Would you hire someone you have never met to undertake a major project that could transform your business? Would you also be prepared to let them work unsupervised and only report in via Skype or through emails on the progress of the job?
Well, that’s what a company called Expert360 are asking small and medium enterprises to do. Established by former management consultants Bridget Loudon and Emily Yue, the company is taking advantage of the growth of entrepreneurs and small businesses throughout the world by establishing a platform where consultants are hired to solve business problems for SMEs with the work often done remotely.
“I learned a lot working at a big management consultancy firm but realised there was a gap in the market for [small businesses to] access freelance talent in the areas of strategy, finance and marketing,” Ms Loudon says.
“Most companies going through the growth stage are very project driven and more and more experienced professionals are seeking to work on a consultancy basis, so it seemed like a good mix to establish a company like Expert360.”
Ms Loudon, who is very bright, full of energy and driven to succeed, says the company’s formation came easy in early 2013 and the range of experts offering their services has grown organically.
“We now have approximately 3500 freelancers throughout the world offering their expertise across a vast array of areas with enormous experience,” Ms Loudon says. “It makes sense for an SME to hire an expert consultant for specific contract work, as it saves them money and time and after the project is completed the consultant is rated by the hiree.
“With the advancement of technology, a lot of work can now be done remotely and the need for someone in your office is not always needed. An introduction and business contract can be done through a range of technology devices so there is a good chance that depending on where the two parties are located, they will never meet in person.”
So, the question begs would you hire someone you have never met? Tiger Asset Group did.
“We are a start-up business and we were looking to engage with someone with the technical knowledge to implement an idea that we had to automate a number of processes that we had always employed an admin resource for in previous roles,” Josh Hallowell, national valuations manager for the Tiger Asset Group, says.
“The project was to prepare a complex Microsoft based report/document generation tool, linking an excel data entry sheet to a word document to automate a number of entry points. We also included a number of automated graphs and tables drawing from the excel data into the word document.”
Mr Hallowell says Expert360 was recommended to them and helped with outlining the general scope of the project, as well as interviews ensuring that the personality fit was right even though the person would be working remotely.
As for the cost of the project, Hallowell decided to set a fixed price with no upfront outlay.
“It was a fixed price quote so we didn’t really need to monitor how much work was being done,” Mr Hallowell says. “Documents were shared online and we had daily emails and Skype calls. Our contractor was from the US and went back halfway through the project and this actually worked in our favour, as he would work overnight and we could review through the day.
“We are outsourcing some of our other basic admin functions such as typing, data entry and word processing through Odesk and the time difference is also playing in our favour here.”
Mr Hallowell was happy with the work and is hiring the consultant for stage two of the project.
The consultant, Eli Diament, a former management consultant, says that after submitting a brief online application outlining a “high-level” approach to the problem, he then followed up with a one-hour phone conversation to get a better feel for the project and to ascertain the amount of work involved.
“For this conversation, I was determined to just ‘be myself’ as I felt the client needed to be comfortable with me, my solutions and how I approached the problem,” Mr Diament says. “I also believed that being honest and open were critical to quickly build trust with this potential client.”
But, of course, there are checks that clients need to do on potential contractors so that they ensure they are not only hiring the right person for the work, but that they have the necessary skills and expertise to execute the contract satisfactorily.
“The major concern is hiring someone who isn’t who they say they are or doesn’t have the experience they purport to have,” Leigh Russell, organisational development specialist, says. “You need to vet them as much as you can before employing them on any project and tune in to your ‘gut feel’ as much as other information available.
“If there are any red flags, you need to explore what these are. When you need resources quickly to get to work, often people will overlook the gut feel, but say later they knew at the start it wasn’t the right fit but were ‘hoping’ it would work out. Hope is not a strategy!”
Ms Russell says that background and criminal checks should be used, however, if you are working through a company to source your consultant then they should be giving a guarantee and/or evidence these have been recently done.
“You ought to use what is freely available to you – Google search, LinkedIn profiles, websites but also tapping the network – referees are not as useful as they are made out to be,” she says. “Why would anyone give you a referee that was going to speak badly about them? So finding someone who can give you an objective viewpoint is important. It’s not hard these days to find out who knows who.”