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business development, craft

6 Pros (And 5 Cons) of Working With Freelancers

Let’s see, we’re smart, funny, sophisticated, and we won’t drink all the good bourbon at your happy hour. That’s enough, right? Oh, wait, you want some value for your time here? Ah, makes sense. Without further ado, here are my observations on some positives and negatives to working with freelancers, whether they be for graphic design, creative content, project management, or something else.

Pro #1: You Don’t Need To Fill Their Schedule

Freelancers work project-by-project, or sometimes on retainer (which would be a set fee for a set amount of work each time period). This means you can get work done at the level you need, without worrying that you’ll have to continually find things for your freelancer to do to make her worth what you pay her. She can step in during crunch times and lend a hand to get you past a deadline, and afterwards you both can say, “See you next time!” without any hard feelings or obligations.

Con #1: They May Not Be Available Just When You Need Them

Because that freelancer has to keep her own pipeline full, she may not be as readily available to take on a large or urgent project right when you need the help. Her next two days to two months might be booked with work already, without any kind of flexibility to adjust for your project. This could leave you scrambling or working that overtime anyway, just when you thought you were in the clear.

Pro #2: They’ll Have Experience In The Tasks Your Asking For

People generally transition into freelancing from a previous career. Yet they don’t forget all the things they’ve done before, and that means when they’re promoting themselves as a freelancer in a certain area, they know what they’re talking about. Suppose you’ve got a new project or new expansion that you’re considering. If you have the choice of an internal employee with no experience in such projects or an external freelancer with extensive knowledge of best practices, you would probably do well to leverage that freelancer’s expertise for a project or two. If you give the whole thing to the new internal hire, it will probably get finished, but the after-action review will likely say “This could have been done so much better.” Adding that external freelance help can build your capacity while minimizing some risks.

Con #2: They Will Need Some Time To Learn About You

If you’ve got a niche product or industry, it might take a little time to help your freelancer understand just what your ideal customer is, what your unique market position is, or why you’re doing what you’re doing now. If you work with new freelancers often, this re-education process can get tedious. You might find that telling your own story becomes a hindrance to getting more of your work done, and so you’ll turn to internal people who already know what, why, and how.

Pro #3: They Can Focus On The Project At Hand

When you hire a freelancer to design a flyer, that’s all they’re going to do. They won’t get distracted by the March Madness pool, or reorganizing the mail process to make it more efficient. They will focus on what they’re doing for you, and not stick their noses into business they don’t belong in. You can get the work done without office politics, without losing focus, and with a sense of single-minded purpose that can often fade in a less-structure environment. Trust me on that one, I spent 16 years in offices. It’s easy to see why Dilbert hits so many nerves.

Con #3: Freelancers Aren’t Full-Time

That is, they won’t be devoting all of their time to your organization. They’ll be working on multiple projects at once, which means you might have to break down your project into various steps, when the alternative might be to just assign one big block of work and let it go. The freelancer will likely check in multiple times over the project lifetime, which may feel like dragging out the process and adding unnecessary feedback loops, but that’s because the freelancer doesn’t want to waste any time in the end redoing a project just because the final delivery “didn’t quite feel right.” As a result, you might feel like you have to “manage” the project more than with an internal employee.

Pro #4: Low Overhead

Freelancers are generally solo-preneurs, so interacting with them is talking directly with the professional. You probably won’t have a sales executive and an account manager in between you and your designer, a situation which, frankly, is easy to evolve into at larger firms. It’s a necessity of growth and specialization, but it does add some barriers into the communicative process. Plus, having such low overhead means you’re usually not paying for a fancy office space, multiple layers of middle management, and ancillary services that don’t add any value to your project.

Con #4: Their Hourly (Or Project) Rate May Look High Compared To Your Salaried Employees

This is a function of two elements. One, you are paying the professional directly, so they’ll likely need to allocate some of their revenue to support processes like bookkeeping services, supplies, etc. It’s not all profit for them.

