I've Outgrown My Freelancer – Now What?

Uh oh. Your trusty freelancer just sent another email about your project being late. Maybe a change you requested will take an extra two weeks because of another client. Or they've been really busy lately so they don't have time to respond to your emails. It didn't start this way, but over time you've been sending them more and more work until they aren't able to keep up. What now?

Recognize Your Situation

First, recognize that you (and your freelancer) might be victims of your own success.

I know this situation firsthand – before founding Brooks Digital, I freelanced for a number of steady clients. At the beginning of those relationships, the work was often sporadic: tweak this form, update this page, fix this bug.

As these clients saw the quality of my work and the effort I put behind it, they began to send me more things to do. This led to a natural growth cycle: successful freelance work spurred growth in their business, which created more work for me. After a number of years, I was struggling to keep up with the sheer amount of work being sent my way. My clients were struggling to keep up with their growing businesses. We were victims of our own success. (Fear not  there's a solution I'll explain later.)

As a business, you may have recognized you've outgrown your freelancer. You've been with this person for years, but maybe they no longer provide the volume of work you require. Perhaps the quality of their work has dropped. You need to make a change. How do you start that process?

Evaluate Your Options

If your freelancer is at maximum capacity, you have a few options:

1) Hire another freelancer.

  • Pros: You keep the same model and price you're comfortable with.
  • Cons: You spend an increasing amount of time managing and finding multiple freelancers as your business grows.

2) Partner with an agency to continue driving business growth.

  • Pros: You have an experienced company that takes care of the details and lets you invest more time in growing your business.
  • Cons: Your costs increase compared to a freelancer.

In this stage of growth, it's understandable to feel like you're in a no-win situation. Either you spend lots of time delegating and managing the work of multiple freelancers, or you spend additional money to invest time in more important areas of your business. It seems tempting to just continue what you're doing – perhaps push your freelancer a bit harder, or hope their schedule clears up. But is that really a long-term plan for success?

It comes down to a fundamental decision: do you reduce your business growth in favor of cutting costs, or do you invest in your business by teaming up with someone who can respond to your increasing needs, reduce your workload, and provide a new level of strategic direction?

Some businesses choose to favor cutting costs. That's perfectly valid. It may make sense for them to stick with their existing freelancer and plateau their online efforts for a while. Or perhaps they have time to manage multiple freelancers. But for many, it makes sense to partner with an agency so they can continue growing their company.

Know What You're Looking For

When looking for an agency to partner with, it's important to determine what you're looking for based on your past experiences with freelancers. Let me illustrate this by finishing my story from earlier. 

When I realized I was being sent more work than I could handle, I knew I could do one of two things: start refusing work, or adapt my business to continue serving my clients. For me, the decision was clear – I needed to form an agency.

When I founded Brooks Digital, I took a hard look at what my clients valued about working with me as a freelancer. I came up with the following list:

  1. Personalized attention. My clients felt valuable – like they were a priority and I cared about them and their business.
  2. Direct access. My clients liked communicating with someone who understood the work that was being done, with minimal layers of administration. 
  3. Quality. My clients appreciated my work ethic, continuous desire for improvement, and the pride I took in my work.

Based on that list, I created an agency focused on those principles. This allowed me to keep working seamlessly with my existing clients, bring in great new clients, and grow alongside their businesses.

When selecting an agency, it's important that you evaluate what you like about working with your freelancer, and find someone who matches those values. Otherwise, you risk blindly walking into a new relationship without the criteria to decide whether it's a good fit.

Celebrate Change

You may feel overwhelmed, discouraged, or downright terrified at the thought of growing into a new relationship with an agency. But remember, this is happening because of your success! Adapting to and tackling new challenges is the landmark of a successful business, and this is no exception. Celebrate the change and recognize what it stands for – a healthy sign of growth.

Spencer Brooks

Spencer Brooks is the Founder & Principal of Brooks Digital. He has nearly a decade of experience as a technology consultant for nonprofits and mission-driven businesses and spends his days happily helping organizations use open source technology and data analysis to maximize their impact. Spencer lives in Portland, OR with his wife Hannah and their son Weston.

Twitter: Follow @spencerbrooks on Twitter.