Issue management with your agency

We’ll take a closer look at the most common issues experienced by contractors working with agencies and what you can do to minimise the risk of you experiencing them.

As with any business relationship, there are inherent risks associated with doing business with an agency, but dealing direct with clients can be as risky, if not more so. Entering into a business relationship without preparation and an understanding of how things work will leave you open to risk and the potential for serious financial losses.

1. Fake job ads

Some agencies will post job advertisements to increase their own CV database; that way they have an increased pool of available contractors ready to contact for common roles they try to fill. There are many reputable agencies that do not indulge in this practice, but you need to be aware that it happens and how to spot a fake advertisement.

Fake advertisements can on the face of it look exactly like genuine advertisements; the profile is well defined, the rate is as expected, the client described in just enough detail to understand the market. Lots of fake advertisements are based on old genuine adverts and this is what makes them so realistic, so how do you spot them?

  • Fake adverts are usually left on the sites for some time so look at the posting dates – the majority of clients need the post filled ASAP so why would a post be more than a week old?
  • The post shows a large number of views or applications – if the post has had so many applications, then why hasn’t the position been filled?
  • When you search for similar advert text, multiple listings come up with the same text or slightly amended. Yes the agency may fill very similar contracts week in week out, but it could be a potential re-post to capture leads.
  • The advert lacks sufficient detail – some genuine adverts can lack in detail but you need to ask yourself if it’s really vague, how can you assess if you should even apply for the role?

If you’re unsure about whether the advert is genuine, contact the agency and ask for more information about the role – when they are looking to fill the post by, rate information and other specific details. If there’s a hint of hesitation or the recruitment consultant seems uncomfortable in any way, you know something isn’t right and can move on.

2. Feeling pressurised into taking a role or attending an interview.

Recruitment consultants are targeted on filling contract posts. If they believe you are a good shortlist candidate, or you aced the interview then they are going to want to influence you in any way they can. You need to be prepared to say no, constructively.

Saying no to interviews is part and parcel of being a contractor and knowing what you want. If the role isn’t a good fit, then be upfront and explain why you don’t want to be considered for the contract. It’s often more uncomfortable after the interview to decline an offer – you naturally feel more obliged to take it given the investment all concerned have put into the process.

In either scenario you need to be able to say no, and give specific reasons for your decision. This takes preparation and a conscious effort to be constructive. The more specific you can be with the recruitment consultant, the better they will understand your decision and they will feel that you’ve given it due consideration.

Off the cuff remarks can damage the relationship, as do ill-thought out reasons for not taking the opportunity. The worst thing you can do is fail to provide a response in good time. Giving timely feedback and reasons for your decisions goes a long way to proving that you are a reliable and sought after candidate.

3. Late payments and unfavourable payment terms

Consultants, contractors and other owner-managed businesses cite late payments and unfavourable payment terms as one or the biggest risks to their business. There are several areas of risk relating to managing payments.

Delayed payment built into your terms and conditions

Many contractors are caught out through not reading the small print in their agency contracts. It’s easy to get caught up in securing your first contract, the added bonus of being able to submit your timesheets weekly and to be paid weekly – no more waiting for a monthly salary payment. But then you find out that you’ll have to wait a month before the agency starts paying you, and it’s in the contract you signed. It’s too late to back track; you’ve signed it and it’s binding.

Don’t be pressured into signing a contract and agreeing to all the agency’s terms and conditions on the spot. Take the time to read the small print and more importantly, if you don’t agree with their T&Cs then ask for a revision; you may not get what you want, but if you don’t ask you won’t get. Many successful contractors negotiate bespoke terms and conditions with their agencies – it’s often just a couple of clauses that need revision, but it can make all the difference in creating a more equitable relationship.

Late payments

Owning your own business opens you up to the risk of late payments and as a contractor you’ll hear many excuses as to why the payment of your invoice has been delayed. Working for multiple clients through direct relationships increases the risk of late and non-payments. You are a small business with limited resources at your disposal to pursue non-payment.

