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, craft, fundraising industry

The 7 People You Meet While Networking; and Why You’ll Only Work With 1 of Them

There’s a phrase I’ve heard a few times:

You’ll only work with people you know, like, and trust.

And after a year of freelancing and building my brand and business, I’m fully convinced of the truth of that statement. Since I’ve been on my own, I’ve met quite a few people. And I’m not working with them all. Nor should I.

This article will explain the 7 different people you meet while networking and demonstrate why they’re not right for you. Whether you want to work with someone is all based on combinations of knowing, liking, and trusting them.

1. People you KNOW, but don’t LIKE or TRUST.

It’s easy to meet people. Walk up to them, stick out a hand, and say, “Hi, I’m Stephan.” Have a 3-minute conversation, and you’ll know someone.

But you might not like them, or trust them. You might not like their business – perhaps they recycle old tired into playground cover material, and you are adamant that those old tires should be burnt. And you might not trust them, either, to do what they say they’re going to do. Perhaps that’s because you saw a LinkedIn endorsement that says “Hey, K. is a fabulous real estate agent,” and one from just a month before that says “K. Is the most awesome kindergarten teacher in the county.” If you see that, do you trust that K. is now going to be dedicated to your cause of IT recruiting?

Who knows, which is why K. is someone you might not trust. And so you’re not going to work with her. She’s just as likely to come in tomorrow as to leave you high and dry. And you can’t afford downtime like that.

2. People you LIKE, but don’t KNOW or TRUST

This category is for people in the public eye who align with your goals, but you don’t know them personally. YouTube stars, television celebrities, paid endorsers of one kind or another. Even local celebrities of one kind or another. Or to put it more blunt: “St. Louis Famous.” They might champion causes you agree with. You might know these [Your City Here] Famous people, but you probably won’t agree to do business with them. If they were to approach you with an opportunity, you’d politely decline.

Why? Because you don’t know them or trust them. You don’t know them because it’s hard to get to know them. It’s hard to understand whether these people really like you, too, or if it’s an act. They’re pretty good at the act, which is usually how they got to be however famous they are, and because of that it will take a longer time to get there.

3. People you TRUST, but don’t KNOW or LIKE

These are, again, people with reputations, but not the kind you want to be associated with. In the political world, they might be the Koch Brothers (on the right) or labor unions (on the left). The point is, you TRUST them to live out certain values, but you don’t like what values they espouse. So why would you want to do business with them?

More personally, this might be people you meet who just rub you the wrong way. Maybe you hear about them from another in your networking group. Maybe you read an article they’re featured in and decide, “Yeah, not worth my time.” However you learn about them, it’s clear you’re not going to be seeking them out.

So that’s all the people who only fit one category. What about those who fit 2?

4. People you KNOW and LIKE, but don’t TRUST

This is your lazy friend from high school. You know, the one who’s always promising to pay you back next Tuesday for a hamburger today. [Somebody get that reference!] When you see these people, you like them. You’ve hung out with them. You’ve joked around and kidded with them.

But, in the end, you realize that they’re just not going to follow through on what they said. They’ll promise one thing and fail to deliver. Then they’ll try to convince you that it wasn’t their fault, that something else got in the way, and that you should give them just one more chance. Please! They’re good for it.

And if you agree, they’ll fail you once more. For going against what you know you should do, you deserve that one.

5. People you KNOW and LIKE, but don’t TRUST

So who falls into this category? These are the people who have parallel non-business interests as you. They could be intelligent, well-read, travel in the same social circles as you do, and have similar hobbies. It wouldn’t be surprising to find many in this world like that. So what’s the problem?

Mostly it’s people who have different goals than you do. They might be trying to build your next new competitor. Or they might be trying to take down one of your current business partners. Perhaps they just got a new contract that’s going to squeeze your supply chain and potentially put you out of business. Not a good fit.

The fact that their goals don’t align with yours mean that you can’t trust them to do business together. They might say that they would be able to handle a conflict of interest, but when it comes down to it, we’re all going to look out for ourselves. We might say we’d act independently. In reality, though, we’re more likely to perform in ways which further our own vested self-interest. Same goes for them. Steer clear.

6. People you LIKE and TRUST, but don’t KNOW

These are the celebrities (local, regional, national, or international names) who are perfect for you. They align with your brand, your goals, and your ways of doing business.

The only problem is that you can’t talk to them. You don’t know them! You want to, and you want to be able to have that relationship. So you send a dozen e-mails one week, and call every day the next, and even blog about your future perfect partnership, calling them out and tagging on every social media platform. But you just can’t get any traction.

Because to them, you’re just another face in the crowd. You’ll need some way to stand out. And until you do, until you have that one-on-one connection, probably from someone who already knows the two of you and can bring you together, it’s going to remain just a dream.

And that brings us to your ideal business partner:

7. People you KNOW, LIKE, and TRUST

It’s been said before, and it will be said again, but these are your ideal business or referral partners. These are the people who are aligned with you, your goals, and the way you do business.

And it doesn’t even mean they’ll be your clients, or vice versa. These could be referral partners who know you, know your business, and what you’re trying to do. They could be simply advocates for you, and provide you a good little testimonial or endorsement. They could write you a LinkedIn recommendation. [I just did that today! Three months late, but who’s counting?] There’s lots of different ways to maximize this relationship.

The point is, you’ll have lots of connections. You might not be able to immediately figure out which category people will fall into when you first meet them. Give it time. Don’t rush it, because mistakes could hurt your bottom line and your reputation. But when you find those that you know, like, and trust, you’ll both be better off for it.

In Conclusion

You’ll run across many of these 7 people when you’re out building a business, no matter what that business is, and no matter whether that business is for-profit or not-for-profit. You’ll even meet these people in your personal relationships, or you might find them in a governing body like your city council. You’ll meet all of them at one point or another, and eventually you’ll see that they’re not all wrong.

They’re just not all right.