing tactics and strategies.

This, along with the strong network I’d built during my career, gave me the confidence I needed to finally make the jump to freelance.

Q. When you were on the hiring company’s side of the table, what constituted a successful engagement with a contractor?

A: When I managed contractors, a truly successful engagement wasn’t just when the contractor delivered high-quality work on time and within budget. It was also when the contractor provided me with a great overall experience by being flexible, responsive, and generally easy to work with.

For example, at one of my prior jobs, I managed multiple freelance writers. One writer in particular had less subject-matter expertise than some of the others, so he took a little more time to turn around drafts. However, he had a positive attitude, handled unexpected strategy changes in stride, and never took feedback personally. I appreciated that he just rolled with the punches and did what was asked of him.

On the other end of the spectrum, there were some freelancers who had more subject matter expertise but were lacking in other areas. For example, one freelancer pushed back repeatedly on requested changes to various content assets. And another didn’t understand basic etiquette. During a video call, he took a call on his cell phone—unmuted—while I was explaining something. Needless to say, that was the last time I hired him to work for me.

Q: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned on the inside, as someone who has hired contractors?

  1. Don’t ignore red flags. It’s like that saying, “If someone shows you who they are, believe them.” For example, you might find a contractor that has the right experience and skills for the job. However, when it comes time to screen them, it’s clear they didn’t prepare, because they have no idea what your company does. Or they show up ten minutes late. Don’t assume these things are one-off incidents. First impressions can be telling, and if you hire that person, the odds are you’ll be dealing with the same issues on the regular.
  2. Watch for budget creep. If you’re expecting a contractor or agency that bills hourly to stay within a specific budget, don’t assume they will let you know when they’re close to exceeding that budget because they won’t always remember to do this. Require that they submit weekly reports on hours/spend accrued to date, or at least make sure you’re regularly checking in for an update.
  3. There’s no such thing as too much information. Providing as much information as possible will allow your contractors to deliver their best work. It’s important to do a comprehensive debrief with contractors–not just on the project itself, but also on your expectations, deadlines, the review process, and any specific guidelines the work should follow (for example, branding guidelines). It’s also important to provide access to resources like subject matter experts and background documentation, so the contractor can quickly get up to speed.

Q: What are some key questions to ask potential contractors during the screening process?

A: Here are a few important ones:

  1. How many clients do you typically work with at the same time? The answer will give you a general idea of how much time they’ll have to spend on your project.
  2. What do you know about our business? Going back to my prior point about red flags, if the answer is way off base, you’ll know the contractor didn’t take the time to properly prepare themselves for your call, and that you should hire another candidate.
  3. Can you provide samples of your work? Even if someone comes highly recommended, it’s always best to ask for work samples, so you can verify their domain expertise and see firsthand the caliber of work you can expect.

Q: Now let’s switch gears and talk about the contractor experience. What’s one lesson you learned the hard way as a contractor, and what would you do differently next time?  

A: One lesson I’ve learned in my short time as a contractor is that if a project isn’t right for meor the clientit’s best to just walk away. It’s hard to say “no,” but sometimes it’s the right thing to do.

I was recently approached about creating a content marketing program for a very small startup. They wanted a comprehensive program on a shoestring budget. During the conversation, I realized it was highly unlikely that I could provide anything close to what they wanted at an acceptable cost. Instead of having an upfront conversation with them about this, I spent several hours creating a proposal. And as I expected, it was a no-go. Now I know to be more direct when it comes to budget discussions, and to turn projects down if it’s clear there’s not going to be a fit on either end.

Q: As a contractor yourself, what’s the one thing you wish more employers knew about the best way to engage a contract worker?

A: It’s important to build relationships with your contractors and treat them as an integral part of your team, rather than just another set of hands for hire. Even though contractors aren’t salaried, full-time employees, they want to feel like they’re making a difference and contributing to your success.

It also works the other way around–inviting contractors to team meetings, events, and even for an occasional cup of coffee allows them to better understand you, your business, and your expectations.

All of this leads to stronger, more productive relationships that enable contractors to become fully invested in your success and deliver their best work.

Whether you’re looking for a full team of consultants for a long-term initiative or an individual contributor for a quick project, the O’Keefe Group can help ensure your next freelancer engagement is successful. Contact us to learn more.