And, two, your salaried employee is getting paid more than just the dollars on the paycheck. You’re also paying taxes, benefits, vacation, and coffee and Junior Mints in the break room. So a freelancer who’s charging $70 an hour is going to look real expensive, at first glance, compared to a salaried employee who earns $60,000 a year (really close to $30 / hour). But if you do the math on that salaried employee, they’re probably not being effective all 40 hours a week, 2,000 hour a year. Maybe 2/3 of their time is actually focused on work. The rest is bathroom breaks, quarterly meetings, and extra-long lunches. Add in taxes, benefits, and all the ancillaries, and I bet your hourly rate for your freelancer is really, really close. Don’t dismiss a quote out-of-hand just because it seems high relative to your current employees.

Pro #5: Wide Backgrounds Often Bring New Insights

While no good freelancer should be distributing confidential or proprietary information, when you work with someone who’s had a broad background of project experience, he is likely to have seen something that worked in another area that you had no idea about. You can leverage his broad base of knowledge to apply to a new situation. This wide reach approach means that you’re not just limited to things that all of your competitors are currently doing. You might be in hospitality and your freelancer can give you a feel for what works in steel production, or how an education group approached a similar problem. This expands your opportunities for success by expanding the marketplace of potential solutions.

This goes hand-in-hand with the next positive to working with freelancers, that they’re quick to learn.

Pro #6: They’re Generally Quick Learners

Freelancers have to be. They’re meeting new people, new industries, and potentially taking on new projects all the time. This means they need to know how to get up to speed quickly, to make connections on limited data, and to ask crucial questions that get to the heart of the matter. You might feel like this is “probing” or “intrusive”. Frankly, though, these quality questions will enable you and your freelancers to work better to create a more effective final product, and the discovery process can ensure that you’re able to clearly define what you want and why.

Con #5: Their Style May Not Be For You

Despite all the positives, working with a freelancer just might not fit your style. You might need to be able to check in more often than that freelancer is able to work with you. You may want to retain a lot of the creative control, rather than give your freelancer freedom to explore. You might not have payroll or vendor systems set up to adequately pay your freelancers. You may just like the regularity and security of having someone always on-staff that could do whatever you asked of them, without a project scope document and an agreement negotiation each time. And it could be that the freelancers you come across just aren’t that good at what they do, and so you’re willing to invest the time and money in a search for a permanent hire. If that’s best for you, then it would be a waste of time to try to convince you otherwise.

Conclusion

Hiring a quality freelance professional can bring new knowledge and insights to your team. She may also bring some headaches and challenges, too. Knowing beforehand what you want and why will smooth the process, and who knows? Your freelancer could even work herself out of a job by adding to the knowledge base and revenue of your team that you have the capacity and skill to hire someone else full-time. I’d call that a win any day.

craft, Writing improvement

How “Stanley the Mason” Helped Me Be a Better Writer

The Background

Measure twice, cut once. It’s a famous adage in construction. The point is simple: you don’t want to mark your board (or brick, or soffit, or shingle, or stud, or wire, or tile… you get the picture) wrong, and cut it based on that incorrect marking. You’ll end up with either:

  • A piece that’s too long, and you have to trim it again; thus taking extra time you don’t really want to spend; or
  • A piece that’s too short, doesn’t fit, and requires you to make a second fill-in piece, or to shove in extra fill material, or just scrap it altogether and add to your waste pile.

Neither of these is a good option.

But where does this education come from? It comes from those men who’ve spent thirty years or more on the scaffolding laying ten thousand bricks to build a wall; or standing in the hole laying blocks for hours and hours and hours to make a foundation; or in the 101-degree oven of a Midwestern July afternoon fitting a re-roof and sweating gallons. These professionals know the value of efficiency and the cost of inefficiency. They’re Stan, and John, and Darren, and J.D., who I worked with for many summers growing up. I labored for them, and they taught me lessons I’m applying 25 years later.

So when they say to “measure twice”, you know they’re talking truth. They know the value of maximizing the precision of your first effort and minimizing the chance of re-doing it.

