Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

Brownell Travel in Birmingham, Ala., is home to a community of 115 independent contractors. With dozens of ICs on the books, the agency has come up with an interesting way to make sure they all have a proverbial seat at the table with Brownell: The Independent Contractor Advisory Board.

"The purpose is to be a sounding board for Brownell on behalf of the community, and also a sounding board for the community to Brownell," said Kerry Dyer, Brownell's vice president of talent development.

The board was created about seven years ago. It consists of three Brownell employees and three ICs. ICs can nominate themselves for the board or nominate their peers. Each year, a list of candidates is sent to all ICs, and they pick their top three choices. Each IC board member serves a one-year term. They can be re-elected to a second term, but after two consecutive terms must step down for a minimum of two years before they are again eligible to run.

"It's typically a great mix," Dyer said. "It spans all different kinds of people, and all different types of businesses."

The board participates in monthly phone calls where members can discuss potential new programs from Brownell and offer up their opinions. IC board members are also involved in calls vetting potential preferred suppliers.

Every year, Dyer said, Brownell sends a survey to all of its ICs, which asks about every support item the host offers; the results are published in a lengthy document (this year it was 112 pages long). And typically, the board comes together in person for three days in Birmingham to go through the results, page by page. It helps keep the hosting program relevant and moving forward, Dyer said. 

"We peel away all the 'Hooray, we love you' part, which we appreciate, but then we take into account the, 'This is what you could do better. Here are suggestions,'" Dyer said.

"Our whole existence is to support them and their needs, and so we're just trying to be ahead of the game and give them what they need."

Unsurprisingly, the feedback has resulted in several changes. Dyer pointed, in particular, to the way Brownell structures its sales incentives. It has three categories of top-producing ICs: the top 30%, top 25% and top 10%. Only the top 10% and 25% were awarded a trip, but that changed at the board's suggestion, and the top 30% now are offered an annual incentive trip.

Lately, Brownell has focused on helping ICs work on their businesses and get their infrastructure in place for the return of travel. The host has also been engaging ICs who might feel siloed even in non-pandemic times.

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