Ninety seven.

When you’ve got too much work to do.

In this episode, Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from designer, coder and illustrator Andi Best.

Andi says:

“I can’t go on like this — I think I need to give in and ask for help!

I am inundated with work and the enquiries keep coming, which is a great problem to have, but I don’t know what to do about it.

Previously I’ve mitigated large volumes of work by quoting higher or asserting my unavailability — ultimately turning work away. For a “busy period” that works well, but for the past 6 months I’ve been consistently (too) busy, and I now accept that I need to try something else. I just don’t want to keep saying ‘no’.

I think I need more resource? I don’t want ‘staff’ (insurance, sick leave, payroll? No thanks!) but I do want something more robust than the ad-hoc outsourcing I do now. 

I think I need a firm freelance partnership? Or agency temp?
Or similar arrangement? 

What’s holding me back is a lack of trust in an unknown entity (the quality of the work, sharing client credentials etc.) —  ultimately relinquishing control of the work that’s getting my name attached to it. And also a fear that their rates will exceed the fees already agreed for the work.

Any advice?

Thanks, Andi”

Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.

Here’s what was said in this episode:

Comments on the previous episode:

[00:01:03] – Frankie
Hello. You’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie and this is Steve.

[00:01:12] – Steve
Hello. Yes, each episode we take a question for the Doing It For The Kids community. Do our best to answer it, but we start each episode by looking back at the last one. Last time we were talking about…

[00:01:21] – Frankie
We were talking about building something new versus taking on more existing client work.

[00:01:27] – Steve
Oh, yes. Well, Nina Lenton got in touch.

Nina said,

“I listened to this with interest, having recently turned down some work for September because I just didn’t want to do it. I now have some time on my hands, so I’m developing something new, which I have been trying to do on and off for years. I think it does depend on the financial need of the person asking, though, especially with work that’s being offered to you on a plate right now.”

[00:01:49] – Frankie
Helen Greenwood says,

“So much to say about this episode. I’m currently rejigging my services, but without the existing client safety net, I would grab the offer of more work with both hands and mention that you’re also considering offering new services. You could sell it as an exclusive to them. It’s brand new, you’re the first to access this, etc.

I agree that it takes time and energy to create and sell new services or products, but if it is something you’re enthusiastic about, it doesn’t seem as much of a chore, maybe?

And I don’t know if it was just me, but the stealthy Volvo police car siren sounded like one of those really annoying toy dogs that yaps for ages and then, without warning, does a menacing backflip!”

[00:02:25] – Steve
Haha, menacing.

[00:02:27] – Frankie
Helen continues,

“And finally, Sims 4 needs a kid’s version without the hot tub rumpy pumpy.”

Taking that as a band name, by the way.

“Which is all about decorating your house, making your Sim look the way you want, and then pottering about your garden, making art, playing with your pets, etc. Pretty much the life I’d lead if I didn’t have to work.”

[00:02:42.440] – Steve

And Jon Richards said,

“I think, like Steve, I would take the work, but maybe I’d just let the client know that I have other projects on, so have less time to work on theirs. Or I might say, ‘I’d love to work with you, but I’m not available for a couple of weeks’ and then really go for a new thing knowing that I had work scheduled. If they agreed to wait, that is.

P.S. I like how it almost turned into a podcast episode explaining to Steve how the toilet works without pushing the button”.

Our answer to this week's question:

[00:05:44] – Steve
Okay. So this time around we’ve got a question from Andi Best. He’s the best! He’s a designer, coder, illustrator — That’s Andi with an ‘i’, by the way. Otherwise it doesn’t work.

“I can’t go on like this”, says Andi.

“I think I need to give in and ask for help. I am inundated with work and the enquiries keep coming — which is a great problem to have! — but I don’t know what to do about it. Previously, I’ve mitigated large volumes of work by quoting higher or asserting my unavailability, ultimately turning work away for a ‘busy period’ in quotation marks that works well. But for the past six months I’ve been consistently too busy and now I accept that I need to try something else. I just don’t want to keep saying no.

I think I need more resource? I don’t want staff — you know, insurance, sick leave, payroll — no thanks. But I do want something more robust than the ad hoc outsourcing I do now. I think I need a firm freelance partnership? Or agency temp? Or similar arrangement?

