Here’s the simple truth about working as a freelance WordPress professional: If you’re producing quality work and keeping your clients happy you’re going to get busier over time – it’s almost unavoidable.
There are exactly 168 hours in the week – no more, no less. Realistically, you should be spending 56 of those hours sleeping, another 7 or so exercising and then of course, you have all the other little daily tasks that eat away at your day as well. The hours left available for productive work are limited.
At some point, you’ll have to decide whether or not you want or need to build a team in order to help your business continue to grow. Sure, you could remain a solo freelancer and keep plodding along. But as an entrepreneur, I bet you’re rarely happy with maintaining the status quo. Growth is in the cards.
Building a team is different than working alone as a freelancer. It comes with a whole new set of challenges that will require you to develop new skill sets as an entrepreneur.
In this post, we’re going to touch on some of the techniques and tools required to help you build an effective team around your burgeoning WordPress business.
Shall we get started?
Good Team Management Begins With The Selection Process
The most important technique you can master is that of adding the right people to your team – the selection process is where it’s at. Bring the right people onboard and your business can flourish – probably beyond anything you ever imagined possible. But hire the wrong people and you’ll find yourself wishing for a swift return to the days of solopreneurship.
In order to work well together you need to work well as a team. I know, it seems obvious but if you’ve ever watched a team of 7-year-old boys play football (soccer for my North American friends), you’ll realize that calling yourselves a team is very different than functioning like one.
Beyond the obviously required personal connection there are a few qualities to look out for when hiring great team members:
Highly motivated team members will make your life easier by leaps and bounds. Whether you’re running a small WordPress development agency or you’re in the business of building plugins, chances are, your business is very hands on. The last thing you need to worry about is being the team cheerleader. Finding people who are self-motivated, especially in the early stages of growing your team is important.
Consider their past work history. Were they responsible for spearheading new projects? Did they run their own business or were they working in a sales capacity that was dependent upon producing leads and sales? Hiring self-motivated people makes your life easier.
Communication in any workplace is important. If you’re the lead developer for your small business, do you really have time to be chasing people down for answers to important questions? Do you want to be worrying about whether or not someone is communicating properly with your new client? Probably not.
Alex Turnbull does an awesome job of describing how important good communication is to their remote team at Groove. He flat out states that if a new applicant fails to reply to an email within 24 hours, they won’t even be considered. This is a great standard but pay attention to the fact that the best future team members often reply much sooner.
As you’re working through the hiring process, notice how people communicate and how responsive they are before you hire them.
Hiring a results driven team member is important but you also want someone who knows which results are most likely to drive growth. There will be times when you don’t have a specific list of tasks available that need to be worked on. When this happens, you want someone on your team who can pick up the ball and run with it. Someone who has a sense of what’s important and who knows how to prioritize.
You might be wondering whether these qualities are relevant for both distributed and non-distributed teams. The answer is yes, with one caveat:
Any shortcoming demonstrated by a team member in an office setting will probably be increased ten-fold when working as a distributed team.
Six Techniques For Managing Your Team More Effectively
Running your business as a freelance WordPress professional has probably taught you a thing or two about how to work well with clients. Through a process of trial and error, you’ve learned how to interview potential new clients, how to spot the bad apples early in the process and how to communicate in the most effective manner possible.
Growing and managing your team will require you to learn an entirely new skill set. Here are 6 ideas that will help you work through the process:
1. Create an Effective Interview Process
The interview process is your front-line filter. It’s what should help you to identify which applicants are most likely to make great team members and which you should avoid. First impressions are important and you should pay close attention to your gut feeling at this stage of the game.
We mentioned previously how important communication is to a healthy and effective team. Use the interview process to filter out poor communicators. You can also consider setting up a trial project. For example, if you’re looking to bring a new developer on board, you could arrange a time for a screen-share. Present the applicant with a problem and then watch how they go about solving it. Zapier uses a similar process and might even take the additional step of having them work on a small collaborative project with an existing employee.
2. Great Onboarding Makes Life Easier
Adding a new team member can be a stressful process for both you and your new employee. It’s not unlike when you first start working with a new client. There is an initial period of uncertainty for both you and your new hire. Developing a standard onboarding procedure can help to reduce everyone’s anxiety.
Any new team member is going to have a lot of questions. The more prepared you are to answer them, the smoother the onboarding process will be. The first week or two of working with a new employee or contractor is a good time to outline your expectations, explain you your workflow and generally bring them up to speed with how you like to run your business.
Don’t forget that the onboarding process is also about giving your new hire a chance to ask questions and become comfortable in their new position. Don’t drop a new client project on their lap and expect them to knock it out of the park – they’re going to need some additional oversight in the early stages.
3. Flexibility Breeds Happiness
Happy employees and contractors are more productive. What’s important in your WordPress business is shipping results – completing a new website build, delivering a new logo to a client or resolving a series of customer support tickets. These are the end-results that matter.
Obviously you’re going to have some established operating procedures – a certain way that you like to run your business – but the more flexibility you can provide your team the happier they are going to be. Some people work better early in the morning and others are night owls. As well, the ability to juggle work and family life is becoming increasingly important. Respecting an employee’s personal life and desire for balance and control can help them feel more loyal towards your business.
