From Freelancer To Firm,
At WPDude we have gone from being a one person freelance setup to being a firm of four people over the last year or so. We can provide WordPress technical support as an agency rather than one person.
During that time I have had to learn the hard way how to make this pretty difficult transition. If you are about to embark on this process, here are the top eight things I wish I had known before I started.
1) Everything Slows Down
One of the things I was very proud of as a freelancer was my quick turn around time. I could get a quote out and turn around to start work in a couple of days.
Once you are dealing with a team, everything slows down, there is more communication, there is more time assigning work, there is more time dealing with other people’s agendas, life styles etc etc the list goes on.
Build some slack into your schedule and expect things to slow down. Do yourself a favour and reduce your stress level by knowing things will slow down and learn to go with the flow a little.
Set client expectations (sorry any clients reading I know I’ve been a little poor at this) and let them know things are working a little different from when you were a freelancer and there is an x day lead time now you are a firm.
2) Get It Out Of Your Inbox
If it is in your inbox, it might as well be lock away in your head. You need to get all client and team communication out of the inbox and into a central place that you and the team can access at any time especially when people are not available.
A few days ago we finally went 100% communication via Basecamp our project management tool for all team conversations. I’m looking at the best way to make all client communication 100% via basecamp too, but that is proving a little tricky, but I hope to be there soon.
The point being now we have a centralised place where all communication between the team is visible and no crucial items like files or code are held in an inbox.
3) Systemise Everything
This is a real pain in the arse as we say in the UK (feel free to say ass my American chums). It’s the least exciting thing I have ever done, but creating a system for how you work, the expected outcomes, output and feedback is huge.
It is incredibly dull, very long winded but it pays off sooo much in the long run. Each of our projects is systemised, at any point I can dip in and see progress through that system. Everything is done the same way each time which not only provides a consistent quality across all work but it also allows us to onboard new staff members or contactors very easily.
It’s not a cast in stone thing and it is evolving but is allowing us to take on more work and perform that work much more smoothly.
4) You Are 100% Responsible
This is a mindset I would like all freelancers cum business owners to adopt when they are starting out.
When I say you are 100% responsible this means that any failure from the team is your failure and you cannot blame them.
This may sound a little weird to some people but if all you do is spend your time chewing out your staff this will drive you mental and cause huge levels of stress.
Take 100% responsibility for the issue, think I am to blame for this, how could I have stopped this happening.
Nine times out of ten you will see that you didn’t explain something correctly or you did not set expectations properly or you just have not put across how high priority that work was.
This list goes on and on, but taking 100% responsibility and systemiseing work or creating new documentation to stop the issue happening again is a great mindset.
Remember you are learning to be a business owner so you will make mistakes.
5) Learn To Let Go
I was a terrible micro manager at first (I still am heart, sorry to any members of the team reading this for last Monday and my knee jerk reaction) I was fretting and sweating, where is my update, what can I tell the client, why have they not completed that task yet, it’s only a 20 minutes job!!!!
Learning to let go and trust your team to get the job done is huge. This is a skill that will stop the ulcers growing.
This all goes back to your system, build the system, make sure there are enough checkpoints to ensure you can be happy with progress and let go.
6) Delegate Don’t Abdicate
On the other side of letting go is learning to delegate but not abdicate. You need to pass work over and trust your team to do it, BUT you need check points in place to ensure the work has been done correctly.
I have an end of day update process where all projects my team are working are update with a few paragraphs of progress report. At a glace I can see where we are.
I’ve delegated the work but I have not abdicated my responsibility to my clients.
7) Some Clients Will Be Upset, Get Over It
If a client is used to dealing with you as a freelancer and has a high level of access to your time, some clients will expect this relationship to continue.
Some even start to push at your boundaries and demand that you work on their projects not your team. It’s a weird thing but once you setup boundaries a certain type of person automatically pushes against them.
Be aware of this and be prepared to let certain clients go. You have adopted an agency model to allow you to grow and you cannot grow if you are stuck catering to needy clients.
8) Work On Your Business Not In It.
Once you have a team in place it’s a good idea to stop working IN your business and start working ON it.
You have an agency with staff now that needs a constant stream of work to pay their wages. Learning to work on your business to develop it rather than fulfilling service or product requests is a hard thing to do for the freelancer.
There is a mindset that you can do it in 5 minutes, why not just log in and do it, but you are paying someone to do those things for you. Learning to let go and pass the small jobs back it a skill unto itself. Those five minutes soon add up and you find that teh work of running an agency and working on your business does not get done.
There is a term amongst British workers who have move to management that they are “off the tools”. Once you start a firm, get off the tools as fast as you can.
My final point here if for a much more detailed future blog post but you need to learn how to deal with you new found time freedom. This is one of the weirdest things I’ve come across, learning how to stop being twitchy once you have some free time.
There are very few resources on moving from a freelancer to a firm and I was considering starting a new blog to cater for people planning to make that move.
I’ve felt the pain and I feel I have a lot of information to share, so if you are interested in make the move from solo freelancer to full blown firm, can I ask you to do ONE thing, click through on the link below and leave your email address. If there is enough interest I’ll start up the blog and start sharing my story.
Click here if you are interested in more Freelancer2firm.com