How to get the most out of a freelance designer as a startup founder

By Rob Williams

You may have noticed that your business is limited by you. You only have so much time in a day to accomplish what you need. You can only solve problems one way. Your way.

That’s why hiring is such an important investment. It multiplies your effort. It opens possibilities on growth that aren’t possible solo. It’s almost like being able to clone yourself, but better.

See, having clones would be great, but they would still be you. You would still be limited to the ideas you have for your business. That pales in comparison to having separate unique people coming up with their own ideas to grow your business.

The mistake is limiting yourself to just the ideas you have, and not realizing your business is bigger than you.

This realization came on slowly. Years after hiring my first part-time employee, I realized I was severely undercutting my hires. My investments in them weren’t getting me the results I wanted and it was totally my fault.

You’re probably making the same mistake by dictating projects to your employees — and it’s killing growth.

Think about it. You know that boss you had who didn’t value your time? The one that made you feel like you were working on things that didn’t matter. You probably rarely, if ever, felt like you were making the best use of your time under this person.

And it’s sucked. So it’s a terrible feeling to think you might be pushing this on your employees too. The worst part is not realizing how.

One way to know for sure is to ask who’s defining your projects.

Who comes up with the goals, terms, scope, and deliverables inside of them? Is it you or is it the person you’ve hired?

The most shocking answer might be neither of you.

You may have inherited your way of working from some anonymous source without realizing it. Like that past boss, or how you think business is “supposed to be done.”

The problem is that this way of working rarely fits our needs. It’s more likely we’ve picked up habits that are out of date or irrelevant.

A great example of this in practice is freelance marketplaces that force you to post your project inside of an arbitrary category like “website design,” before speaking to a professional.

Who decided you should do that?

This limits you to only solving problems that are solvable by a new website design. Your true problem might be something else entirely. Yet you’re blocking this off.

So, how do you make sure you cut through all of this and instead get at the heart of what’s really important in your projects?

Instead of dictating, hire people TO decide what they’re working on.

That’s right, I’m saying you shouldn’t decide what the people you hire work on. Now, I know that seems counter-intuitive. Yet the truth is when you decide what someone else is working on, it’s impossible it’ll be the best thing for them to work on. Why? Because

And I’m not even talking about the employee’s experience (although your employees will be a lot happier working on things they care about).

I’m talking about results.

People who work for you need to be working on the most important thing they can bring to the table.

If they’re not, you’re simply not getting your money’s worth. You’re getting a fraction of what you could be getting.

After all, you hired this person to make you more money. They had something you wanted access to, like a skill or expertise. That means they’re capable of coming up with ways to make you more money using that thing.

Not only that but they also have a perspective on your business you can’t access. No matter how much you try. That’s valuable.

Letting people work on the thing they believe will bring the most upside unlocks massive growth.

Flip positions with your employees for a moment. The only way they can put forth their insights is if you allow it to happen.

I’ve been in that situation. I could’ve helped my past employer more than I did but I was limited by my boss’s lack of understanding in design. An understanding he was paying me for. It doesn’t make sense that he blocked himself from it.

He defined my work for me. He told me what design projects I needed to complete. He decided what was the best way I should spend my time. It wasn’t just horrible. It was demeaning.

I knew exactly what projects I could’ve been working on to make better use of my time. Yet I was never asked. I knew exactly how to make my boss more money. Of course I did, that was my job. Yet, it didn’t happen.

Don’t hire a dog, then bark yourself. — David Ogilvy

About Rob Williams...

I run Folyo which helps freelance designers find the work they were meant to do. I also host Freelance a podcast about how to be more effective at independent work featuring remote companies like Disney, Basecamp, YNAB, ConvertKit and more.


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