You have to laugh, you know. I never cease to be amazed at the number of posts I see about contractors  claiming all sorts of problems with, variously, notice periods (don’t need them, as I’ve said before), IR35-safe contracts  (fine as long as they represent reality), the AWR  (don’t start me on that one again) and the infamous opt out from the Agency Regulations (opt out if you can but it makes little real difference). Plus, of course, the running complaint about the agency’s percentage of the contractor’s rate: except, of course, as ony fule kno they don’t get the percentage, the contractor does.
However there is a common theme to these various complaints. The agency .
We have to be fair to the poor agents themselves though. Increasingly they are run by accountants  targeting sales figures and maximising margin. Little details like serving both sides in the contract have zero relevance to their business model. The individual agents are given achievement targets and so have no time for the niceties if they want to pay the mortgage . And of course it is much more cost effective to employ minimally experienced drones to handle the phones and use software to do the pattern matching between CV  and job description.
All of which is fine if you’re dealing with a commodity market like general development, operations and service management roles. But it’s a serious problem for all sides if you are a little more senior, or have niche skills in some area or another. Or even if, like many, you aren’t a specialist in any given field, just a good, solid all-rounder who can make a success of any contract they’re given.
In effect you start from scratch every time you need a new contract. No matter how good you are, you still have to get through the auto-pilot box-ticking recruitment  business we have these days. The one that says the agent gets a new role then stands there waving a piece of paper in the air to see who might be interested: usually several hundred, often hopelessly under qualified people on average. The signal to noise ratio in recruitment is actually appalling. How much cleaner if he had the resource to hand when the role comes in.
So how do we change the paradigm (see, I can do business speak as well…). The answer is surprisingly obvious.
The contractor pays the agent, not the client. Shock, horror…
Seriously, it would work. I have many skills but selling isn’t one of them, nor is cold-calling to find work (actually that’s just cowardice, but the result is the same). So why not outsource that part of the business to someone who does it for a living? The agent goes to the client with a zero margin deal. The contract would have to be B2B and, legally, you would have to be opted out of the Agency Regulations , both of which would appear to be good ideas. You know, solid in business indicators, no IR35 , no AWR, no secret upper contracts…
There would be no hint of you being anyone’s employee  either, since you’re at the top of the contract, not the bottom.
The agent would have to know who you are, what you can do, what you are worth and what your history is. He would be able to sell you actively and be incentivised to find you repeat business, since that’s where his margin comes from. He could specialise in given areas and build up a stable of people with the relevant skills, or he could be the one to fill the awkward jobs from his knowledge of his customers.
Best of all, you set the gross and the agent gets the percentage.
So what’s not to like? If you’re big enough and strong enough to build and justify a working reputation, and be able to be sold into an open market, why not go for it? I’d happily pay for that level of access and support, which has to be better than fighting your way to the top of some disinterested minion’s in tray to get noticed.
All we want is a couple of good agencies with the courage to bite the bullet and disregard the way they’ve always done it.
Ah. That might be a problem. Anyone know any brave, risk-taking agency FDs…?
About the author: Alan Watts
Alan has worked in IT for most of the last 35 years, and first went freelance in 1996. He has been a PCG member from its start and has been spreading the message that freelancing is a professional career choice for many years. Alan also runs Malvolio’s Blog, a personal but highly informative take on the life of the modern freelance.
Alan Watts, Principal Consultant, LPW Computer Services 
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Image: SmiAl – Sad  by Al aka pintofeggs