Changing the Model
Consultants, who are usually independent contractors, bring a lot of value, flexibility and freedom to the table. You've probably noticed that there's no shortage of consulting firms popping up lately, right? By definition, consultants make a business out of providing expert advice to others. Independent contractors are those who have set out to deliver a service at which they excel, for a negotiated rate and at a negotiated time. The increasing popularity of independent contractors among consumers, businesses in need, and workers who have tired of the employee model, has led many people to question what they've been paying for all this time. For more on that, check out this article by Dave Ashton (Founder of SnapCar), called The Case Against Full-Time Employees.
Getting Your Money's Worth
Ashton approaches an interesting idea: the fact that full-time employees who receive a regular salary with benefits and paid vacation time work more hours and are less motivated during all of those hours. There are peaks and valleys in the work day, and when you're fairly certain that your financial situation isn't going to change whether you shirk that pile of papers for an hour or call out "sick" tomorrow, you're probably going to be more likely to do so. It's just how things work.
Independent contractors, however, don't make money if they don't work, and nothing is certain. Also, financial reward and advancement for these crusaders is usually satisfaction-based: provide a good service to one customer and they'll give you a rave review and word-of-mouth referrals to other customers. Sure, being an independent contractor has its perks and risks - like choosing when and how often to work and taking vacations whenever you want, or like not being paid for those vacations and having to pay for your own health insurance.
I'm only scratching the surface, of course, and I'm certainly not taking a position against full-time workers (the world needs them and we all rely on them more than we realize). But, for certain services, you might get more bang for your buck out of an independent contractor who relies on that gig-to-gig income to pay their bills. Aside from the reasons above, independent contractors and consultants are generally people who have taken their niche expertise and decided to offer it again and again as their sole focus and livelihood. They're not following protocol dictated by some job offer they signed. If you had an important need, wouldn't you feel better seeking out someone whose skills meant that much more to them? Someone who wasn't getting a paycheck whether or not they gave you crappy service? Sure, independent contractors have other responsibilities beyond the scope of the work they do, such as managing their own business finances, but at the end of the day a full-time employee likely wears far more hats and will, thus, cost you far more money.
What Are You Paying For?
Humans pay for convenience. It's an instant gratification society, and we expect everything at our fingertips. We take a lot for granted and we're willing to pay disproportionate amounts of money for the services we seek on a regular basis. As Ashton states in his article, independent contractors are now making services that once seemed elite far more accessible and mainstream. Many services are project-based and do not require full-time attention, so why would you pay full-time prices? Think about it: corporations have done the math for you, and they've also figured out how to market their offerings in such a way that makes you, the consumer, unaware that any "discount" they offer is often already wrapped into their price. When you buy from a company, you're also buying their name, brand, margins, paid vacation time for their employees, a fraction of what they spend in benefits, and a piece of what they pay their employees. Whatever cost you're charged has been carefully calculated to offset expense.
But now, independent contractors have found a way to affordably bring services like driving, lodging, cleaning, cooking, beauty services, photography, and marketing (just to name a few) to a much larger class of people who previously might not have had access to such exclusive offerings due to the high overhead. Think about it: who needs a driver or a chef 40 hours a week that can actually afford it? Certainly not the majority of people. You also have much more freedom to customize your preferences with a consultant or contractor - when they're in charge of the terms and the packages, they can give you more wiggle room than a large corporation that's firm in its global standards and doesn't make exceptions. Plus you have the satisfaction of knowing that if you have a problem, it will most likely be the person you hired who handles it (or close to it). You won't have to go up the food chain, calling customer service centers and sitting on hold, only to press 1 for English.
What's In It for You?
Of course, there's a lot more to it than supply and demand. This is neither the time nor place to delve into the political and economical implications of this topic. The bottom line is that many consumers and businesses can benefit from hiring consultants and independent contractors for project-based needs while saving money and possibly getting better service. The independent worker wants and needs your satisfaction, and will be motivated to earn it much differently than a commercial employee might.
So, aside from the exclusive expertise, determination, passion, and savings, why else should you hire an independent contractor or a consultant? You're helping people support themselves and their families way more so than if you procure services from some agency or corporation. Someone who has struck out on their own and taken a risk, usually stepping out on faith and passion. Someone who was brave enough to abandon the predictability of the "book of business" (fueled by that organization's salespeople). Someone who decided not to trade a set amount of time for a set amount of money with a dedicated set of responsibilities (which may be worth more or less than what they're being paid). Someone who often chooses to work far more than 40 hours because they can or because they need to, not because they're going to receive overtime.
Independent contractors have to drum up their own business, be their own advocates, salespeople, marketers, bookkeepers, and handle any associated expenses on their own. An employee has the freedom of not worrying about most of those things. In summary, independent contractors and consultants will work hard for you to earn your loyalty and, by hiring them, you're supporting the economy in a different way and funding the actual American dream.