What’s holding me back is a lack of trust in an unknown entity, brackets the quality of the work, sharing client credentials etc, and ultimately relinquishing control of the work that’s getting my name attached to it. And also a fear that their rates will exceed the fees already agreed for the work.

Any advice? Thanks, Andi. With an ‘i’.”

[00:07:17] – Frankie
Okay, so first of all Andi, I think we really need to recognise that this is a brilliant situation to be in. Like, this is great, let’s celebrate the fact that you have too much work!

[00:07:27] – Steve
That’s true. So many people don’t have much work. Andi, you’re going to get so many emails from people offering to help you.

[00:07:39] – Frankie
Yeah, right.

[00:07:39] – Steve
I think just you saying this out loud might solve this whole issue right now!

[00:07:43] – Frankie
Yeah, like, I’m not saying everybody is suffering at the moment, but there is definitely a feeling amongst a lot of freelancers — particularly the kind of things that Andi is doing — that work is hard to come by right now and the fact it’s not for you is brilliant. So yeah, genuinely like… bring out the balloons and the confetti.

[00:08:04] – Steve
So it sounds like he’s done ad hoc outsourcing but is now thinking, and I quote, “I think I need a firm freelance partnership or agency temp or similar arrangement.”

[00:08:17] – Frankie
Do you want that? That’s a big thing, isn’t it?

[00:08:20] – Steve
It is, yeah.

[00:08:21] – Frankie
Particularly like a partnership with another designer, illustrator, kind of thing. He’s already touched on some trust issues about, you know, outsourcing to other people. So if you’re going to go down that route of being in a partnership with one other person, that person has to be right.

[00:08:36] – Steve
One way you might find them is by outsourcing to various people.

[00:08:42] – Frankie
Essentially kind of trialing a load of people?

[00:08:44] – Steve

[00:08:44] – Frankie
But are they going to want to be in a partnership with you? Oh wow, we’re into…

[00:08:47] – Steve
Quite possibly not!

[00:08:49] – Frankie
…we’re into dating territory again. Just go on a bunch of dates with a bunch of people, see if you like them?

[00:08:58] – Steve
There is a middle ground between a partnership and ad hoc outsourcing and that’s regular outsourcing to the same sort of people. It can still be on a very much freelance, temporary basis where you’re not responsible for them having regular work, but you go to, you know, a small team of people regularly.

[00:09:20] – Frankie
Well, that’s basically what you do, isn’t it Steve?

[00:09:23] – Steve
Yeah, and there have been periods in the past where I’ve been so busy where I had to definitely bring on people to do things that I would normally do.

[00:09:33] – Frankie
So how did you find these people?

[00:09:35] – Steve
Freelance communities, actually. Yeah, mainly freelance communities. Although some of them, you know… Because this was also before a lot of freelance communities that we’re part of now and take for granted. I did find people on platforms like People Per Hour. Clearly they get a bad rap, but there are very good people on them and it can be a really good way to hire people. But you do have to sift through a lot of applications if you go down that route. But now we are blessed with all these communities that we’re part of and, so yeah, you kind of keep an eye out for people within them.

[00:10:10] – Frankie
And recommendations from people that you already trust and have a relationship with.

[00:10:14] – Steve
Yeah, yeah.

[00:10:14] – Frankie
Yeah, I think whatever you do — including maybe the partnership thing — but definitely with ad hoc freelancers or what you’re talking about Steve ie. building a team of people that you work with regularly. You do need some sort of filtering process to find out who those people are. I don’t know if you formally advertise that you’re building a team kind of thing? Or if you just bring people on for a series of small jobs? You know, giving people projects that you don’t have those worries about trust so much, because they’re small scale. There’s a low reputational risk kind of thing. See how they do, see how you get on with each other. So much of this stuff is about relationships and chemistry with people, I think.

It’s not the same, but at the moment I’ve been trying to find a builder to do some work on my house and I’ve had various people through the door and a couple of people are available. But ultimately I was talking to my Dad about it, who’s a builder, and he was like, “yeah, but you’re going to spend so much time with this person, you have to LIKE them and you have to be able to communicate with each other well. There are so many things you need as a pair to have a positive outcome for everybody”.

