Scaling your agency can be a scary thing. Most agencies want to grow, but the steps it takes to achieve that growth can be daunting.
But if you want to grow and take your agency to the next level, you’ve gotta be willing to experiment. Sometimes experiments fail (thanks, Crystal Pepsi… oh and the Taco Bell Chihuahua, too). But sometimes, those experiments are so successful they make your head spin.
And that’s been my experience with online freelancers.
Hi, I’m Dave. I’m the owner of Conklin Media, a digital business growth and web design agency. Building a reliable network of awesome freelancers has been an essential part of my success. For two years, one of my companies (which was started with a $5,000 credit card and no outside investment) was on Inc 500’s list of fastest growing companies in the country.
Failing wasn’t an option for me. Fun fact: I’ve got 2 set of twins—girls age 21 and boys age 13. I was willing to do anything and everything to make it work. We put ads everywhere and hired a ton of freelancers, commission-only sales people, and got them fired up about what we were doing. A few years later we had 60 employees and had helped thousands of clients market and grow their small businesses.
So how, exactly, do freelance designers help you scale your agency?
Freelancers allow you to focus on ideas instead of implementation
As an agency, your job should be to focus on the big picture for your clients. What makes today’s top agencies incredibly valuable to their clients is their ability to discover the challenges and goals of an organization and then use their knowledge to fix those challenges and meet those goals.
Not to hit you where it counts, but if you see your agency as simply a “talent for hire”—and not a business challenge solver and goal achiever—you’re missing a huge opportunity, and not serving your customers very well. Even if you have a background in these things, you’re not a designer and you’re not a developer. You’re a digital business growth expert: a business problem solver.
You’re responsible for the ideas. And if you want to scale, you need to hire someone else to manage the implementation.
And that’s where freelance designers come in.
Hiring a freelancer to manage the implementation of your ideas (whether that’s designing a logo or coding an app) frees up your time to focus on the real value you provide to your client—the strategy, idea and business problem solving.
So, for example, let’s say I’m designing a new website for a client. My team can come up with the ideas for the look, feel and concept, and then pass off the actual design process and edits to a freelancer, which frees up our time to brainstorm ideas for another client. We get more done in less time, our clients get their work done quickly and efficiently, and I get to provide the maximum value to my clients from both an ideation and implementation standpoint.
Long story short: freelancers manage the implementation so you can focus on the ideas—which massively increases the amount of value you can add to your clients (and will massively increase the size of your agency in the process).
Freelancers allow you to WOW your clients (and get referrals)
Another way freelancers help you scale?
They give you the opportunity to WOW your clients.
We had a client come on board recently that needed design support. We created a mockup and sent it their way. They liked it, but they weren’t 100% sold. So, I said to them, “For an additional $1,500, I’ll have my design team create about 20 different designs for you to look at as our starting point.” They were out of their minds excited about that idea.
Now, my small, in-house team is amazing at what they do. But let’s be real—there’s NO WAY they could come up with 20 custom designs in a cost- and time-effective manner. Just to come up with one custom design would take a day or two—and cost WAY more than $1500 dollars.
But I had a trick up my sleeve to WOW my clients: I ran a design contest on 99designs and got close to 40 design options to share with my clients—and it only cost me about $900.
So what happened? My clients spent $1500 to get a whopping 40 design options, which WOWed them so hard they had to pick their jaws up off the floor. I got to work with a great network of freelance talent to come up with the designs, and all I had to do was manage the communication with the designers. And I made $600 off the deal.
Definitely not something I could do without my army of freelance talent.
The point is, working with freelancers gives you the opportunity to go above and beyond for your clients. And when you consistently deliver the WOW factor, word gets around. Not only will your current clients give you more business, but they’ll refer you new business, which will help you grow your agency. And it’s all thanks to your freelancers.
Talk about WOW.
Freelancers allow you to broaden your services
It’s a sad reality that many smaller agencies don’t pitch full scale ideas—the kind of ideas that will create immense business growth for their clients—because they just can’t get the tactical work done in-house.
And when you hold back on pitching full scale solutions to your clients—or send parts of their business elsewhere—you’re missing out on a HUGE opportunity to scale your agency.
But working with freelancers allows you to offer full scale solutions to your clients—even if you don’t have anyone in-house who can handle their requests.
For example, we work with a client who targets women who love—or want to learn more about—working on cars. They had the awesome idea to create a sticker that would go beneath the hood of a car showing how to jump a battery in the event of an emergency.
