Join Tom Geller for an in-depth discussion in this video Growing through hires and partnerships, part of Freelancing Fundamentals.
One problem with freelancing is that it doesn't scale. You have a limited inventory of hours for the week and when they're gone, they're gone. There are a few ways you can increase your available hours. Hire an assistant, someone who works for you; hire an associate, someone who works with you; or team up with a partner, another company or person to better both of your business. These are the terms we'll be using to describe the ways you can increase your hours. Let's look at each of them. First, the assistant.
The point here is to offload the stuff that someone else can do and pay that person the less than you'll make in the time it would have taken you to do it. The problem is that there's a big gap between needing that person and getting benefits from their work. There's a time investment to onboard and manage that person, but you can figure out whether it's worth it. I've included an Exercise File with this video to help you. You will enter the amount you bill per hour along with what you'll pay the assistant per hour. Then for each week you enter the number hours you'll pay the assistant along with the number of billable hours you'll gain because of their help.
You'll find yourself losing money in the first few weeks while you train that person. But eventually, the benefits of having an assistant should outweigh that investment and ultimately it should be good for your business. Hiring an associate requires a similar cost to benefit calculation. So rather than repeat that exercise let's talk generally about the benefits and detriments. The big benefit is that in an associate who produces billable work increases the amount of money you can make and the increase is effectively unlimited.
When you have more work to bill, you just add more people. It's easy to forget about the other advantages of taking on an associate though. Namely that it's a different person from you with different skills, giving the two of you a range that neither possesses alone. And that person can act as a reality check whenever you make a decision. Now on the downside you'll have to oversee every person you add, both to manage their work and to check their results. You'll have to accept that you'll lose control over the details as their work style won't be the same as yours.
If they screw up, as the boss, you'll bare the penalties. That brings us to partnerships where you and another business decide to team up to expand your offerings, pool resources, or otherwise improve your businesses. You maintain your own business, but collaborate where it make sense. Like hiring an associate you gain added skills and capabilities along with that important reality check. You'll probably also gain a structure that's more like a corporation which can give you economies of scale and make you more attractive to large clients.
Now on the other hand partnerships usually require unique specific agreements that can be a real pain to draft. Once signed you'll have to trust each other to honor and understand all the clauses. Having a more corporate structure can introduce headaches. In the end you might add a lot of overhead without actually improving your businesses. But I hope the spectre of such detriments don't turn you off to the possibilities of pairing up with complementary businesses or taking on assistants or associates.
As would everything else you just have to balance the costs and the benefits and then act according to what's best for your situation.
A bonus chapter covers common questions freelancers have when entering the field.
- What is freelancing?
- Defining your career goals
- Funding your startup
- Getting licenses, permits, and insurance
- Setting prices
- Finding work through agencies
- Getting referrals
- Working with time and project management tools
- Increasing your rates