Why encouraging your employees to freelance is good for business

Indago Digital senior SEO executive William Chung
By Indago Digital senior SEO executive William Chung | 24 April 2019

A majority of Indago Digital employees have some sort of freelance or side hustle going on. Not only is it not a taboo thing to do or discuss, but actively encouraged by management.

Over the last few months, I talked to a fair few professionals in the agency industry regarding their views around their employees or colleagues freelancing, and the consensus has been mixed.

Below are the core insights as to why agencies should be encouraging it as an open discussion and how it’s beneficial to your business:

1. Building a culture of self-development

Often we look at building a culture of self-development with the lens that training should be formalised e.g. Google Certifications, Industry Certifications and hiring third party professionals to come and train your team. Although some value can be gained from this, the knowledge application of these certifications and training are more or less, quickly forgotten.

Instead, build a culture around encouraging freelancing to develop the skills that would be valuable to your agency. Since I started freelancing back in November 2018, I have:

  • Put together a proposal and landed the business.
  • Learnt and tested new methods in approaches that I might not have tried.
  • Delivered on the work, run them through the process, realistic implementations, approaches and received positive feedback.
  • Worked on industries that I haven’t had exposure to previously.
  • Based my philosophy on providing value and impact, rather than time spent.

2. Take advantage of freelancing as a selling-point for new business

One of the most unique soft-sells I have seen by our senior management is how our managing director loves to take employees on sales meetings with him. Not only does it helps employees understand why he is out of office so much, but what he actually does on a day-to-day when these new business happen.

It helps us develop an opportunities mindset. How to talk to new clients, how to sell yourself, how to understand the clients’ needs, business objectives and present solutions.

I’ve seen him take pride in other employees freelancing and side businesses as a soft-sell to new potential clients.

If an agency can build that culture with even the most junior employees, it shows that;

  • The Agency has open communication internally where the divide between management and employees are minimal, hence trust and transparency is ingrained in the culture.
  • Shows that your employees are driven, able to manage their own clients, workflow, formulate strategies (dependent on the type of freelancing they do), and all-in-all be independent and autonomous.
  • The longer they have been with their freelance client(s), the stronger your case.

3. Justification for internal promotions/raises

This point is more aimed towards junior employees looking to take the step towards developing management skills.

To management: What’s the best way to know that your employees are ready for the next step up?

To employees: What’s the best way to justify that you are ready to become a manager (senior manager, director, head of - or whichever title your agency uses)?

If you don’t have the current opportunity to showcase or develop team management skills at your current role, then the best way is to create your own opportunities.

Personally, the way I went about this was to start managing contractors for my freelance client. It shows some of the core skills you will need for your next step up:

  1. Creating clear briefs and instructions for the team that you will be managing in the future.
  2. Depending on the length of time you have been managing these contractors, it shows that your client has and continues to trust you to manage the workflow process.
  3. It presents you as the go-to person for projects related to what you do (In my case it would be SEO).

Others I know have done this in other ways:

  • Created their own side business where they hire contractors for web development when they want to focus on the marketing side.
  • Training soon-to-be graduates that are looking to get into the industry and being their go-to mentor even after they graduate.

SEO freelancing FAQs

What does SEO Freelancing prove?

If you can lock down a client as a freelancer over a longer period, it shows the following, particularly:

  • 1-3 months: You made a compelling proposal to land the business.
  • 3-6 months mark: You are able to produce work that the client has found value.
  • 6-12 months mark: Client continue to trust in your expertise.
  • 12 months +: You have stayed consistent in the quality of work you delivered, you have shown YoY improvements in your client’s business objectives.

What about the use of tools that companies pay for?

One of the concerns I have heard that make some managers hesitant on encouraging freelancing is the use of company property/tools etc, particularly around SEO tools for keyword tracking, mainly because a lot of these softwares charge based on per keyword units.

You can use tools like SEMRush for spot checks, you can use Chrome extensions such as fat rank for individual keyword ranking checks if necessary.

For the most part, majority of your clients care about one thing when they start a contract with you. Can you produce ROI based on the projects or work you deliver?

Keyword rankings are always going to be a secondary metric, seen as medium to the most important KPI metrics; traffic & Revenue. Focus on the traffic that can drive you the conversions and sales, and your clients are not going to complain.

Summary

There are numerous benefits and very little downsides allowing your employees freelance and encouraging it. Namely:

  • Self-Development Culture: Creating a culture around self-development that is applied and long-lasting.
  • A Unique Selling Point For New Business: Agencies can use the fact that you freelance as a strong selling point for having driven employees and showing that employees are friendly and share with management what’s happening outside of their normal job.
  • Creating Your Own Opportunities: Helps employees develop as working professionals, especially for juniors who want to step into a team management position and proving they can handle it.
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