Recruiting great employees is often one of the most challenging tasks for businesses, particularly small and mid-sized businesses which don't have the brand recognition and bank accounts of large corporations.

But recruiting great employees is sometimes downright easy when compared to the difficulties businesses face in finding and retaining great contractors.

There's a good reason for this: contractors are professional free agents. They work for multiple clients, can more easily walk away from an employer they don't like and the best have no shortage of companies looking to hire them.

A lot of emphasis is placed on finding quality contractors, but the truth is that retaining them is often far more difficult. Here are five bad habits to avoid when dealing with a contractor you want to hire and keep around.

Trying to negotiate price.

Few of us like paying more for something than is absolutely necessary, and this is true when it comes to contractors. But there's a difference between wanting great work at a fair price and wanting great work at your ideal price.

If you're looking to hire a contractor with top-notch credentials, aggressively negotiating price is usually an exercise in futility. After all, there's a very good chance that you're not the only one beating down the doors. Quality contractors usually don't come cheap, so it's far better to research market rates before starting discussions with prospective hires. If a contractor is well out of your price range, it's probably a better idea to move on than try to negotiate him or her down.

Getting legal too early.

In many cases, a contractor will be exposed to your most valuable ideas and business information. That can be a risky thing, and subjects like confidential information and intellectual property ownership should certainly be addressed. But there is an appropriate time to deal with these matters, and usually it's not before both parties have agreed to enter into a relationship.

In the real-world, this means that you usually can't expect a contractor to sign an agreement with you just because you have a top secret idea. In some markets, asking a contractor to sign a non-disclosure agreement (or an even broader agreement) before the contractor knows what your project entails is a sure-fire way to send the contractor running in the opposite direction. After all, ideas are a dime a dozen and a busy contractor isn't likely going to be interested in signing an agreement just to hear yours.

Being an overeager beaver.

An experienced contractor will treat you professionally, and part of that entails responding to your requests and inquiries within a reasonable amount of time. Unfortunately, sometimes what you might think of as a reasonable amount of time is really an unreasonable amount of time.

Unless your agreement with a contractor sets such expectations, it's probably a bad idea to 'follow up' on communication that doesn't get answered within, say, a few hours, or even a single day. If your contractor goes AWOL for days on end, you may very well have a problem, but peppering him or her with emails during a span no longer than an extended lunch or a doctor's appointment is one of the best ways to ensure that a contractor will never want to work with you again.

Playing the role of know-it-all.

Contractors are usually hired for their expertise and experience. They have skills you need to get something done that you can't or don't want to do yourself.

The best contractors are, of course, going to listen attentively to your needs and desires, and won't hesitate to respectfully explain why they think something should be done in a certain way. But there's a fine line between asking questions and making suggestions, and becoming the know-it-all.

The truth is that a successful contractor relationship is based on mutual trust. If you can't trust that your contractors know what they're doing, and you want to micromanage every aspect of their work despite your lack of true expertise, chances are you'll find that they will eventually leave you to your own devices.

Talking the talk, but not walking the walk.

Fruitful contractor relationships are a two-way street. You expect your contractors to deliver, but for them to deliver, you need to as well. From materials and feedback to resources and payment, chances are you've obligated yourself to provide certain things that your contractor needs.

Failing to deliver those things is one of the best ways to destroy your credibility, and once you lose credibility, you can expect your position on a contractor's priority list to plummet -- if you manage to even stay on it.

Patricio Robles

Published 9 March, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (4)



As a contractor myself I can say Patricio has done his homework on contractors. I have dealt with many companies and have encountered all 5 points he mentioned and it truly does put me off working for these companies at any point in the future. Trust is a really important issue in building a successful relationship between the company and the contractor. Well done!

over 7 years ago


Marketing Gal

You do have to be careful in this day and age. Great list of things to look out for. Thank you for sharing !

over 7 years ago


Marc S

Great points. However, I would like to add a sixth, that of appreciation. A contractor, like anyone, likes to feel that his/her work and effort is appreciated and not taking for granted. The difference between an employee and a contractor is that the employee feels more part of the company were as the contractor usually not. If given a choice a contractor will always prefer to work where appreciation is greatest.

over 7 years ago


Tash Woolley

Overall great advice. Although I have to say I'm a little surprised by the comment around holding back on an Non Disclosure Agreement. If you are exposing ideas / strategy and data to a third party - who most likely works with other competitors in your industry, you should have something in place to protect you, your customers and the contractor themselves.

over 7 years ago

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