At Business Talent Group (BTG), we’ve seen the rise of high-end independent talent power a new path to organizational agility and performance. We’ve also seen companies stumble while trying to make the most of this formidable resource. So we’re launching a new series that’s designed to help business leaders maximize the value of each engagement—and unlock the real promise of on-demand talent.
In this post, we’ll talk about how to make your company attractive to top independent consultants. Today’s independents have plenty of choice when it comes to selecting their work. In fact, in competitive, cutting-edge fields like innovation and supply chain strategy, competition for top independent talent is as fierce as it is for full-time hires. The companies that win are the ones that are willing to court their consultants, treating them as partners, not vendors.
What else can you do to attract top freelancers?
What Executives Can Do
1. Define the mission
Exciting challenges are always going to be more attractive. Identify an interesting, well-defined opportunity and be specific about what you need and how a contractor’s skills would fit in.
One of the main reasons that domain experts go independent is to give themselves the freedom to choose which projects they work on. So when you scope and define your project, try to make it as compelling as possible. Freelancers are entrepreneurs in their own right, and the projects they accept are the ones that define their brand. They want work that’s exciting and important; it’s your job to show them why your initiative fits that bill. And make sure you can connect the work you need done with a broader mission that’s important to the business.
2. Support flexible scheduling
Don’t make your independent resources come into the office every day if working remotely would be as effective.
Some independent workers appreciate the opportunity to work closely, in-person, with your team. Others prefer a blend of in-person and remote work. Don’t let company norms guide your expectations about what’s best for a particular project. Instead, demonstrate trust by asking what your independent consultants feel is most effective, and be prepared to discuss your reasoning in the event that you feel differently.
What Companies Can Do
1. Cultivate an open culture
Maintain a collaborative environment where new perspectives are valued, not feared or dismissed out of hand.
An outside perspective is often exactly what’s needed to free people from unproductive or insular views. Internally, dissent can be intimidating, and the pressure to conform often keeps companies from exploring alternative paths.
Independents aren’t burdened by that baggage or invested in pre-conceived ideas about what works and what doesn’t at your company. This enables them to introduce valuable new ideas and new strategies for implementation. Because their domain expertise is broader than a single company, they’re often able to see the big picture—and hidden opportunities—more easily than those who are already part of it.
Of course, change can be uncomfortable—especially when it’s suggested by someone who doesn’t have to live the consequences. That’s why it’s critical to make sure that everyone, from the highest to the lowest levels of your company, is open to new ideas. The best independent consultants thrive in dynamic, fast-paced environments. Dismissing their ideas not only diminishes the impact they can have on your business, but discourages them from wanting to work for you in the future.
2. Treat independents with respect
Show your contractors that you value their contributions by treating them with the same respect you extend to your full-time employees.
You might be their client, but that doesn’t mean you’re their boss. Independent consultants are business owners in their own right, more partners than employees. But too often, the smaller you are, the more carelessly you are treated.
Setting extended payment terms is a red flag, signaling a lack of respect that will keep consultants from returning your calls in the future. They might not be permanent fixtures, but they’re smart and talented—that’s why you engaged them, right? Don’t expect them to incur additional financing costs to support your financing strategies.
3. Build an enterprise-wide talent management program
Create a formal channel through which freelance talent can be easily sourced, contracted, and integrated into the team.
The most innovative companies have taken a systematic approach to capturing the benefits of independent talent, deploying enterprise-wide solutions to quickly source top performers, reduce consulting spend, and position their organizations for growth in fast-changing markets.
On-demand talent programs signal to independents that you’re serious about making the best use of what they offer—which, in turn, helps position you as a first-choice client.
Leah Hoffmann is BTG's Marketing & Content Strategist. A former journalist, Leah worked for Forbes.com and The Economist before joining BTG. She is passionate about clear thinking, sharp writing, and strong points of view.