Working with Consultants: Managing the Relationship

This is the final part of my quick guide to working with freelancers and consultants. With thanks to Ali Bodley and Vicky Dawson for their input into the thinking behind this post.

6. Be an active manager
Hiring a consultant isn't an easy option. While most consultants will work from their own premises rather than yours, and you don't have the hassle of providing space and equipment or dealing with payroll issues, you still need to manage and monitor their work. Keep in touch, and don't assume no news is good news. Minute meetings and circulate any decisions or action points. Provide feedback on the consultant's work promptly, and make sure you keep your own deadlines for signing off their work at key milestones. Remember a freelancer or consultant will be working on other projects at the same time as yours, and any delays may impact on their ability to complete the project on time.  If you realise that the outputs are going to differ markedly from what you agreed at the outset you should renegotiate your contract with them.  Remember the psychological contract as well as the legal one. Consultants aren’t members of staff and their relationship with you is different. That’s not to say they won’t be dedicated, but they are likely to be very task focused and you won’t be able to draw them into other areas of work like you would with employees. You might also find you need to maintain an appropriate professional distance during commissioning and while you’re working with people, even if you know them well.

7. Give feedback, and raise any concerns promptly and constructively
Never feel you have to accept sloppy work. If you're unhappy with any aspect of a consultant's work you should raise it with them straight away and ask them to remedy it. Many concerns will be easily resolved – the consultant may simply have misunderstood what you wanted. Be as clear as you can about what you’re not happy with and what you expect them to do as a result. Most consultants will be keen to resolve any difficulties, do good work and keep their reputation intact. You shouldn’t make a final payment until you’re happy that the contract has been fulfilled and that the standard of work is up to scratch. If you are relatively junior in the organisation, ask for help from your HR representative or a more senior manager who will be able to impress upon the consultant the need to address your concerns.  If you have employed a consultant to do specialist work that is outside your area of expertise, you could ask a colleague from another organisation to give you a second opinion on their work and help you formulate your feedback.

Ensure your disputes procedure is set out in the contract. If you have serious concerns, raise them in writing and ask for a formal meeting. Refer to the contract, make sure you have evidence to back up your complaint and are sure of your facts. Have a colleague or other witness present at the meeting, and ensure discussions are properly recorded. Some legal practitioners are able to offer arbitration in cases of dispute. If you need to end the contract, ensure you have copies of all the work that has been paid for so far.

8. Pay bills on time
Make sure your payment terms are written into the contract, and stick to them. Many consultants are sole traders for whom cash flow is crucial. Most museums operate 30 day payment terms, though some have 15 day terms for small suppliers. Word will get out about bad payers, and if your organisation develops a reputation for not paying on time you may find that good people won't want to work for you, or that contractors require a bigger proportion of the fee up front. Sole traders and small businesses are entitled to charge interest and late payment penalties if you don't pay them on time, and many do. See for details.

9. Say thank you
You'd be surprised how many clients don't give any feedback at all. I've spent hours worrying about whether people were happy with my work only to discover, after anxious questioning, that everything was great. People don't know you're happy (or unhappy) unless you tell them. If you thought someone's work was particularly good you might consider writing a short testimonial for them to use on their website or on professional networks such as LinkedIn. Consultants and freelancers are reliant on word of mouth and references to get further work, and your vote of confidence will help them stay in business.  

I'd welcome any comments on this or any of the related posts about working with consultants. If you'd like to find out more about the GEM training course on working with freelancers and consultants, please contact me.

posted by Emma | 0 comments

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