Creating an Agency: Getting Freelancers to Work with You
Hi. I’m Shane. I tweet about my misadventures running (with some pretty smart people) a 100% freelance driven agency at @justlikeair. Working with freelancers offers an interesting conundrum. In a polygamous environment, a genuinely free market, how do you build loyalty? Why would a great freelancer choose my urgent project over someone else’s? How do we stay attractive after the 3rd date (project)? What about after dating (without getting married) for 3 years? After all, the best freelancers get to pick from a wide pool of suitors.
Check out the slides from the entire talk. The article below elaborates on section 4.
As my freelance business grew and I started subcontracting, I found myself in the interesting position of being both a service provider and a customer on the same projects. We needed happy freelancers in order to have happy customers. Peter, Reid & I (my business buddies) quickly realized that we had an amazing opportunity to improve ourselves. After all, every time one of us says – “#@$%^&, I hate it when my client does that” – we quickly check ourselves to make sure we are not doing the same thing to our team. Since we rely 100% on freelancers to run our agency, finding ways to drive loyalty is one of our biggest challenges and advantages. By retaining the best freelancers, we create a highly versatile and talented team.
So, what have we been doing that seems to work?
Pay consistently and on time (even if our customers don’t).
When you work with people like Seagate, MTV, eBay, and NBC you can easily go 90 days without seeing your money, perhaps even longer should bureaucratic misfortune strike. We pay out team net-30 (or less) no matter what is happening on the other end. Being the client who pays regularly within an ocean of uncertainty is divine.
Make our deadlines.
Sounds kind of obvious, but you would be amazed (or perhaps you aren’t) how many of our deadlines get blown by our clients, not by us. While we can’t always avoid the realities of shifting scope and schedule, we make it our mission to be accountable and rapidly reset expectations. Nothing makes people feel more secure than a client who behaves like they said they would. It’s only fair.
Consistency drives loyalty
Loyalty is a two way street. If you want loyalty, you might need to give it too. Our most loyal freelancers also happen to be the ones who get the most consistent high quality & high value work. It might be a bit of a chicken and egg thing. Simply, if you put out consistently, they will keep a comin’.
Stop, collaborate and listen.
During my last post-mortem, one of the designers on my team pointed out that I periodically looked at his work without reading his comments. It implied I didn’t care (oops). That is rapidly being rectified. I am continually amazed by the number of clients who hire a freelancer for their expertise, then tell them exactly what to do and don’t listen to the advice they pay for. We contract experts. I may disagree with them at times, but we always make an effort to really listen. We focus on creating a culture of educated decisions, in which all team input is taken into consideration.
Know where to find files. Keep track of dates. Reply to your email. A few months ago, I overheard one of our contractors reply to another client: “It’s your logo, why do you keep emailing me for a copy of it?” Need I say more?
Jealousy is not sexy
Respect the fact that we all have multiple clients. Schedule ahead of time. I often ask each person on our team what their load looks like and how much availability they have. I try to have enough back ups that I never get too stressed when someone isn’t available. Since everyone is 100% distributed, being flexible about timezones and work patterns is not a luxury, it is the air we breathe.
Share your network
Most of our business comes from the extended network of our clients. In the same vein, I consistently refer my contractors projects that don’t fit our business. Nothing says I appreciate working with you like a referral.
and a lot more, like take them on vacation with you (WE DO)
Since most of you won’t join the 23 of us in Mexico this February, you will have to settle with checking out the slides from the full presentation above. If you enjoy it, check me out on twitter @justlikeair.