Our agency is focused on helping our clients grow their website and audience through SEO and social media, not on merchandising and product, so we’d never made a sticker for one of our clients before.
I could have just told the client to go get their sticker designed somewhere else because I don’t have the staff to handle it. But instead, I just hired a freelancer (from 99designs) to design the sticker. We got an incredible design, then sent the stickers to a ton of influencers who write for car blogs, which helped our clients grow their audience and traffic. It was a full scale solution, and our client was THRILLED.
Working with freelancers to fill in the gaps of services on your team allows you to offer your clients a wide variety of services and keep all aspects of their business within your agency—which is essential for growth.
Freelancers allow you to cover busy times without overdoing it on the hiring front
In the agency world, there are slow times and there are crazy busy times.
If you don’t hire enough people, you won’t have the manpower to get through the busy times and give your clients the kind of service they deserve (at least not without completely running your team into the ground).
If you hire too many people, you’ll have a lot of people sitting in your office and twiddling their thumbs through the slow times (and you’ll pay an insane amount in overhead while they do it).
The perfect solution? Freelancers, of course.
Hiring freelancers allows you to supplement your workforce during busy season without making the commitment of a full time hire. You get the ability to scale and grow without the need to hire payroll-draining staff that will completely tank your revenues when things get slow.
It’s a win-win situation.
You can hire in-house experts and give them the resources to succeed
I want true experts in-house that understand digital business growth, true experts in design, true development experts, SEO experts, etc. But the best people aren’t cheap. It can be tempting to hire two less experienced people (so you’ll have more capacity). But I’d rather 100% of the people in-house be A-Players for my company, and give them the ability to manage freelancers and crowdsourcing projects as they see fit to get the job done.
If I have a logo designer in house, who is great, why not give her the ability to use crowdsourcing to get the main ideas developed, put her own spin and finishing touches on them, and then present to the client? It makes her a Creative Director of sorts, allows her to be scalable and makes the client happier in the end. It’s seriously a no brainer.
Some common objections to working with freelancers (and why they’re bogus)
So, even after reading all the reasons why freelancers are key to growing your business, I know there are some people out there who still might have objections. Here are some of the most common (and why they’re completely and totally bogus):
Is hiring freelancers cheating?
If you’re wondering if it’s cheating to take $2000 from a client and then hire a freelancer to do the work for $1000, the answer is NO.
The idea of buying low and selling high is literally the definition of a profitable business. There isn’t a business out there that makes money selling something for less than it takes them to produce it. As long as you get your client amazing work at the price they agreed upon, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting it done in-house or by a freelancer—or how much you’re paying the freelancer to do it.
Online design websites are my competition. Why would I want to work with them?
Now, if you’re thinking “I’m a design agency! Sites like 99designs are my competition!” it’s time to reexamine your thinking.
I will always be of the opinion that working and partnering with other people—even if you consider them your competition—is better than trying to go at it alone. Even the big guys do it! That new iPhone X you’ve got? Yeah… the glass is made by Samsung. And if these two can figure out a way to work together (they’ve sued each other so many times, there’s a Wikipedia page dedicated to their lawsuits), you can figure out a way to work with freelancer sites in a way that makes sense (and is profitable) for your agency.
I can’t control the quality of a freelancer, and it makes me nervous.
I hear this one loud and clear. You value your relationship with your clients and you don’t want to trust a mediocre freelancer with their work. And I’ll be honest—when you use freelancers, not everything you get back is going to be up to your quality standards. Every platform has freelancers who are amazing and freelancers who are… less than stellar. So, if you want to get high-quality work, you need to know how to find the right people efficiently.
Here are a few tips to find high-quality freelance talent:
- Use sites that vet their talent. 99designs hand-rates every designer on their site and assigns them a designer level. Upwork has a rating system that allows you to see how past clients rate the quality of the freelancers work.
- Always take some time to evaluate each designer’s portfolio before making a hire. Past work is always a great indicator of future work, so if the quality is there on previous designs, you can be fairly confident it will be there in future designs as well.
- And my favorite solution: instead of hiring a freelance designer from the get-go, run a design contest on 99designs. You’ll get a ton of designs from different designers and can judge the quality before you make an official hire. (And if you have the budget, go for a gold or platinum contest, where only mid and top-tier designers can compete, which will eliminate the more inexperienced or low quality designers from the talent pool from the beginning).
Are you ready to scale your agency?
Scaling your agency can feel like an uphill battle—but when you have an army of high-quality freelancers in your corner, it becomes much easier to get up the hill, defeat the battle and scale your business to the next level.