Outsourcing to other freelancers for a better work-life balance
Finding a better work-life balance is something I chat to every guest about on the Being Freelance podcast. Also, as a freelancer myself, it’s something I’m constantly striving to achieve – as I document in my weekly freelance life vlog.
Now, there are lots of elements to work-life balance - enough to fill a tonne of blog posts, certainly enough for a talk (cheeky plug), but for now, let’s look at one thing.
At the heart of any work-life balance problem lies time. And usually workload. So it becomes pretty obvious that a quick win to both is paying someone else to do a task for us.
It means we have more time AND the work still gets done.
But how exactly can outsourcing work for freelancers? Is it definitely the right choice for us? And how can we make the most of it?
Well, let’s dig through the podcast archives to find out what a few of my guests have said about using other freelancers to help them find balance.
1. Remember why you went freelance to begin with
Most of us go freelance so that we can have more free time. Or more flexibility, at least.
Whether we want to spend more time with our kids, less time commuting, more time on our hobbies, or less time overseeing projects and more time creating; most of us choose this lifestyle for the freedom it promises.
So, it’s freedom we’re after. But a lot of us actually find ourselves working more hours than we ever did when we were employed.
We get bitten by the bug. Our passion for our work and our business grows - we want to develop, expand, explore and create.
And/or we worry work opportunities (and cash) will dry up, so we overload our plates. Feasting in fear of the famine.
Before we know it, we’ve taken on more client work than we can comfortably manage, as well as a side project here and a new social media network there (Vero, anyone?) – and that’s on top of all the other stuff we have to deal with, like admin, finance and, well, life.
What starts out as a way of living more flexibly can quickly spiral into something that takes over our lives. And honestly – that’s no one else’s doing. We’re putting that pressure on ourselves.
Brand Strategist Jenni Heffernan Brown agrees.
“I think, a lot of us, we get to this place through a heart of service – wanting to be great at our jobs, wanting to really serve the people well that are paying us to do work that we love,” Jenni says. “Sometimes we put undue responsibility on ourselves.”
It's good to remember, then, why you set out on this path to begin with.
If you’re not getting the level of freedom you went freelance for, it could be time to think about outsourcing.
2. Figure out what you don’t like doing (or what doesn’t need to be done by you)
I’ve outsourced to all sorts of freelancers over the years. It might depend on what you do as to which type of freelancer you choose to outsource to.
The most obvious and probably the most general in terms of being able to support any type of freelance business is a virtual assistant.
Freelance coach Emma Cossey uses a virtual assistant herself and it’s something she recommends.
“People think they’re very expensive but they’re affordable and they will do those horrible things you don’t want to do much faster than you could do them, so it kind of makes financial sense to hand them over. It’s good freelance maths.”
Speaking of those horrible things you don’t want to do (and let's face it 'horrible' is subjective, some people love a spreadsheet and a bag of receipts) – there are other benefits to outsourcing that are about more than just saving time.
Outsourcing is about using your energy in the right way. If you’re not good at something or you really hate doing it, you’re going to find it a lot more difficult than someone else would, and that’s energy you could be putting into the stuff you are good at.
Outsourcing can also help you to strengthen relationships with clients and improve the quality of your work.
Infographics designer Caroline Beavon realised early on that she didn’t want to be involved in some of the administration tasks relating to her business – particularly invoicing and chasing payments.
“I like to keep a happy relationship with my clients and I don’t let on that I know that they haven’t paid the last invoice yet. I think that’s one of my selling points – I’m accommodating, I’m friendly, I’m nice; I’m not the one who’s telling them off for not paying their invoice. As soon as I could afford it I found that that was a very good investment.”
"It's good freelance maths."
- Emma Cossey
3. Learn to trust other people
Caroline also hires a proof-reader to make sure her work is error-free.
We all know that feeling when you’ve been working on something for so long that you stop being able to see mitsakes.
Using other freelancers to quality check our work is a good way of keeping the client happy and – hopefully – securing more work in the future.
It’s about trusting that other people can do a job just as well – or even better, in cases like Caroline’s proof-reading – than you can.
