Business Conundrum #33
Q. “I’ve got enough work that I need to subcontract parts of it out. I thought I was going to really enjoy it when I got to this point, and I do like being able to choose the parts of each project that I want to work on, and delegating the parts I don’t really want to do.
“But how do I keep subcontractors and part-timers interested in working with me? I have trouble finding good ones, and even when I do, they don’t seem to want to stick with me. My reputation is on the line when I subcontract work, so this is really scary for me. Is there a rule of thumb for developing a stable of great people?”
A. This is a really big question, with a lot of big parts, so let’s see if I can do it justice by breaking it down into smaller chunks and answering a bit of each. Then maybe we can delve deeper into each chunk in later posts. But before we start, why don’t you head on over to my PowerSmarts blog and pick up a copy of my “8 Hiring Tips for Assuring that Prospective Team Members Align with Your Small Business’s Culture.” This report will be invaluable to you in making sure you know what to look for when adding to your team in the first place, whether you’re hiring full-time employees or looking for free-lancers.
1.) Congratulations on getting your business to this point!
As you point out, when you get to the point of having too much work to do yourself, there are several advantages — one of them being your ability to choose the parts of the work you like to do the best, and delegate or contract out the rest. You’re no longer required to do everything in your business, whether it suits you or not. I’m not one of those coaches who recommends you hire out right from the get-go — I believe you need to earn this privilege, and be able to afford it. No sense paying people to do work you could be doing if that leaves you doing nothing you can bill for, and the money coming in goes right out to pay the contractors. (And yes, I see it all the time.) On the other hand, if there’s more profitable work you could be doing, I don’t want to see you doing non-profitable or admin work, either. It’s a delicate balance.
Another benefit of getting to this point is the obvious bonus of leverage — of being able to make money on things other than what you directly do yourself. If you can be earning a profit on the work you contract out while you’re earning money on the work you’re doing yourself, you’re leveraging your resources.
2.) The idea of keeping people interested in working with you is both an art and a science.
It’s an art because it has to do with how you are as a person, at your core, and how you communicate with other people. It’s a science because it can be scheduled, tracked, and learned. None of it happens overnight.
3.) Step back and analyze the art part.
Take a look at how you communicate with the people you subcontract or delegate to. Take a look at what you communicate to them about. Put yourself in their place — how much would you want to work with you?
What kind of business do you have in the first place? Is it interesting to people? Is it the kind of work they’re looking for? Are you the kind of person people want to work for?
What? You haven’t thought about that? Why not?
When you’re talking about hiring subcontractors or freelancers, it helps to remember that these people are business owners themselves, and they don’t have to take work from just anyone; like you, they want to work with people they get along well with and feel good about. Is that you? And they want to do interesting work. Is the work you give them interesting? If it isn’t, there has to be something else redeeming about working for you. Is there? What is it?
4.) Step back and analyze the science part.
How do you pay your subs? Do you pay them quickly, or do they sometimes have to wait for a check? One of the best ways to keep people loyal is to be the fastest payer — don’t you work just a teeny bit harder for the clients who pay you the quickest?
How part-time is your part-time? Do you have regular work your subs can count on, or do you just call them in willy nilly when you have a hot job? I know, sometimes it’s difficult for you to know when you’ll be busy, but if you can schedule your subcontractors at all, or if they know they can count on you X times per month, it makes it easier for them to plan, too.
How about project parameters and criteria? Do they know what’s expected of them? How much leeway they can take? When to check in with you? How to check in with you?
If you’re putting people on your payroll, there’s a whole lot more that goes into this science part, like different kinds of team meetings for different purposes, one-on-one sit-downs, reviews, retreats, workshops, group education, bonusing and profit sharing, and a bunch of other stuff, all good.
So — a rule of thumb? No.
Suggestions and recommendations and guidelines? Yes! It’s smart of you to realize you need to get this right, because your reputation is most certainly on the line when you grow your business in any way, and delegating work is one way that can indeed be very scary. Thinking through some of these questions should at least get you started.
And I’d also like to know, what are your ideas for building a team of great people?