Recently, I presented a webinar for Editors Canada on 10 ways to grow a freelance business once you’ve established yourself.
Number 9 on my list is expanding your solo business into an agency. Running your business as an agency means hiring other freelancers to do the actual work of your business. Your job responsibilities increase from not only getting and managing projects but also hiring contractors and managing the work they complete for your business.
I had wanted to expand Right Touch Editing into an agency for many years, but it’s taken a few tries to get the model to work for me. Though some of the reasons those first attempts didn’t work were beyond my control, the largest obstacle that I faced was my own mindset.
Freelancing tends to be a feast-or-famine business. Most freelance editors face the feasts by rearranging our private lives to get the work done. After all, we think, this feast won’t last and the money will help through the next famine.
Then, if we’re savvy, we learn to say no to that one project too many. Learning to say no did a lot for my mental health. I learned to balance my work better, too, which helped my bank account.
Then I got tired of saying no.
Struggling to Change
I would face one of those feasts and try to subcontract the work instead. That way, I would keep the client relationship and earn a little money on the project while giving another editor the opportunity to work. Too often, though, it felt like more work to hire someone for a job than to just do it myself. I kept that worker bee mindset, focusing on getting the job done rather than any long-term strategy for my business. I was too busy treading water to think about how to keep the work flowing in.
I also struggled with when to hire the contractor. If I waited until I had won a project, I had to scramble to find someone to do the work. Even when I had a few candidates, talking with each of them to see who was available was time consuming, and the clock was ticking. If I didn’t find someone, I’d be the one doing the work—the exact thing I was trying to avoid.
On the other hand, if I booked someone before I secured the project and the project fell through, I had to let the freelancer know. How many times could I do that to someone before they’d stop considering working for me? Sure, occasionally a project wouldn’t pan out, but when you lose out on project after project with the same client, wouldn’t you get frustrated? I certainly had reached this point with a few of my own clients.
All of this, though, came down to mindset. And to change my mindset, I had to change my processes.
Building a Team
I had to make it easier to assign a project to an editor than do it myself. The first thing I did was create a database of potential editors using a simple Google Form to collect the information I needed. I like Google because it’s free, most people are familiar with it, and I can pull form responses into a spreadsheet. (I love a good spreadsheet.)
This gave me a pool of editors who met some baseline qualifications to draw a team from. The best editors for my new team would not only be able to do the work but also be willing to follow my processes in receiving, doing, and billing the work.
Other qualifications included:
- Experience in the services I offered
- Specialization in the topics my projects covered
- Ability and willingness to work in Word, Acrobat, and Google Docs
- A willingness to use Slack, my team communication tool
- An availability that matched my clients’ needs
Next, I chose a few editors to interview. From those interviews came my first few team members.
Onboarding Team Members
I want my team members ready to work once a project is ready, so I designed an onboarding process that gives folks what they need ahead of time. The process includes completing a contract so both parties know what the relationship is, a nondisclosure agreement to protect my clients’ privacy, and a W-9 (for US citizens) so I’m prepared for tax time.
Next, I add team members to my accounting software, Zoho Books. The software hosts basic information about each contractor, including specialties, software, and fees (through custom fields). I can track their invoices and pull reports for my accountant.
After that, I add them to my Slack workspace, which is where almost all my team communication happens. Email is too slow and overwhelming for me, while Slack lets me contact team members quickly and connect them with each other. Channels let me organize conversations and prevent me from overwhelming the entire team with conversations they don’t need to be part of.
I also give them access to my Google Drive, which acts as my knowledge center for the team. Here, contractors can access information on the different services RTE offers, language resources, proofreading stamps for Acrobat, style guide help, and more. There’s a folder for each client, with a client overview and style sheet, along with other resources. When a contractor is assigned to a client, they get access to that folder.
All of this has a new contractor ready to go when they accept a project from me, relieving a lot of the stress of finding the right contractor quickly. I’m more focused on strategies for finding work and managing my team, and I’m no longer doing the work because it seems easier than assigning it. The processes I’ve created keep me focused on my goals rather than the problem at hand.
Of course there’s more I want to do and processes I want to smooth out. Running a business is an ongoing activity. There’s always more to do. But by setting up a few processes, I was able to make a start and get it to stick.
Want to grow your business but not sure an editing agency is for you? I’ve got 9 more ideas in my webinar “10 Strategies for Growing Your Editing Business,” hosted by Editors Canada. Purchase the recording today!