MertzCrew is our Best Practices Sponsor. Tom Stimson had a chance to sit down with Wallace Johnson, VP Business Development at MertzCrew.
Q: Is it just me or is the industry more focused on finding and utilizing a staffing pool than ever before? Why do you think that is?
Because everyone is busier! Corporate Events have grown significantly over the past few years and it seems like every music act that can still stand on a stage is going on tour. Companies are competing aggressively, resulting in decreasing margins that they’re trying to make up with volume. As a result, companies need access to talent, tools to organize & track crews, and a partner that can help them navigate all of the details so the companies can focus on growing their business.
Q: Mertzcrew has taken on some very specific challenges to support its clients. Can you give me the executive level view of what you do and why it’s important today?
It’s important to state up front that we are NOT a staffing service, but instead a Complete AV Crewing Platform. We’re best known for our service that simplifies the process of engaging freelancers with the necessary skills for our Live Events clients. Our system works the way the industry wants to work, with crews that are contracted per project based on the skill set needed for a particular event. And now more than ever, it’s become vital that leading companies make absolutely certain that the workers that they identify have the right skill set and can come into a project and do what is needed with little to no instruction from us or the Live Event client. Since we have over 15-years experience supporting leading AV companies, we are confident in our process and the manner in which we engage workers. In the Live Event space, workers are often working for multiple clients at short term events and have unique skills. In these circumstances, an employment relationship is not warranted for either party.
Q: SaaS and cloud-based applications now seem to be widely accepted – at least by anyone under 50. Are folks concerned about having too many subscriptions to services and not utilizing them fully?
I think folks are more concerned about making sure they have the RIGHT subscription service. We are experiencing an explosion in SaaS and cloud-based services from all industries that are evolving at a dizzying rate. We believe the SaaS solutions that will succeed will: (1) Focus on solving industry-specific challenges; (2) Integrate easily with other SaaS products; (3) Truly make a client more effective vs. “just replacing paper”. It’s ironic that we were founded in 2001 by a Live Event producer to make the contracting process easier before cloud-technology even existed. When we moved to the cloud in 2011, the technology enabled us to do it faster, better, and less expensive, but our core service has not changed.
Q: Live Events companies ask me all the time about where to find good freelancers. They really insist on a personal recommendation or endorsement from someone they know. Is that realistic?
From my experience, it is absolutely realistic but the challenge is that companies have to rely on “individuals talking to individuals”, which is a time-consuming process. Especially since the best freelancers are booked fast so they usually aren’t sitting around waiting on that call or referral. One of the tools we offer on our platform is to capture our community’s feedback at or about the same time that a freelancer is on a project so there is a continually growing history of quality and experience that is shared between our Live Event clients. The industry is growing at a pace that personal referrals will become difficult, time-consuming, and counter-productive. We’ve built in tools in our software that keep the spirit of peer-to-peer referrals while keeping up with the needs of the future.
Q: To follow up on that, how should your customers expect their team to use your product? Is it best left to a centralized staffing desk, or can it be used by Account and Project Managers across the company?
Our platform has to work equally as well if a client has a centralized scheduling team or if the crewing responsibilities are delegated to the Project Managers. To make this happen, we focus on designing a highly collaborative crewing tool that can be used by anyone who has a vested interest in organizing a live-event crew, regardless of the client’s organizational structure. Teams from Scheduling, Operations, and Account Management work together, often working remotely, to identify and plan out a high quality crew. Since MertzCrew tracks all of the details of the entire crew from employees and freelancers to external labor sources, teams can work in one place to schedule, track, and approve the crew’s services. This allows our clients to quickly and accurately bill the end-client, speeding up our client’s “billing-to-cash” cycle. At the same time, timesheets for tracked employees go to the HR and payroll folks while any freelancers that the Live Event client finds and retains through the Mertzcrew platform are paid through us. It sounds complicated, but we pride ourselves on a very easy and intuitive design that makes this process very smooth, collaborative, and transparent.
Q: A frequent consideration I hear about trying out new people is that some hiring companies are very suspicious of freelancers that they don’t know personally. How do you help these companies be more comfortable broadening their connections?
