All CEOs, business owners, and finance execs (CFOs, VP Finance, and controllers) hire and manage outside experts. Auditors, lawyers, turnaround consultants, IT consultants, HR experts, sales consultants, business consultants, executive coaches and virtual assistants are just some of the roles being filled by independent contractors. Our current world is opening the door more and more to this type of “gig economy” and the building of virtual teams, some members of which may not be your employees.
In fact, I’m one of those “outside experts” brought in to improve the company’s overall performance. I’ve also worked with hundreds of experts over the years, and I know the importance of working effectively with independent contractors. For me, it’s all about setting proper expectations and communication – and in today’s world, both are more important than ever.
Having been on all sides, both being hired and doing the hiring for a wide range of projects, I’ve had mostly good experiences, but also a few bumpy ones.
On the good side, an internal control evaluation project I was managing proceeded extremely well. The project came in on budget, on time and right on scope. It was a pleasure working with the expert I hired to help with the project. He was professional, showed up on time, handled the company’s employees well, and delivered a final product that made me look good.
On the bad side, there have been occasions where the professionals I hired didn’t perform anywhere close to where I expected. In one case, they embarrassed me in front of my client’s leadership team. Then they gave me a bill that blew my socks of, for an incomplete project not even close to what I expected!
I discovered that the most important element for successful projects is clear communication. I now ensure I have crystal clear objectives with weekly status meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page. I also continually re-evaluate the situation. Here are some practical tips to help you navigate your relationship with your outside experts (or manage your relationships with your clients) well:
- Start with a clear engagement letter, statement of objectives, or memo of understanding.
- Define expectations on all sides so everyone is on the same page.
- Conduct a regular review of past, present, future, and future priorities.
- Establish a timely invoicing structure. Some outside pros are famous for billing delays which lead to large “lump billings” which can shock a client. (It shouldn’t, but that’s another topic, and even so large billings months later are not best practice.)
- Evaluate regularly to make sure the contractor is still adding value, or that you are continuing to add value to the client. For me, I try to show 10x my fee in better profits for the client. For the virtual executive assistance I contract, we meet almost weekly to discuss objectives and ideas, and she is willing to mention if I’m not making use of a routine service her team is doing for me. Ensure both sides determine the value and the results and make changes accordingly.
If you’re an outsourced pro, you need to make doing business with you easy and pleasant. You’d want the same from a pro you hire. Clear expectations and procedures help both sides.
Bonus – since so many of us are working virtually, here are a few additional tips for the human side of communication.
- Invest time to get to know them your outsourced pro. Start meetings with a bit of chit-chat about how things are in their world.
- Make them feel part of the team. Ask advice. Include them in team meetings if appropriate.
- Give feedback on performance – positive or negative, on a regular basis.
- Understand their other projects. Most outsource pros have more than one client they are serving. Don’t be afraid to show interest and respect to them as a business owner.
- Pay them market or better – don’t skimp on paying what they’re worth. You get what you pay for.
You can have extremely successful relationships with outsourced professionals (like me!) if you handle communication intentionally and regularly.
Do you need outsourced CFO help? Contact me!