So yeah, giving people a series of small projects as a testing ground could be a good way to do that and then build a team from that and give them more responsibility. You’re going to feel more comfortable, they’re going to feel more comfortable.

[00:11:36] – Steve
Okay. One thing that Andi specifically calls out is he has a fear that their rates will exceed the fees already agreed for the work. Right, so that’s a fair point, but it is also very easy to get around.

So there’s sort of two things you want to do. One is to build up a bank of freelancers that you can work with, yeah? And from them, you’re going to probably ask for quotes/ranges of prices for certain things so that you know what to expect so that you can then go and quote for projects. Also, side note — you want to go back every few months and check that those rates haven’t increased so that information isn’t old when you quote for a job.

But if you’ve got a job that you’ve already quoted for, everything’s already agreed, or you know it’s an ongoing client where they expect it to be a certain price, there is nothing wrong with you going to a freelancer and saying, “Hey, I’ve got this project, I need this doing and I’ve got X amount of pounds”. It’s up to them whether they then choose to work with you or not.

So, yeah, there is nothing wrong with saying, “I have got this budget”, because the worst thing to do is for you to go to them and say, “Hey, I’ve got this project, how much would that be?” Because freelancers, all of us — we’re programmed, we’ve been trained, we’ve been told so many times (sometimes by podcasts like this one!) to think of a number and then increase that number a little bit more. So we’re always told to charge a bit more. But in reality, most of us would probably happily take the work for a little bit less because if we’ve got nothing else on right now and I’ve not had to go and find that client myself and so on and so forth. And I think, “Oh, and actually, I like Andi, I’ll do that project”.

[00:13:19] – Frankie
Is it just me though, or does this whole building a team thing sound like a lot of work?

[00:13:23] – Steve
Yes! Yes, yes.

[00:13:27] – Frankie
He’s got so much work on, he’s so busy and then this just sounds like another bloody job to me.

[00:13:33] – Steve
Yeah, you see, that’s the thing is that it is actually something that’s really good to do almost in the quieter period. It’s good to do alongside everything else so that it can kick in when you’re too busy or when a family situation takes over which means you can’t do as much work as you’d like to. Plus, managing a team and doing all of this isn’t for everybody. Andi is a creative person.

[00:13:58] – Frankie
That’s the other thing. It’s like we’ve talked about that… what was that episode? The episode about podcasts. And he was talking about becoming an agency or something?

[00:14:05] – Steve
Oh, yes. Yeah.

[00:14:06] – Frankie
I remember in that episode talking about, you know… You’re at risk of moving so far away from the work that you’re no longer an illustrator or a designer, you’re a manager. And is that what you want? Because the alternative, right… What is the alternative, Steve?

[00:14:21] – Steve
Chucking it all in and becoming a monk?

[00:14:26] – Frankie

[00:14:28] – Steve
Getting a proper job?

[00:14:29] – Frankie
No, absolutely not.

[00:14:31] – Steve
Raise your rates.

[00:14:32] – Frankie
Yes. Bingo.

[00:14:35] – Steve
He has been doing that though, it doesn’t seem to be putting people off.

[00:14:38] – Frankie
Yeah I know. Exactly. So why not keep going?

[00:14:44] – Steve
Yeah, true.

[00:14:44] – Frankie
If you’ve got the demand and the problem is you’ve got too much work, ask for more money. I don’t know, that seems like the logical alternative to all of this faff. It’s not faff, it’s building a business, blah, blah, blah, whatever. But does he want to do that? It’s hard to tell whether he’s doing it out of necessity or whether he wants to build something bigger than him.

[00:15:10] – Steve
Yeah, let’s not underestimate the amount of faff that is involved. Especially because, in theory — and we haven’t even touched on this — you would want to have a contract in place.

[00:15:19] – Frankie

[00:15:20] – Steve
With the people that you outsource/bring onto your team, you know. And that will cover things like how you’re going to pay them, you’re going to want to check your insurance, whether they can share the work that they do with you on their own portfolios or social media, whether the client knows that they exist and on it goes… blergh.

