Small Business

The Care and Maintenance of Contract Workers


By Connie Swartz

In addition to the right amount of pay, we at Creative Courseware are sensitive to the fact that we must pay contractors in a timely manner, even when our own payments are delayed. Indeed, we send payments every other Friday. It's easier for workers to concentrate on their projects if they aren't struggling with the gnawing uncertainty of when they will be paid. In our own margin to our clients, we build in a sum to account for us assuming the risk of delayed payment, and we also keep open a line of credit.

THE FLEXIBILITY FACTOR. Working, even as a contractor, isn't only about money, and it's up to the entrepreneurial company to account for the other-than-cash needs of the 1099 work force. At the heart of our strategy is the goal of pairing contractors with the right assignments, taking into account not only skill and experience level, but also work requirements. Many, for example, need to limit their hours because of family responsibilities.

Once past that hurdle, we go further. When I was a contractor, I was surprised by the degree to which I missed adult interaction during the day. Sensing the same among our contractors, we began about four years ago hosting monthly lunches to which all are invited. The discussions include what people are currently working on, and often lead to valuable sharing of information that benefits our clients. Personal issues are also often a part of the talks.

In 2000 and 2001, we also sponsored weeklong training sessions on software development tools from Macromedia, which we use regularly on our projects and with which few of our contractors were familiar. Many of our local contractors attended at least part of the sessions, even though they weren't able to bill us for that time.

When working with new contractors, I also take it upon myself to sketch out the difference between employment and contract work, such as the need to account for their own taxes and benefits. I just don't want people to misunderstand.

MORE THAN MONEY. It helps for a company to realize that contract workers want to be treated like people. One tradition we've had ever since the beginning has been an annual social gathering at my home in January for our contractors and our four employees. A tradition is for everyone to bring a little gift, which we pile in the center of the room. Each guest chooses a package, trying to guess the identity of the giver. Amid a chorus of "a-ha's," we hear from the giver who selected the item, and we learn something about that person.

While showering our contractors with a fair amount of money, a means for them to be a part of a professional community, training, and camaraderie, we are careful not to cross the line in which these workers could be considered "employees." In fact, we would probably do more for them if that were not an issue.

Contract workers are the backbone of many entrepreneurial organizations. The goal of companies that rely on this labor should be to treat them not as ships passing in the night, but rather as valuable workers who must be compensated fairly, both in terms of money and other considerations.

Connie Swartz, 53, founded Creative Courseware, a Kansas City-based developer of customized training materials, instructional multimedia, and software documentation, in 1984, and currently serves as president.

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