Many freelancers operate as sole traders and will want to continue with that way of working for their entire freelance career. But if you would like to scale up your business but cannot take on any more tasks as an individual, then it is time to start thinking about hiring reliable people who can work to the standard your customers already expect of you. How do you do this, what potential pitfalls are there and what do you need to do to continue scaling up your business? Read on to find out.
Expanding Your Business From a Sole Operator
To begin with, there is quite a psychological leap you need to make when expanding any freelance business from working on your own. You might provide services in a certain way or within given parameters that mark you out from competitors, for instance. If so, then you will want to ensure you can maintain your standards even when others are doing some of the work or you.
As such, expanding from a sole operator – whether you’re registered as a company or a sole trader – means finding people you can trust. Given that in most commercial situations, trust is earned, you will need to trial work with subcontractors and other freelancers at first. Once a few assignments or tasks have been completed to a standard you’d be happy with if you’d undertaken them yourself, then you can start to expand your business more and more. Initially, however, expanding a freelance business will necessarily entail careful management of workloads and assignments to ensure quality is maintained.
Therefore, at the outset, at least, expanding a freelance business means more work, not less. You’ll need to operate more as a manager or supervisor to begin with until the workflows start to normalise. Once things have settled down, however, the increased turnover you can achieve by passing on work you’ve won from your clientele to others means your whole business can get to the next level with superior profit margins and, in many cases, allow you to take it a bit easier from time to time.
Strategies for Successfully Scaling a Freelance Business
When you reach your own personal capacity for work as a freelancer, you are already too late to devote time and effort to building a remote team who can help you. Consequently, the best time to start scaling your business with others is before you reach the point of no longer being able to cope on your own. Subcontracting to other freelancers or even taking on an employee or two might seem like a big cost to your business but this won’t always be the case if it allows you to increase your revenue by winning new and larger customers.
One strategy that some freelance businesses have employed to get over the initial upturn in expenditure when expanding is to do so a quarter or so before the end of the financial year. This way, the added expenditure can be spread over two financial years or reporting periods. That said, scaling a business at any time comes with some costs so your focus should really be on making the expansion viable in the mid-term. For this, you’ll need to win more work.
A good strategy to win more work with your business expansion plan is to simply tell your current customer base that you are scaling up operations and can take on more work. This might end up with more of the same assignments coming your way or even some larger, more complex jobs that need more human resources. There again, informing your customers of greater capacity could mean you can speed up your delivery times, allowing you more time at the end of each month, for example, to take on new work from other clients. Getting your freelance business expansion to coincide with a marketing campaign that drives up inbound enquiries from potential new customers is often a wise move, therefore.
How to Recruit a Remote Workforce
Think about the sort of places you sought work in the gig economy when you were first starting out as a freelancer. These are the places where other freelancers – perhaps including those who are just starting out on their freelance careers – will be looking for jobs, too. Typical places where you will have tracked down work in the gig economy include message boards that relate to the industry you work in or freelancer-specific websites where all sorts of jobs are posted. Any such sites that you have used in the past will be the ideal place to advertise for remote workers of your own. Place an ad for a remote worker. Given most people who do freelance work will be searching such sites every day, you will get a response from suitable people.
Remember, though, that not every respondent will be suited to your style of freelance work. Therefore, you will need to ensure that the advert you place explains what it is you want. If you run a freelance sales training school, for example, then your ad will need to make it clear that you’re looking for people with the right sort of experience, not just anyone who thinks that they could turn their hand to it. There again, you’ll need to mention geography in some cases. If your freelance business covers East Anglia with site visits throughout the region but you are being offered work in Wales, for instance, then your ad will need to let would-be applicants know where you’ll need them to be located. Of course, with digital communications such as they are, some freelancers could be located on the other side of the planet and it wouldn’t make a difference. However, where physical presence is a must, you will be better off letting applicants know from the outset where they’ll be expected to work.
When recruiting a remote workforce, you will also need to tell people the minimum amount of work they will need to commit to per week or month. Some freelancers may have only limited hours they can give you due to other work duties or their home life. Don’t waste time finding the ideal candidate who can only get one job done a month if you know you will need five or six completed a week for the business expansion to make sense. Another good tip is to let your applicants know that the workload you are offering is liable to expand. This can be appealing to some freelancers who want to get in at the ground level with a growing enterprise and gain more and more assignments as it continues to expand its horizons.
Of course, advertising for freelancers isn’t the only way to recruit a remote workforce. You may already know people in the industry who would like to earn a bit more in the evenings and weekends. If so, why shouldn’t former colleagues make for great candidates while you’re expanding your freelance business? Even if the people you know aren’t up for some freelance work to boost their earnings, they may know others who might be interested. Any word-of-mouth recommendations you get could be worth their weight in gold, especially if you undertake particularly skilled or technically demanding work where the right knowledge isn’t always easy to find among freelancers.
