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Q. We are a small company and have been searching for the past year for a specialized engineer to round out our development team with no success. We are considering using an independent contractor to fill the gap until we find the perfect candidate. What are the pros and cons of going this route?

A. I have a big red flag that you’ve had a position unfilled for over a year. Is this really a critical position to your organization? Do you have realistic requirements for this hire? Do you have a compelling opportunity to offer the specialized Engineer? Do your expectations match what is available in the market and is the compensation package market competitive?

It is a dilemma we all face at some point during the life of a small business; the company is growing but there is only so much you can do. Adding headcount to the team does not always result in additional revenue and less chaos in your business life. Hiring an independent contractor or new employee is an important business decision. According to legal counsel the following are pros and cons of hiring an independent contractor vs. an employee.Pros of  hiring an independent contractorReduced overhead: The attraction of hiring an independent contractor is the reduced costs in payroll, benefits, and other overhead. Lower overhead means less stress to bring in new business revenue to cover costs.No health benefits: This one deserves separate mention. A burden on small business is the uncontrollable costs of employee health benefits.Work on demand: Hiring an independent offers flexibility to the changing work demands of your company. You have the ability to take added opportunities as they arise, and during slow periods, have greater cost control. Your contract workforce often comes fully trained and highly specialized.Cons of hiring an independent contractorLack of control: Part of what makes a contractor independent is their ability to choose the control over the work performed. Contractors may have additional projects and may have less commitment than an employee.Rates: Your small business may find the perfect independent contractor to work with but the rates charged can vary by project and overall market demand. With an employee you can usually set the pay rate until the next review date.Misclassification: If you make an error in classifying an employee as an independent contractor, you will be liable for employment tax, interest, and a penalty. Use caution and keep current with the legalities.

Pros of iring an employee:Dedicated loyalty: Making the commitment to hire an employee can result in having an individual with stronger loyalty than an independent. Added loyalty can result in more productivity. Your loyal staff will be ready to take on additional roles to help your company grow.Multiple roles: Staff in small organizations will often perform a variety of roles. This provides various learning opportunities for staff and a flexible, diverse workforce for the company.Improved work flow: With a steady stream of business, having an employee can be much easier to coordinate projects. Trying to juggle multiple freelancers to meet project deadlines can be a challenge.

Cons of hiring an employee:Added responsibility: The burden of your small business becomes even greater as you have to make payroll for your staff and help them provide for their families.Extra overhead: Not only are there the costs of employee benefits and payroll to consider, you may have to move to bigger office space, sign a lease, and purchase equipment.Becoming a manager: As your small business grows in staff, you become less involved in practicing your trade and more involved in people management issues. Your company will be exposed to worker-related lawsuits. Independents will often require less management due to more motivation from being self-employed.

There is no such thing as a perfect candidate or hire. When you are a small company, hiring decisions are critical. Your decision to add a fulltime resource or use an independent contractor to fill the gap is an important decision that will affect the whole company.  It is crucial that you sit down with the key decision makers, carefully review the job description  and prioritize the most critical skills and experience required for this hire. I recommend that you partner with a professional to walk you through this process to reduce your risks. 

Good luck.•••

Jennifer Laxton is the CEO , Executive Coach and Strategic Workforce Planner with ESA in Santa Rosawww.esa.com. ESA is an executive search and consulting company. You can reach her at 707-217-4535 or jklaxton@esa.com.