Working with Consultants: Recruitment
I spent last Monday at the Cartoon Museum in London delivering a training day on 'Working with Freelancers and Consultants' for GEM Heritage with freelance colleague Ali Bodley. We ran the training as volunteers, because the importance of supporting the sector in making effective use of consultancy firms and sole traders is something we both feel very strongly about. I'm a Trustee of GEM, for my sins, and improving the CPD opportunities available to members is a high priority for us.
I'm going to cover the main points of the day in 3 linked posts on working effectively with freelancers and consultants. This owes a great deal to Ali and the people who attended the day at the Cartoon Museum and shared their own knowledge and experiences, though any opinions expressed here are my own. If I've missed out anything important, or you disagree with anything I've said, leave a comment and let me know!
1. Scope the work carefully, and ensure a consultant is really what you need
There are plenty of circumstances when freelancers and consultants can add real value to an organisation's work. Maybe you need skills and experience you don't have in-house. You might need fresh ideas, a new approach, or specialist advice to help with a project. Perhaps you just don't have the capacity to deliver an important piece of work without outside help. Sometimes it's about having access to an impartial external voice - an outsider can say things that people within the organisation find it difficult to say. Whatever the reason, ensure you think the work through carefully in collaboration with your staff and volunteers. Once you've scoped the role, check against HMRC's guidance to make sure this really is a freelance role and not work that should be done by a fixed term or casual employee. Remember it's HMRC that decides whether a person is an employee or self employed in a specific situation and they will make that decision based on the reality of the situation, not what the paper contract says.
2. Spend time drawing up the brief
The brief is the most important part of the recruitment process. In it you set out what kind of person you're looking for, the work you want them to do, and what the outputs and outcomes will be. Make sure your outcomes are SMART - this will help consultants cost the project accurately, and will help you to monitor and evaluate their work. Include any important contextual information and give a clear summary of the kind of skills, experience and knowledge you expect. Make sure you have adequate time to recruit and deliver the work properly. Consultants are not miracle-workers. An inadequate timescale will reduce the number of people available to apply for the work and hamper their chances of doing a good job.
Make sure the fee you're offering is realistic for the work you want doing. We had lengthy conversations about this last week and opinion varied wildly on what an appropriate day rate for different types of work should be. There are no hard and fast rules, but remember that whatever you're paying includes tax, national insurance, and the costs of running a business which for most consultants will be between £50-£75 a day. State whether the fee includes expenses and VAT. If you're asking people to pitch blind, ie you're not including fee information in the brief, it's all the more important that your brief is detailed and as clear as it can possibly be.
I could write a book on the importance of a good brief, and I'm sure any other freelancer would say the same. The clearer the brief, the more likely it is you'll get good, realistically costed proposals from people who are capable of doing the work.
3. Ensure you have a robust, fair recruitment process
Recruiting a consultant has much in common with recruiting a member of staff in that you need to ensure you're operating a fair and non-discriminatory process. Many organisations will have rules on tendering, depending on the value of the work being commissioned, and funders such as HLF will have their own procedures they require you to follow for contracts over a certain threshold. If your organisation's rules differ from those of the funder it's a good idea to work to the strictest points within both sets of guidelines. Decide whether you'll operate an open or closed tendering process, and be clear about your reasons. Consider asking for short initial expressions of interest and using that to compile a shortlist for the tender process if you don't want to wade through hundreds of proposals. Make sure your process is proportionate to the size of the contract and don't include unnecessary bureaucracy - writing a tender is an incredibly time-consuming task, and an overly complicated system may put off some of the people you are hoping to attract.
I'm sure this is all so far, so obvious to many of the people reading this, but unless you're very experienced in recruiting freelance staff (or used to being on the receiving end) you'd be surprised how hard it is to get the process right. When I say 'right', I mean 'attracts the people you want, brings in good well-costed proposals and results in you appointing the best company or person for the job'.
And now you've found them, how do you get the best out of them on an ongoing basis? I'll answer that question in another post.
(Incidentally, if you haven't been to the Cartoon Museum, you should go - there's a great Steve Bell exhibition running until 24th July).
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