How to Train Remote Workers
No matter how skilled or knowledgeable your remote team of workers might be, you are going to need to think about training them. Why? Because, as a freelancer, you will have developed your own style and way of doing things. Your customers will continue to expect the same service and standards as before even if you are no longer doing the work for them personally. As such, even highly skilled subcontractors within a remote team will need to be appraised of how to deliver their work and to what sort of standard they should work towards. If not, customers may simply start to look elsewhere for their jobs which would defeat the object of expanding your business in the first place, of course.
On the other hand, you might want to train at least some of your remote team simply on the basis that they will need to learn what to do from scratch. Many people who undertake work in the gig economy are competent and self-starters. This doesn’t mean you can leave it to them entirely to acquire the skills they’ll need to complete the work you will be sending their way, however. Therefore, a system of remote training is often a high priority among freelancers who are subcontracting some – or all – of their work.
Perhaps the simplest way of training remote workers and offering them insights into what you will expect of them from your perspective as their effective employer is to produce a guide. Write a guide that covers the sort of work you will assign to your remote workforce, the standards that are expected and the sort of quality controls you will impose. The work you subcontract may vary but any specific rules or regulations that need to be met should be covered in your guide. Ask all of your remote workers to read it and sign off on it once they have.
In addition, explainer videos can help you to convey the training messages that are most important in an engaging way. Make a video or two for specific areas of work that your team can refer to when they’re working. Any good streaming site will allow you to upload such content without needing to make it public. In some cases, though, you will need to show and not tell your remote workers what to do.
If this is the case with one or more of your team, then set up a video conference call where you can share your screen with them. Let’s say your freelance work is in graphic design and you want to show a worker how to render shadows in the ‘house style’ of your business. It will often be better to allow your team to see you doing it and which digital tools you use so that they can replicate your process. The same goes for freelance work like editing or translating documents, coding and much more besides.
If you can, set up some time for one-to-one meetings with remote workers. If you have established a good working relationship with a worker and want them to take on more tasks or even oversee some work that other members of your remote team are doing, then sometimes only a face-to-face meeting will suffice. When you’re dealing with a remote worker who is miles away, in-person meetings can take time to arrange but booking one will be worth it to train the right person as the business expands. If in-person meetings are not viable, then spending face time online is a reasonable substitute, especially as it will give you a chance to look them in the eye when discussing work and building the aforementioned trust that so many successful freelance networks and teams rely on.
Managing a Remote Workforce as a Freelancer
Tracking incoming assignments from your customers, keeping on top of which of your remote team is working on a subcontracted assignment and then presenting completed work to your clients within their deadlines can be demanding. Add to this complexities like amendments to orders, change requests following completed works, collaborative assignments or multi-stage work that requires two, three or four members of your remote team to complete their job in a given sequence before you can complete it and freelance business can soon become hard to manage.
That said, many successful multinational companies operate with remote, globally distributed workforces and deliver sometimes very complicated projects on budget and on time. Freelancers can also do the same thing – so long as you know how to manage teams well, of course. Part of this will be the rewards you are offering. Your remote workers should be paid adequately for their work or they won’t be sufficiently motivated or diligent which will cause organisational and quality management problems for you. However, money isn’t everything because good management also relies upon good communication.
Today, there are many different ways to organise assignments and tasks online. There are plenty of software systems around that will allow you to place orders for your remote team to complete. Some will even allow you to add priorities or keywords to help your team find the right work for them and deliver the tasks you most need to be completed first. What’s more, some of these cloud-based project management solutions are free – for a trial period, at least.
As your remote team expands, you will need to add users to your system. It is also crucial that you can remove users so make sure you have administrator’s rights. Avoid disgruntled former members of your remote team messing up orders for newer team members by ensuring only those with authorisation can gain access to work. Equally, using a project management system should mean you avoid duplications. When you email tasks out to your team, it is all too easy for two team members to start doing the same task, something that will cause a headache to sort out, especially when they both want to be paid for the work they’ve done.
Overall, managing a network of freelancers means listening to them and understanding what they need. Importantly, people’s workload capacities, their attitudes to freelance assignments and their financial expectations may change over time. You should continue to get to know the members of your team with frequent check-ins just to see if what you think you know continues to be the case. After all, freelancers are free to leave at a moment’s notice so you’ll want to ensure the best people who work for you are happy and secure in what they’re doing. Upscaling a freelance team to grow a business means keeping the talented people with you, so avoid unnecessary own goals and constantly needing to recruit and train team members when your most productive subcontractors already know what they’re doing.