For a small business on a budget, controlling costs is paramount in just about every activity. Unfortunately, many small businesses don’t have the permanent staffing depth necessary to cover special projects or research needed for strategy and decision-making, so these companies have to regularly outsource the task to get the needed information. That means paying for research, which can easily start to get out of control as an expense if not controlled. However, there are ways to obtain good research without writing a blank check.
Understand the Problem
One of the biggest cost problems with research for a hiring party involves not knowing how to narrow the scope. Research isn’t like writing financial newsletter content. The task undefined can often end up open-ended, and a contractor will then try to fill in the gaps, frequently charging for lots of wasted time trying to guess at what the client wants. Instead, spending some time spelling out what is really needed in research can help not only define the outsourced job better, but reduce the costs charged as well, especially if research is charged by the hour. The more advanced preparation spent nailing down the details, the better the scope for the research ends up being.
Match the Skill to the Job
Small businesses often figure out what they need but then have no good idea who to hire for the work. Referrals tend to be a better approach than going blind, but many businesses often hire the first worker that meets their budget target. That in turn ends up being a mistake. The job has to be re-bid, and the research cost ends up being twice or three times as much until the a contractor gets the work done right.
Instead, companies should spend some time ensuring they hire the right talent. Referrals, ratings, and past experience can help, but a good interview asking the right questions still identifies potential problems and good hires far better. So don’t be afraid to have a phone conference or two with a prospective writer. The more you know about the hire, the more likely you will be to choose the right contractor.
Evaluate the Time Involved
Granted, contractors overall can be cheaper than hiring a full time employee, assuming projects are one-time in nature or very sporadic. However, if a business is finding itself hiring the same contractor again and again to do repetitive and similar work, consideration should be given to just hiring a staff person to do the work. Contracting can end up being more expensive than a staff hire if outsourced work is constant and regular. This is because contractors have to make their profit margin on top of the basic cost of labor.
Further, businesses should always be careful not to cross the line of regularly using an independent contractor. The IRS or state tax agencies could audit the business and decide the person is really an employee, triggering past due payroll taxes, unemployment insurance charges, and workers compensation charges, as well as tax penalties on the business.
Working efficiently with a research contractor depends heavily on a business communicating clearly what it wants from a contractor. Any ambiguity in the scope terms will often lead to cost creep. If a business wants to keep research costs as low as possible, it has to be willing to be engaged versus farming out the work and expecting miracles by a deadline.
Tom L is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.