How hiring other freelancers made me a better freelancer
During my second year as a freelancer, I was slammed with work. To lessen my load, I decided I’d hire someone who could help me proofread and research a batch of articles.
I thought that finding a freelancer to fit the bill would be a cinch. After all, being a solopreneur myself, I thought I knew how to reach out to solopreneurs, what a fair rate was, and how they wanted to be treated by clients.
Boy was I wrong. The experience was humbling, to say the least. Not only did I realize how challenging it could be to find a freelancer who could offer the help I needed, but I also discovered unexpected mistakes I had made in running my own freelancing business.
Since then, I’ve hired creatives for everything from proofing, branding and logo work to photography. Besides helping fellow freelancers build their own businesses, hiring creatives has helped me become a stronger freelancer myself.
I know what clients want
Hiring fellow freelancers helped me bring to light mistakes I’ve made in presenting my services and running my own business. Here are three new tactics I’ve learned that help me find work with clients who are aligned with my values and long-term goals, and build better relationships with these clients:
1. Be easy to find.
Some of the freelancers I hired were people I met at different functions and spaces around Los Angeles: co-working spaces, Toastmaster meetings, and professional mixers. Others came by way of Facebook groups for freelancers or other social media channels. They were skilled at putting themselves out there and actively promoting their services.
If these freelancers weren’t clear they were seeking work, I probably wouldn’t have hired them. When I looked in the mirror, I realized that I didn’t do the best job of putting myself out there as a freelancer (especially when I had ample work). While I might ask fellow freelancers for job leads, I didn’t take a multi-pronged approach by putting out feelers online and at in-person mixers.
Since I made this realization, I’ve made a point to update my LinkedIn profiles, writing portfolio, and social media accounts even when I’m not actively seeking work. Not only has this helped me stay current, but it’s made it easier for prospective clients to know which direction I’m headed. For instance, since I love helping freelancers with finances and building their own businesses, I’ve shared related posts. In turn, several clients think of me as the go-to contributor on all things freelance and ask me to pitch ideas on these topics.
2. Claim your niche.
I also found it far easier to connect with freelancers who were clear with their niche. What did they specialize in, and in what industries?
Freelancers who are just starting out tend to be multi-hyphenates. In other words, they advertise that they’re jacks of all trades who can do five different things so they can cast a wide net for opportunities. Oddly enough, when I started searching for freelancers to hire, those who were specialized were easier to find and I felt more confident that they were capable of doing the job.
In building my own business, I’ve claimed my niche as a freelance personal finance writer who specializes in brand storytelling and content marketing. When I first started out freelancing, I was doing a variety of things in different industries: from proofreading art magazines, to writing pet articles, to drumming up web copy for beauty and fashion companies.
It wasn’t until I focused primarily on personal finance writing that my freelance business really started to take off. I got deep in the weeds with particular topics, and built a network of sources I could reach out to for stories. In turn, getting specialized helped me gain momentum and land more work.
3. Understand your place in the workflow.
I started looking for a freelancer to hire because I had too much work to do. When I found one, I realized that—while ultimately helpful—adding another person to my work pipeline meant answering more questions and adding another step to the flow.
As a freelancer who works remotely, I don’t always get the opportunity to see where I might fit into the client’s pipeline. To bridge the gap, I try to see the larger picture of where I fit in, which helps me better meet their needs. When in doubt, I ask. When you’re working remotely and your employees could be on the other side of the country, a little goes a long way.
In the past, there have been a number of times when I’ve been so wrapped up in my work that I failed to send a quick email to a client asking for clarification or giving them a quick heads-up on when they can expect a deliverable. Now, after my experiences as a client, I understand that staying communicative can make a big difference: it shows that you’re not only accessible, but that you care about your clients.
Understanding my client’s workflow has also helped me understand what’s most important to them and why. For some clients who are juggling hundreds of pieces of content a month, I see how critical it is for me to submit work with shorter turnarounds, and how missing a deadline could lead to additional stress and work for both parties.
I know what to look for in a client
In hiring other freelancers, I learned a thing or two about how I could ensure freelancers had a good experience working with me. Now, I make a point to stay organized, communicate deadlines and expectations, and also to be respectful of a freelancer’s time. In turn, I seek clients who are also organized, clear, and respectful. I also look for clients who can see how their content goals might synch up with my goals as a personal finance writer. For instance, in the past year, I’ve focused on working more with companies that serve freelancers, small businesses, or for underserved populations (i.e., folks who struggle with low income, cash flow issues, or are unbanked).
These clients know that most freelancers don’t want to sit in on lengthy conference calls or be treated like an agency staff member. What’s more, they know that freelancers would like correspondence to be straightforward, thorough, and efficient.
Clients who are a good fit usually have a solid idea of why they need your services, and the budget to pay what you’re worth. They usually have a workflow in place, editorial goals, and a bit of a content strategy. Remember, it’s always hard to persuade a potential client the value of what you do. Ideally, they need to come to you knowing why they want content for their company and how you can help.
I developed greater empathy for my clients
When I first started freelancing on the side about 10 years ago, one of my first gigs was proofreading a romance novel for an independent author. This author wanted me to not only handle the proofreading, but would refer to me on her social media platforms as her “editor” — which I was not.
What’s more, she would send me, in “stream of consciousness style,” a seemingly endless succession of emails. One morning I woke up to 20 emails that went beyond inquiries about the proper placement of commas and awkward sentence structure. She wanted to know where she could find an agent, and whether I could also handle her social media accounts.
We didn’t see eye-to-eye on how to best work together— in fact, we were on totally different wavelengths. While I viewed our working relationship with my role as a work-for-hire paid to do a specific task, she wanted more of an editor/social media manager/confidante who served as her right-hand woman. Fast forward to a few years later, when I was looking for occasional help with proofreading and research. As I was new to working with freelancers, during a burst of inspiration, I found myself being the one firing off a bunch of emails at once and excitedly sharing new ideas.
After being on the other side, I have greater empathy for clients. There are times when a client might not know exactly what they want or aren’t able to meet your rates. As a business of one with a limited budget for outsourcing, I understand why some clients might not be able to pay the same rates as a larger company would. As my own demand for freelancers changes in step with my workload, I also know how a client’s needs for freelancing help might ebb and flow as their goals change.
Seeing things from the clients’ side helps me understand the challenges that a client might face. Projects get stalled, budgets get cut, priorities change. When there are bumps in the road, it’s important for both parties to communicate frustrations, share concerns, and come up with potential solutions.
For instance, when one of my former clients asked for more than what’s typical — quick turnarounds, extensive sourcing, multiple rounds of revisions, and weekly phone calls — the rate offered didn’t feel worth it. Many of the freelance writers they worked with (including me) expressed their frustrations. In turn, the client listened and responded accordingly: they started offering longer turnarounds, help with research, and occasionally higher pay.
I’m supporting my network
When I hire other freelancers, I am supporting their businesses as well. While working within my own budget, I do my best to make sure freelancers I work with are paid a competitive rate. After all, running your own freelancing business is no easy feat.
I’ve found that helping your community and building a solid network of colleagues is what it’s all about. I’m not only contributing to the gig economy, but I also like to offer guidance and job leads to help those I’ve hired. I’ve offered referrals and helped those I’ve hired negotiate rates with their other clients.
Hiring fellow freelancers to support your solopreneur business definitely has its benefits. From being on both sides, I discovered what I could do to improve my practice, and how to operate with empathy, compassion, and focusing on the win-win for both parties.
The experience can be illuminating. It not only helps you be a stronger freelancer, but can provide insights on how to run a more efficient business and ultimately help you land more of the work you want to do.
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