Onboarding independent talent: A step-by-step guide

Onboarding independent talent: A step-by-step guide

Onboarding independent talent can seem daunting at first. After all, they’re experts in their field, so understanding how to best craft an onboarding experience that sets them up for success can be difficult. 

But like onboarding a full-time hire, having an effective onboarding process for your independent subject matter experts is key to enabling them to reach peak productivity as soon as possible. Doing so ensures they don't encounter any stumbling blocks and can be of maximum value from day one. In turn, this increases project satisfaction and retention.

So, where do you start? How can you set the engagement up for success on day one? And what should you include in your process? In this blog post, we will provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to successfully bring independent talent onto your team. 

Following these guidelines will make the process easier for yourself and the independent talent. Let's get started. 

7 Steps for Facilitating a Smooth Onboarding Process

1. Start With a Solid Contract

When hiring a full-time employee, the offer letter typically serves as the contract for employment. But this looks different when hiring an independent contractor. 

Within this context, a contract is typically an agreement of the terms of the engagement based on the project description (see this blog). Most independent subject matter experts use their own contract forms, but most often, the employer provides the contract. 

Be sure to review your employment agreements, adding or customizing sections as needed, and include a detailed scoping section outlining the work and deliverables. Whenever you communicate something important about a project deliverable, either do it in writing or confirm later with an email or preservable chat message.

2. Use a  Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA)

Depending on the business or industry sector, an NDA is just part and parcel of the working relationship. If this is the case, ask talent to sign an NDA before revealing too much about your business plan, initial market research, or other sensitive information.

NDAs ensure they keep anything you tell them confidential and out of potential competitors' hands. Some employers hand out NDAs to all prospective candidates before they've even made a selection to expedite the process. 

3. Complete Worker Classification Processes

Did you know that 10%-30% of employers misclassify their employees? The cost of such an error quickly adds up:

  • About a $50 fine for each misclassified employee
  • A penalty of up to 3% of the wages
  • Up to 40% of the FICA taxes not withheld from the employee
  • 100% of the matching FICA taxes the employer should have paid

While you may think that making the distinction between a full-time employee and independent talent is clear-cut, it's not as apparent as you think — especially when it comes to an independent contractor.

For example, the classification status of an independent expert can change due to the nature of the engagement per project. Many variables determine a classification of one over the other, including state and federal laws. 

Two "tests" you can use to help determine the classification of your independent talent are the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) test called the "Degree of Control Test" and the United States Department of Labor's (DOL) "Economics Realities Test.

But, depending on the state where work will be completed, there are state versions of the test, which you should also be mindful of. Plenty of on-demand talent acquisition platforms now have worker classification built into the system. Ask about their worker classification processes if you use one for your talent needs. 

4. Set Up Milestones

A great place to start building rapport with your new hire is by setting key milestones based on what you want them to achieve. This is also known as a 30-60-90. This approach works best for full-time employees but can also be adapted for independent contractors. One approach to take with independent contractors is to set up milestones for payment based on where they are with the project. 

Pro tip: Have a contingency plan in case your independent talent doesn’t deliver on time or within the promised scope of work.

5. Get Yourselves in Sync

Another great way to build rapport is to ask about the systems the candidate uses to stay organized and run them through your systems to ensure they're familiar with any platforms they'll be required to use while working for you. Once you understand their gaps better, you can work with them to address them throughout the onboarding period. 

6. Set Expectations Before You Start

Make sure you agree on expected deliverables, timelines, and responsibilities before getting started with independent talent. This is also a great time to establish a cadence of meeting with them via regular check-in or one-on-ones to discuss progress, working style, and communication preferences. Remember that this is a working relationship, and to get the best work, you need to know how to best work with one another. 

7. Develop an Onboarding Guide

After communicating all of the above, go a step further by documenting it in an onboarding guide. Collecting all of this information in one easy-to-find place makes it easy for talent to access key resources that will enable them to hit the ground running on day one. This guide can include the following resources depending on the role: 

  • Website
  • Style guide
  • Buyer persona(s) and business pain points
  • Help documentation
  • Internal and external subject matter experts (SMEs)
  • Demo/relevant training materials
  • Cybersecurity training
  • DE&I policies and training
  • Subconscious bias training
  • List of competitors
  • Industry information

Building Your Onboarding Process

Making independent talent feel welcomed and supported during onboarding sets the tone for their working relationship with your company. But with so much to do during the day, finding the time to dedicate to hitting all these steps can be hard. To make this process easier for you, we've created this onboarding template that helps our clients get up to speed with independent talent, and now we want to share it with you. Click on the link here to get your copy today.

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