It’s a lesson that Jenni learned the hard way. She set out working solo before partnering with another freelancer to form an agency that now regularly hires other casual workers.
Jenni admits that it took her a few years to get her work-life balance in check.
“The freelance mindset, for me, was I have to do all this myself. You know, like I have to edit myself. I have to design it myself, but I learned over the years that there are pieces. I could break off pieces and draw in other freelancers or other contractors to help support the bigger vision.”
Over time, Jenni’s learned to take a step back and trust other people to handle things in her absence. Jenni can confidently leave her business in other people’s hands. She even took a three-week holiday to a place with no internet (*breathes deeply into a bag at the thought*) and her business was in good hands waiting for her return.
With the right rules and processes in place, she proves that it is possible to develop a healthy and balanced working routine – if you can learn to trust other people, that is.
4. Create systems and lay the groundwork
Here’s the thing. I have a lot of my own experiences I can draw on here.
I’ve built my business over the past few years by regularly hiring other freelancers. Video production is pretty tricky to do by just yourself. I hire scriptwriters, voiceovers, videographers, animators…
It’s not easy. You need to be able to trust the other person, as Jenni learned. You need to know they’re going to hit the standard. You also need them to do things your way.
Which is why creating systems works.
"Systems, systems, systems. Systems are your friend."
- Jenni Heffernan Brown
You can do this by documenting what it is you need doing. By literally writing a step-by-step guide or creating a walk-through video, for example.
It clarifies what’s expected.
When outsourcing hasn’t worked for me, it’s usually because I’ve felt 'too busy' to make time for the groundwork; when I’ve skipped the step of laying out the process and what’s expected. And it ends up creating more work, frustration and stress for me (and them!) in the long run.
5. Learn to give constructive, detailed feedback
Even if you do all the groundwork, there’s still no guarantee they’ll get it right first time.
In that case, don’t be afraid of giving feedback. By giving clear, concise (but friendly!) feedback early on, you stand the best chance of getting what you want back.
Sometimes it won’t work out. Not every person you hire will be a good fit. But when you find the people that are, it’s amazing.
Like lots of us, Virtual Assistant Jess Ostroff went freelance because she wanted to live a more flexible lifestyle.
Her road to finding the right balance hasn’t always been smooth, and she’s often found herself working way too much – even after bringing in outside help.
When she first started using other freelancers, Jess struggled managing them and giving them feedback.
“I would rather redo an entire project than give the feedback that they did something wrong. I was just going over and over things and I was just so nice. I was giving people the benefit of the doubt. That’s not a good way to run a business because you put yourself in danger of disappointing your clients. Once I got clear on that, I didn’t feel as bad.”
It took time, but Jess has trust in her people now. After receiving constructive feedback they’ve learned what’s expected and that’s been a big step in helping Jess let go of some control.
Key takeaways for a better work-life balance:
Finding work-life balance when you’re freelance can be a long, hard struggle. By listening to and learning from the experiences of others, we might just be able to make our own roads to that happy medium a little bit shorter.
Many of us start out being freelance because we’re looking for more freedom – don’t forget that later when the work is piling up
Hiring freelancers to take care of the stuff you don’t enjoy or the stuff that takes time will free you up to focus on what you are good at
Letting go of control isn’t easy, but the sooner you realise that not everything has to be done by you, the easier you’ll find it
If you put the right processes in place and lay good groundwork, you’ll make it easier for those you hire to deliver what you’re looking for
Don’t be afraid of giving feedback and learn how to do it in a positive and constructive way
And of course, all of this is helping you get ‘work’ done. But you can also outsource ‘life’ as well. Hire a cleaner, gardener, decorator or childminder. Get your food delivered, use a car wash… This isn’t lazy, it’s freeing up your time for either work or life. If it costs you less per hour than you could earn in an hour then, as Emma says, “it’s good freelance maths.”
So which of your tasks could you "break off" into pieces?
PS - I recommend Jess Ostroff's book Panic Proof all about hiring a VA - very entertaining as well as helpful.