What to do When You Need Technical Expertise but Can’t Find the Right Hire

You have options when it comes to securing technical expertise for your organization–and no, you don’t have to compromise on quality or break the bank.

When Linda took over as managing director of a fledgling business, she knew she had her work cut out for her. But making strategic improvements is why she was hired and kinda part of the fun.

Identifying Your Organization’s Needs

Linda first launched into identifying the ongoing problems, starting with the raging fires that never miraculously burnt themselves out.

road signs: wrong way and no left turn

And their finances needed review, their processes for payment and fulfillment needed streamlined, their marketing needed an overhaul, and their clunky customer and inventory management systems were slowing everybody down.

Next, Linda assessed what existing resources she had, including the experience and skills of her team. Some staff just needed to delegate more in order to free up their time to solve the more important problems identified. And Linda knew a contract accountant who could handle the financial review.

But there were gaps. Namely, gaps in technical expertise. She had a modest budget to hire, but likely not to attract the level of help they really needed.

Sound familiar?

The Technical Skills Gap

Many small businesses wish they could just reach out to their (nonexistent) software team or analytics department to properly solve their technical woes or pressing business questions. And who wouldn’t want a resident expert to create efficient processes?

But let’s get real. Small businesses and nonprofits often don’t have the resources to hire a full suite of technical specialists.

Just recognizing that your organization could use technical expertise to streamline your business processes is a massive first step that some businesses overlook. So how to you fill that need?

The Problem with Fishing and Hiring Down

person holding a balloon obscuring their face

Linda did what many small businesses and nonprofits do: she went fishing. She combined a few core skills together to create a technical-ish position: a little bit of administration and project management, a dash of “database experience” here and “report creation” there, plus a spoonful each of analysis and strategy development. A Champaign sparkling wine ask within a beer budget. And she hoped for the best.

What’s wrong with fishing?

Teams rarely secure the help they truly need with the scaled-down staff position they create. They settle with good enough or “hire down” to the best candidate—but one that doesn’t address their underlying technical needs.

Linda hired the best candidate from the pool and they made progress in many areas, but a year later critical technical problems still remained unaddressed. The hire simply didn’t have enough technical experience and expertise to solve the more demanding issues.

“Making Do” Works…Until It Doesn’t

Eventually, every team needs functional systems and well-designed workflows to get the job done.

person with head just above water line

Over time, struggling through work without the right tools or expertise costs more than implementing an appropriate solution or having the right person at hand, just like never changing the oil or maintaining your car leads to expensive troubles down the road.

Luckily, you have more options than you might think to plug a technical hole in your organization:

Project Contracting

For Project-Specific Work

When you have a specific project in mind, consider contracting outside help to complete the project instead of hiring long term. Project contracting works for well-defined projects with clear objectives and deliverables. For example, Linda contracted her financial review project to an outside accountant.

Pros of Project Consulting
  • Generally lower risk and more cost-effective than hiring.
  • Can access higher quality, more experienced support than hiring within limited budgets.
  • External experts can bring knowledge across industries, breaking down siloed thinking that resident staff may have.
  • Project contracts clearly define roles and responsibilities, limiting your risk.
Cons of Project Consulting
  • Can be difficult to find appropriate contractors quickly.
  • Requires a clear project scope, generally defined at the outset.
  • Can be higher risk than staff augmentation or managed services (below) depending on your level of project oversight.

paper on wall to organize project

Managed Services

Skill Set Specific

If you have ongoing technical needs, managed services may be the right choice. Work might begin with in-depth implementation, setup, customization, or analysis to get on track and always continues for the foreseeable future.

The scope is well-defined, but flexible to adapt to your changing needs. Cloud servers or hosting might come to mind, but managed services are broader than just software solutions and include many ongoing services or technical guidance.

Pros of Managed Services
  • Able to access higher quality, more experienced support than hiring within limited budgets.
  • More cost effective than hiring, even when “hiring down”, which you’ll pay more for long-term than contracting for the right amount of the right help and expertise.
  • Simple financial framework. Pricing is fairly set, unless for a non-standard or large-volume ask, so you know what to budget.
  • Work can leverage existing staff resources, which can reduce costs and unknowns compared with outsourcing whole projects.
  • Greater flexibility than hiring.
  • You often collaborate with projects, which reduces unknowns and risk compared with project contracting.
  • External experts can bring knowledge across industries, breaking down siloed thinking that resident staff may have.
Cons of Managed Services
  • Outcomes greatly depend on contractor expertise, reliability, and availability, as well as the development of your working relationship.
  • Requires clear accountability for staff and contractor alike to prevent potential ambiguity of responsibilities.
  • It can take time to find local support with the skillset you need or remote support that you can trust, rely on, and collaborate with from afar.

people meeting around table for work

Staff Augmentation

For a Set Time Period

If you need technical expertise across several projects and tasks (or need help identifying where to begin) for a period of time, you could contract to fill out your team. This differs from hiring in that you and the contractor determine terms that work for both of you (duration, frequency, scope, hours, tasks, budget) and the person works with your team, instead of outsourcing an entire project.

Pros of Staff Augmentation
  • More cost-effective than hiring. This is true even when “hiring down”, which costs more long-term than contracting for the skill set you actually need.
  • Able to access higher quality, more experienced support than hiring within limited budgets.
  • Greater flexibility than hiring.
  • You maintain control of projects in-house, which reduces unknowns and risk compared with project contracting.
Cons of Staff Augmentation
  • Onboarding is typically needed, just like with hiring, which can take time.
  • It can be difficult to find local support with the skillset you need or remote support that you can trust, rely on, and collaborate with from afar.
  • Often best suited only for managers who understand the technical work they are managing.
  • Final responsibility for work execution and project completion remains yours, unlike project contracting.

There’s a Solution for Your Organization, without Fishing or Hiring Down

Most small businesses use at least one of the above solutions and most use a combination to meet their technical needs. Because you probably have experience hiring and managing employees, it can feel uncomfortable at first to try alternatives. But it can be well worth it, particularly to properly and cost-effectively address your technical needs, instead of applying another patch.

Before you compromise and hire someone without the skill set you really need for your business goals, consider your options. You can find the right fit and often within your budget, if you’re open to being versatile beyond bringing on more and more staff.

Are you a small business? What solutions have worked for you to meet your technical needs without hiring down?


P.S. Interested in learning more about building technical capacity for your business? Join our occasional newsletter, Plugged In, and get insights straight to your inbox.


Photo Credit: Li Yang on Unsplash. Jamie Street on Unsplash. Chien Nguyen Minh on Unsplash.

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