4. Communication is King
Chances are you already understand the importance of great communication when it comes to your clients. You probably won’t be surprised to find out that managing an effective team requires the same level of communication. We’re going to talk about some of the tools you can use to communicate shortly but, what’s more important are the frequency, openness, and subject matter.
In an office setting, it’s tough to avoid daily communication of some kind – usually next to the water-cooler, right? But structured time where you can review client projects or address customer service issues is also important. And although working with a remote team presents unique challenges, don’t use that as an excuse. You should still be scheduling regular meetings via Skype, Hangouts or the platform of your choice.
Openness and subject matter are two other things important to communicating effectively with your team. No employee or contractor likes to feel like they don’t have a voice. Encouraging open communication between all team members leaves everyone feeling like their ideas and opinions are important and that they provide value to the team as a whole.
5. Establish Standard Operating Procedures
While flexibility helps to create a happy team, standard operating procedures help to ensure that your business runs the way it should – even when you’re not there.
Having a process for managing new client inquiries, a defined workflow for developing a new website and a procedure for managing customer support tickets are what keep your business functioning like a well-oiled machine.
In a perfect world, you’d have SOPs for virtually every aspect of your business because they benefit you, your customers and your team members. For the business owner, they provide the peace of mind that even in your absence, projects and tasks are being completed in a specific way and to a predefined standard – this also directly benefits your clients. For your team, SOPs remove any hesitation or anxiety over whether or not a task is being completed as expected.
As a side note, If you’re bringing on your first employee or contractor, having them create SOPs for their position is a great initial task to have them work on.
6. Lead by Example
Learning to manage your team effectively is going to require time and effort. Opinions are divided on whether good managers are made or born but since you’ve already committed to building your team, it really doesn’t matter. You may as well buckle down and become a great manager.
How well your team works together and how productive each individual member is will be greatly influenced by how much respect they have for you. If you’ve ever had a boss that you didn’t respect, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
One of the best ways to earn the respect of your team is to lead by example. Be a great communicator and be open to hearing and exploring new ideas. Quite possibly the most effective way to earn the respect and loyalty of your team is by being willing to admit when you are wrong. Even the boss makes mistakes, right?
Tools To Help Your Manage Your Team
What would this article be if we didn’t cover at least a few of the tools you can use to manage your team – distributed or not. Of course, these are just a few examples and there are alternatives to each one but if you’re transitioning from solo freelancer to building a small team, these will provide a great starting-off point.
Slack for Communication
If you’re going to be working with a team of people, be it 2 or 25, you owe it to yourself to check out Slack. The basic plan is free and paid plans start at $6.67/month per user. Never mind that, though, because the free version is awesome.
Using Slack as your primary communication tool allows you to keep pretty much everything in one place. You can set up multiple channels so, for example, you could have channels for new leads, development issues, customer service tickets and daily updates. The ideas for channels are limitless. Even GitHub can be integrated with Slack.
Where Slack’s communication abilities really shine is in its ability to pull in information from different apps, and share them collaboratively. And we haven’t even mentioned file sharing, direct messaging, groups and group messaging, searchable conversation archives or the mobile app.
Talking about Slack could quite literally be a post in itself, it’s that good.
Trello for Project Management
Trello, if you’re not using it already, is a great tool to assist you with project management. A lot of people dismiss Trello because it seems simple on the surface, and it is. That’s part of what makes Trello so great for project management. It’s got everything you need without a ton of extra, unwanted features. Projects, to-do lists, files, conversations, labels, due dates and more make it a great option for collaborative project management.
If you’ve already taken a few minutes to check out Slack, you might have noticed that Trello can be easily integrated into any channel your desire.
Perhaps one of the best things about Trello is its short learning curve. Other apps like TeamWork or Asana offer more features and functionality, but the learning curve is quite a bit steeper.
Google Docs for Collaboration
If you’re looking for a place to store files large files and collaborate on documents, Google Drive is where you should look. Chances are you’re probably already familiar with Drive – you probably already know where I am heading with this, but it just so happens that Slack also plays nicely with Google’s industry-leading collaborative app.
Files from Drive are easily integrated into Slack and once they are, the full text of the document becomes searchable from within Slack.
If you’ve recently decided to start building a team to help support the growth of your WordPress business, hopefully, you found a few points of interest in this article.
If you’re going to build and manage an effective team, it all begins with bringing the right kind of people on board. Team members who demonstrate the qualities of being motivated, communicative and results-driven greatly increase your chances of making the right hiring decision right from the start.
From there we covered six techniques or areas that are worth paying close attention too – beginning with the interview process. If I had to pick one thing that would be more important than anything else, it’s the idea of leading by example. Team members who respect one another will be more loyal, more productive and will function more efficiently as a unit.
Last but not least we touched on a few tools that when used properly, can help you manage your team with less effort and better results.
Making the decision to grow your WordPress business by bringing on a team can be an exciting proposition. Will it require more work initially? Yes. Will it force you to develop better management skills? You bet. But in the end, if you are serious about growing your business, it’s a necessary step.
If you have recently taken steps towards growing your WordPress business by hiring employees or contractors, please share your experiences in the comments below.
If you have a favorite tool that makes team collaboration easier, let us know what you’re using.
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