I often brag on my team and about my team. They are the lifeblood of my business over the past 12 months and the reason for our incredible growth and record breaking revenue in 2020.
But, none of them work for me.
Each one is an independent freelancer who works with me as a 1099 contractor.
I have questioned, debated and tortured myself over the question of switching over to hiring employees versus the uncertainty of building a team and a business with people who could drop off the face of the earth in a moment’s notice.
Yep. Anyone of them could send me a slack message, email or text message that says, “Been nice knowing you, but I’m done. Good luck.” and leave me holding the bag or leave the unfinished client work hanging by a frazzled rope.
Not a single person I work with has any type of contract. Not even an NDA or a non-compete.
They could steal my process, steal my clients, steal my business secrets and much more. Many of them have complete access to our templates, training videos and inside scoop on how we outshine most of our competition.
I give it to them freely. Which also signals a deep level of trust and reciprocity.
Here’s the truth: Having an employee doesn’t protect you from all the big bad worries I just listed above. It just means you get to pay a lawyer to try to defend your so-called contract with a fly-by-night freelancer. Good luck with that.
You’ll lose more time, energy and money dealing with a lawyer than if you set up your company culture in a way that best serves your freelance team and clients.
I positioned my company to put my freelance team first, and my best interests second.
Sounds crazy and counter-intuitive, but so far it works.
Here’s the point: I have created a company where, as the leader, I must create a culture and working relationship that is better than any other they could create for themselves, or find with another company.
I often tell my team that I hold them with open hands. Palms up, holding them, but they are free to go at any point. They owe me nothing and can take everything they learn as well as show off the work they did with our clients in their portfolio.
They could even ramp up their very own freelance agency to compete with mine, using MY OWN PROCESS.
(As I’m writing this I’m second guessing my philosophy on this??!!)
Maybe I am crazy. Or stupid. Or just naive.
One day it could come back to bite me, or haunt me, or put me out of business. But, so far, I haven’t seen it moving in that direction at all. In fact, I seem to be building a powerhouse team that feels valued, trusted and respected.
Are you a business owner looking to grow??
Do you think you have what it takes to create such an amazing opportunity that would attract a talented freelancer to come work with you even though they could work for themselves or possibly be paid more as an employee somewhere else?
What if you actually focused on building that kind of culture within your organization? What would have to happen in your business and what kind of leader would you have to become in order to attract top talent to work for you, with no strings attached?
Here are some pros and cons of having an entirely freelance team:
- Expand or reduce your project capacity as needed
- Manage expenses based on revenue rather than as a fixed cost
- Stop working with someone who is not delivering without legal ramifications
- Only pay for work that is delivered rather than just hours agreed in a contract
- Hire the best, even if they only have 5–10 hours availability
- Save money on payroll taxes, benefits, equipment costs
- Freelancers can leave at any time, even in the middle of client work
- Processes and systems are vulnerable to copying / stealing
- Freelancers can raise their rates or reduce their hours at any time
- They may want to build their own business
- Less protection than having employees under contracts
- Lots of invoices to process
- Balancing their independence and creativity for your process
Here are my secrets for growing our team 5x in just 12 months:
- Create an irresistible opportunity
- Treat them with respect
- Involve them in decision making
- Be transparent at all times
- Assign meaningful work projects
- Choose amazing clients for them to work with
- Pay them fairly, consistently, on time
- Reward, recognize and celebrate amongst team
- Promote into leadership
- Develop an integrated team culture
- Create friendships within the team
- Offer growth opportunities
- Challenge and hold them accountable
- Care about them and their family on a personal level
- Cheer for them to win in their own business not just yours
- Invest in their professional and personal growth
- Invite feedback on your leadership performance
- Be vulnerable in your own growth journey
I’m finally beginning to see that growing a business doesn’t always mean hiring employees. It doesn’t mean that one day it won’t be the best option, but for now I’m going to stick with what’s working.