I know I keep repeating the same disclaimer, but because we’re not a staffing service, our clients have complete control over who they request to be part of their project. Mertzcrew profiles are maintained solely by the freelancers and we find that the freelancers put a lot of care into presenting their skills and capabilities to clients. Additionally, the freelancer’s contact information is listed on their profile so client’s can talk to freelancers that they identify before the project to make sure they’re a good fit. It’s always fun to see how much clients learn about the freelancers capabilities after they see their fully-completed profile. We’ve had a few clients tell us how surprised they are to discover that a particular freelancer has a bigger skill set than they realized.
Q: What’s the most common misconception about hiring freelancers that you encounter in your customers?
The most common misconception is that clients are setting themselves up for Doomsday scenarios and an immediate invasion of IRS auditors if they dare to contract a freelancer. Whenever we read the details of cases quoted in articles that try to create this fear of contracting freelancers, regardless of the industry, you can usually see where the penalized companies probably should have known that they weren’t classifying workers properly. That is where we come in. While we certainly aren’t in the business of providing legal advice, we help our clients know when it makes sense to retain freelancers as independent contractors and when that type of classification does not seem to work.
Q: Some companies have started paying their staff through your services – is that true and why would they do that?
No, this is not accurate. Mertzcrew only handles payments to Freelancers that have chosen to work as independent contractors and that have also chosen to offer their services to the public using our platform. Mertzcrew is not, as I have said, a staffing agency or PEO that handles payroll. I think the confusion may be that one of the services that MertzCrew offers to clients is that it will assist in tracking hours for a client’s employees a project and will then prepare report for the client’s HR team.
Q: If I understand correctly, MC is the agent of record. Why is this important and is it necessary for every transaction?
Mertzcrew in some cases acts as an agent of record, but that is not always the case. Clients use the Mertzcrew platform to identify which freelancers on the crew are engaged through a contract with Mertzcrew, and which of the freelancers carry their own insurances and directly contract with the client.
Q: Can you speak to the reporting issues mandated by the Affordable Care Act and how MC can help owners?
Because Mertzcrew utilizes an independent contractor model, the ACA has no application to freelancers identified through the platform. In addition, MertzCrew’s software can tracks the hours worked by a client’s employees on a project so they have that data at their fingertips whenever they need it, and the client can determine if ACA coverage is applicable to their employees.
Q: Let’s talk money. There is a perception that any middleman in a staffing transaction is going to make money that the hiring company could otherwise keep if they did everything themselves. What is the economic value proposition of an MC engagement/transaction/account?
I love this question, because the owners and senior executives at AV companies live this exact same question every day. Fortune 500 companies can certainly save money if they buy their own equipment and hire their own AV people for the handful of projects they do each year, but does it really make sense for them to invest in non-core competencies to do it themselves or is there value in bringing in AV experts that can do amazing work? It’s the exact same thing with us. We have designed a platform that allows for a complete solution of all aspects of using an AV Crew at a Live Event – we are the experts – so we can provide our service at a much higher quality and a much lower cost than clients would have to spend if they were doing it themselves. The economic value we provide is both direct and indirect. The direct value is the net savings to a client since properly contracting with a qualified freelancer tends to be less costly than recruiting, hiring, training and paying an employee for these unique and specialized tasks. The indirect economic value is even greater in our opinion. First, our clients gain great efficiency in their operations. Second, they save on Worker’s Comp premiums and administrative burdens. Finally, they significantly reduce the risk to their company and the potential costs of not having the proper contracts and insurance in place.
Q: Finally, what’s the one thing that you wish all your prospects understood – or what is the one misconception you want to correct – about hiring and paying freelancers?
Don’t believe all the hype in articles written to scare AV companies away from contracting freelancers and trying to make it sound like it’s a confusing and dangerous process. It’s not if they have someone they can trust with the knowledge and experience to do it properly. There are more freelancers now across more industries than ever. And it’s only going to get bigger – 40% of the entire US workforce will be freelancers in 2020 by some estimates. Companies are demanding their AV partners be flexible and responsive, and the younger generation does not want a “traditional” employment path. They want flexibility to work when they want, how they want, and with whom they want, including with multiple parties. Mertzcrew is all about bringing together companies and freelancers in the right way so everyone benefits.
Q: How can companies find you and who should they have talk to you first?
I would recommend we start a conversation with the senior leader in Operations or the lead producer. These folks tend to know the key details of how a company selects AV crews and we can discuss how we can fit in to their existing process. Our website (www.mertzcrew.com) is the best place to start and get an overview of what we do. They can contact me at Wallace@mertzcrew.com when they are ready to learn more. We’ll also be at InfoComm in Vegas this year if folks want to meet us in person.