[00:15:41] – Frankie
Similarly, I was going to say about the partnerships thing. Partnerships can obviously be amazing. We have people in the community who run successful partnerships. But I’ve also seen a lot of posts over the years — particularly during COVID interestingly — where partnerships have fallen apart and it’s been messy and unpleasant. And in a lot of those examples, there just wasn’t a formal agreement. There was no contract, there was no partnership agreement. There was nothing written down. So if you are going to seriously consider the partnership thing… Yes, finding the right person is the first step, but then protecting both of you from if something goes wrong is wise.

[00:16:20] – Steve
Yeah and it’s not just about it going wrong, though. It is the fact that any partnership is likely — very likely — to come to an end. So you need to have that thought about in advance. Plus, yeah, there will be troubles. So how will issues be sorted out? Who’s in charge? Who’s bossing who about? What are your roles?

[00:16:41] – Frankie
Well, this is it. Not just the potential of what could go wrong but how does it work day to day? Who’s client facing? Who isn’t? who’s dealing with which clients? who’s dealing with other clients? who’s doing what tasks? Who’s doing the admin side? It’s just like there’s so many things to consider.

Again, the faff levels are high but I guess in that instance maybe the reputational risk and trust stuff is lower because you’re only dealing with one person who hopefully you have vetted?

[00:17:07] – Steve
I would never go into a partnership unless it was a real strong gut feeling. I wouldn’t do it because I had too much work on. I would do it because I was excited about the potential of what…

[00:17:20] – Frankie
… of working with that person.

[00:17:21] – Steve
Yeah, really.

[00:17:22] – Frankie
Totally agree.

[00:17:23] – Steve
Because there’s other ways to solve that problem without carving up your business and going down that route.

[00:17:30] – Frankie
One of the alternatives here is to say no. I find it interesting that, I don’t know, Andi doesn’t see necessarily that as an option? He touches on it where he says I’ve quoted so high that I’m essentially saying no. But he hasn’t actually said no. I know often it’s that, you know, freelance feast and famine. It’s not in our nature to turn work away because you just don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s no guarantees.

But is it a personality thing where he’s like… I just can’t say no to people? Because that’s definitely a thing that I can relate to.

[00:18:01] – Steve

[00:18:02] – Frankie
Or is it like, you know… we are fed this message that growth is good and you’ve got to keep going and make more money. The only way to be successful is to build a business and get bigger and turn over more etc. But do you need to do that?

[00:18:19] – Steve
And that comes back nicely to that point of raising your rates… Maybe the fact that you are so in demand is a good opportunity to raise rates particularly with new clients who come to you. And raise them A LOT.

[00:18:38] – Frankie
Yeah. Because it sounds like you can!

[00:18:40] – Steve
Yeah. It sounds like people really want to work with you and I bet it’s not because you’re the cheapest. So maybe they will wait. Maybe they’ll go and find more money and maybe you’ll come back to us and say, “I put my rates up and now I have even more work on. I can afford a holiday but I can’t take one…!”

[00:19:00] – Frankie
Yeah, exactly. Exactly though, that’s it. We can’t just keep saying yes. How many times have I made this speech? But we are not productivity machines. There is a life to be lived and yeah, if you need to just say no, you can. (Unless you need the extra money of course). Yeah, I would try and fight the narrative that you have to keep growing because you don’t, if you don’t want to. Because it sounds like you’re not that keen on giving work to other people, to be honest. Sorry.

[00:19:31] – Steve
Yeah, it does. Do you know what though, Andi — whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.

[00:19:35] – Frankie
Right, keep going.

[00:19:36] – Steve
You’re just too damn good, Andi. He’s the best.

Okay, we could probably go on, but let’s outsource this. Really, though we would love to know your comments. Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation if you’ve hired others, if you’ve gone into a partnership and it went really well, or it didn’t? Get in touch. You can do so wherever Frankie has posted this on social media or of course, in the Doing It For The Kids community. If you’re not a member yet, come join!

What would your advice be?

Let us know your thoughts using #DIFTKpodcast on Twitter and Instagram, and join in the conversation over in the DIFTK Community.