Becoming a freelancer is an achievement in itself. For the first few months as you build up your client base, the first steps are to prove your worth, make the right contacts, and attract enough work so you can cover your bills and living expenses, and hopefully earn more than you would working full time for someone else.
At a certain point, when you get there, there is a new challenge – you can get too busy, spend too much time on low level activity, and feel overwhelmed. Some decide to say no to new business. Others feel like they can’t even consider how to strategically grow their business, because they simply don’t have time.
This is when you may have to make the decision – is it time to hire someone else to help? Can you afford it? No man is an island and if you want to break free from trading your time for money, you need to learn how to “leverage”. The idea is that whoever else you’re paying will be earning you more money as a result.
Many freelancers who have fine tuned their craft find it hard to scout out others that can deliver the same quality of work. But this doesn’t mean you should give up on the idea. If you want to grow, then you need to come to terms with these truths:
When I hired my first employee, I had it in my mind that she’d be part time. But she was so eager to learn and had the best attitude, so I decided to keep her busy on a full time basis, and I have never looked back. I was lucky to have found such a hard working, conscientious first employee.
Over the years I have streamlined my “onboarding process” for new team members. The idea is to allow any new person who joins you to be given enough to do so they feel useful early on and are actually helpful to you within the first week.
1. Document what you do yourself. If you look at all the different things you do in your business when you deliver your service, you’re probably doing things in an extra special way. This is what people are coming to you for. You may already know what the steps are that you take to build relationships, prove your values, close a sale, onboard new clients, set them up to receive your service, deliver the services and get paid.
2. Get used to delegation. Successful people can delegate. If you never get yourself over the misguided belief that you are the only one in the world who can do anything right, then you will never grow beyond being just a freelancer. Doing all the busy work yourself means you have very little time to create new products or services, improve the things you are delivering, make things more efficient and explore new relationships and opportunities. Once you delegate these things you’re in a much better position to tweak and improve your business. But people find this really hard. However, I promise － spending an hour preparing good instructions means you have these ready to give good guidance and help your new team member to get it right. And once you have this done, you can refine or improve it and use it to train the next people who come on board.
3. Who to hire? It’s important to be clear on the behaviours, mindsets and values you want people in your team to have. They will be an extension of you, so it’s worth listing what would be unacceptable behaviours and what you define as the characteristics of a “a team player”.
4. Be realistic: I remember a friend of mine was always frustrated when he wanted to hire a PA. He wanted someone who was like “Donna from the West Wing”. But Donna is a fictional character created by writers and she’d worked several years in her role and knew it inside out. A new person can’t be expected to be perfect, but you can expect them to have the right attitude, want to learn, quick at picking up new things, and hard working. The rest can be trained.
5. What will they do? If you’re looking to add to your team, either they need to be similar to you in their work methods and efficiencies, or they need to bring something you don’t currently do/have to the table. If you are bad at something or hate doing it – how would you love it to be done if the perfect person was to come along and take on that task?
6. The first step – what are the week 1 tasks? Lots of people hire people or even interns and they quickly run out of work they can delegate. In advance, you need to write a list of the projects you want them to complete. And break it down – you can’t expect someone new to just walk in and start doing things right away. You need to give them easy tasks so they can learn.
This does take time – but it’s the right way to break free and build your freelance career into a proper business. Along the way, you will need to identify your business vision and purpose, create clear roles and responsibilities for those who you work with, and find regular ways to check in with each other and keep each other on track.