One of the main benefits of using a reputable agency is their payment management and their sheer clout in ensuring payment is made. The agency manages the relationship with the client and then pays you. Reputable agencies will continue to pay you for the work you’ve performed even if the client fails to pay. Unfortunately, as with all industries, there will be some agencies that fail to pay on time. The majority of excuses will surround timesheet compliance issues, the client hasn’t signed-off the invoice, there’s a query, or the client hasn’t paid.

As a business owner you need to be prepared to manage late payments effectively. Having your own terms and conditions can go a long way to ensuring you are paid on time, along with clear payment terms on your invoice if you don’t have a self-billing agreement with your agency. If the agency continues to pay you late, you need to consider terminating the relationship and finding another agency. You can find out more about managing late payments here.

4. Pressure to appoint an expensive accountant 

Recruitment agencies deal with a lot of new contractors. You need an accountant to manage your business financials (if you’re operating a limited company) and it is easy to feel pressurised into taking the agent’s recommendation. Before you begin building your roster of agencies and opening up a dialogue with them to secure your first contracting role do some research into finding the right accountant for your needs.

An accountant that specialises in the contractor market is invaluable to your business and many offer limited company set up as a service for those new to contracting. You don’t need to appoint an accountant before you start talking to agencies, but it helps you to make an informed choice to take their recommendation or not. There’s no requirement or obligation for you to do so, so make sure you have all the information you need and take control of the decision.

5. The application process is too automated

The largest recruitment consultants can receive hundreds of applications for the most popular contract posts so it isn’t surprising that filtering to the first cut is an automated process. Key words and phrases being included in your CV are the difference between making it through to the shortlist or not.

There are two strands to ensuring you increase your chances of getting through to the next round – tailor your CV to the application and ask for feedback when you aren’t successful. You need to ensure that any feedback from being unsuccessful is applied to improving your CV. It is also worth noting that contractors are not appointed on their potential, or ability to grow into a role; contracting posts are based on hitting the ground running and getting the job done. You need to ensure that your CV shows that you are qualified and experienced enough to deliver.

6. The recruitment consultant doesn’t sell you hard enough

The role of the consultant is not to understand your potential and further your career. It’s to find the best person to get the job done for the client. If there’s a contractor that ticks all the boxes and is the surest bet for the position, they will concentrate their efforts on them as it makes the most business sense to do so. If a recruitment consultant doesn’t fully understand what you do and what you can offer it’s your job to fill in the gaps.

Make it as easy as possible to help them understand your strengths – provide a killer CV, explain what you can offer. Being easy to work with and joining the dots is the difference between being one of many and standing out from the crowd. Now you are your own boss, you need to take control of marketing yourself.

7. You don’t get replies or feedback

Nobody likes giving bad news and recruitment consultants are no different. When they’ve successfully secured a contractor for a position, their natural focus will be in finalising the details and getting the contract underway. Providing feedback to unsuccessful candidates is lower on their priority list. Be proactive and chase feedback and responses – don’t dwell on the minutiae, concentrate on the bigger picture and keep your feedback requests short.

It is beneficial to see your agency and your main recruitment consultant contact as your client; you’d expect to do most of the leg work in managing the relationship with a key client so why manage the relationship with your agency any differently?

8. Finding yourself in an interview to find it’s for future business

In terms of frustration, investing time in an interview to find it’s not for an available contract is pretty high on the list of contractor issues. Lining up consecutive contracts retains a healthy cash flow. When discussing the interview, make sure you know what you are going for. Drill into the detail so that you can ascertain what is on offer and if there’s any sign of hesitance then you can make an informed judgement call as to whether to accept the interview or not.

Very few contractors (if any) fail to come across some of the issues raised here. It’s part of being a contractor and accepting a certain amount of risk by putting yourself forward for the most attractive contracts. By understanding the potential risks and issues, you can plan for them and reduce the effects they have on your business.

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