The Current Situation

And how does this apply to writing? Or business in general? I can’t very well measure my paper, or my computer monitor. I mean, I could, but neither would do me much good. Instead of pulling out a ruler, I’m going to apply that idea to research and writing. I’m going to look for a way to be efficient with the set-up work I do and the production that results.

When I’m researching for a client, I’ll think not only about the specific piece I’m immediately delivering. I’ll also think about related pieces I could produce if I wanted to reuse a portion for another purpose. Or, whether what I’m doing for this first project might also make sense as part of another, broader project. For example, if I were to write an article about solar panel adoption in Missouri, I’d probably also make sure to gather background statistics on solar panel adoption in the Midwest in general, as well as alternative renewable energy sources in Missouri. Having done all that work, I can write one article, and be prepared to write others with minimal new research.

The Advice

Instead of Measure twice, cut once, let’s change that a little. How about, Research once, write thrice. That’s got a similar ring, and sets you up for better results. Because putting that mindset into practice will ensure your research is comprehensive enough that you don’t have to do the same searches again the next time you have an assignment.

Plus, it gives you an opportunity to suggest follow-ups to your audience. That’s what’s known as a win-win. Thanks, Stan. You really did teach me something. And hopefully, my audience will learn to Research once, write thrice and become that much better at what they do.

business development, fundraising industry

Hey Nonprofits! Why Aren’t You Spending MORE on Fundraising?

It’s a pretty simple question, really.

Why don’t you spend more time, more effort,

and more MONEY on fundraising? 

Look, we all know that fundraising is hard. Direct mail returns sometimes seem too low to justify the effort. Email response rates are dismal. And grant applications? Who wants to get rejected 7 times out of 10? No, thanks.

Plus, all that time spent doing fundraising is taking time away from your mission: saving animals, restoring the local greenways, or ensuring that kids don’t have to go home hungry over the weekend. I get it – fundraising isn’t why you got into the industry in the first place.

But it’s a necessary component of running your nonprofit. And there’s a hidden switch inside your fundraising process that could magically expand your funds available to do the good work waiting for you, why wouldn’t you flip it?

The good news is, it’s already there.

The bad news, though, is that you’re going to have to do some work to make it happen.

As much as I might like to say I’m the expert in everything, I’m not. I’m no botanist, social scientist, or playwright. However, I do know numbers. And the one that sticks out to me is the Cost to Raise a Dollar.

This is the standard metric within the nonprofit world, and it represents how much it takes to bring $1 in the door. For some charities, it’s less than a dime. For others, it’s up over $0.40. That’s not to judge either one as right or wrong. In fact, the national average is around $0.20 (see link for details).

So this, to me, signals the opportunity. If it only costs $0.20 to raise a dollar, that means you have a 5-to-1 return on every penny spent on fundraising! That’s up in the realm of stratospheric returns promised by many financial gurus hawking investment newsletters. If that’s the opportunity available, why wouldn’t you continue to spend more to get more?

The difference is, they’re selling you something that may or may not pan out, while you, in your organization, KNOW what your costs are and what your returns are. So, if it costs you $0.25 to raise $1.00, you can be fairly confident that if you expand your fundraising operations next year by $25,000, you should bring in an additional $100,000.

What else could you do with an additional $75,000? That’s $75,000 more rescued kittens, low-income student scholarships, or innovative gallery exhibits. Or, think about this. Maybe you reinvest that excess the next year and turn it into $300,000. Do it once more and now you’re at $1,000,000. WHOA.

It comes down to this: If you could earn those additional funds next year, simply by flipping the switch and expanding your fundraising operations, what’s stopping you? If you can think of three good reasons why putting more time and money into fundraising wouldn’t provide you with the standard 3-to-1, 5-to-1, or even 10-to-1 returns, then you shouldn’t do it.

But I’m betting you won’t have those three good reasons. Probably just one, “It’s not in our budget.” And if that’s true, then we have another conversation to have. But, if you’re willing to at least ask the question of whether you can get more by doing more, it means it’s probably time to consider expanding your fundraising efforts. So: what’s holding you back?