Tips on managing freelancers
How do we become a better boss to our assistants? How do we manage freelancers well? I think the answer to this question is to learn how to be an open and communicative manager and to make tools and set expectations for our assistants to feel confident and useful while working for us.
If you are at the same stage as me in the floral business, it’s probably just you with a friend or two that you can trust to help out on event days. Maybe you are a bit farther along and have a full-time assistant or hire freelancers. Either way, you are overseeing others who help you maintain and promote your business’ reputation and products.
Since I employ only part-time, on demand, and usually a friend of mine, I haven’t been great at being a good boss. I realized this when I went to service my first luxury event earlier this year. I allotted extra time for everything and knew my general timeline of when all the pieces were due to where at the venue. I was managing my own time and needs, but I left my friend and assistant without a clear picture of the timeline or the vision of the event. I didn’t think it was necessary since she was going to be organizing, cleaning, packing and help with delivery. We felt if needed she could copy a few “master” copies of the design to make things move faster, but I hardly thought that required much explanation.
Well, as I’m sure you have guessed, and have possibly experienced, this didn’t lend itself to a day that ran smoothly. Because I didn’t include her in on the design or the process, and just generally explained the day's timeline, she was constantly having to ask what to do next or was left without a task. I asked her to try some small arrangements, but because I needed my time for the design I didn’t do any hands-on design training. All this led to was frustration and poor time management.
After this event, I sat down and started to think about how to be a better boss. How to manage and make our days less frustrating when we are frankly both so new at this business. I realized what I needed to do was talk to my assistant and get her perspective on the day. I want her to feel like an asset, not a distraction or worse yet, a disappointment.
Our talk started off a bit awkward, but it moved into something open and meaningful. Now, we can design a before-event system to play to each of our strengths. I have to admit; it’s a lot more work to create timelines, share design ideas, and come up with lists of tasks. However, the extra work that occurs a week or even two before the event has been paying off in dividends on event day. To compensate for this time, I created a whole new service category, where our labor costs increase because of the added managing that is needed for larger events.
I’m sure this is something that more established florist studios delegate to a manager. For people like me, who do this part-time or are just starting, managers aren’t a financial option. My goal with this post is to lay out a few questions to ask your assistants to determine where you are currently falling short as a manager and give you a quick overview of the system I am currently working on to increase communication, efficiency, and positivity before and during production.
How can you become better?
At the risk of sounding like corporate training, the following are general questions to start with when you meet with your assistants or freelancers. It’s easy to roll your eyes and pass off conversations like these as meaningless, but if you allow yourself to be open and honest, they can lead to meaningful discussions. Take it a step further and make these questions more personal, and the conversation will flow more organically:
- What are your favorite things to work on before or on event day? Why do you like doing these tasks? (Discuss what you have noticed they are good at and discover strengths together.)
- What things do you feel uncomfortable doing and why? (Discuss the origin of the hesitation and negative feelings. Is it something you haven’t trained them properly for? Does it simply not play to their strengths? Do they feel like the task is too important and there is too much pressure?)
- What jobs do you want to learn more about or think you’d be good at performing? (This is an excellent opportunity to take things off your plate that someone else can help take care of. It also clues you into your freelancers' strengths.)
- What information do you feel like you needed to know more about when starting to work this event? (This lets you know what information you aren’t communicating effectively.)
- Do you feel like you can ask me questions or direction without interrupting my process or focus? (This is a big one. Depending on the answer, talk about how they perceive you. If you are open and fun, there may not be an issue. In my case, I come across frustrated. This led me to think about what information and task charts I could provide before the event so they know what they should be doing. That way, my freelancers don’t feel like they are constantly interrupting, and they know my expectations.)
- How much time outside of the actual event production do you want to spend learning about the process or the specific event? (I believe this is key. If they aren’t willing to spend the time to make the process better, you can’t go anywhere regardless of the system you put in place. This will also cue you in on how intense of a system you should be creating, or if this person is worth the time and training investment.)
How we are getting better
Like I mentioned before, implementing the process of managing well is taking a tremendous amount of work outside of the standard event workload, but just like everything else, once it’s learned and familiarized, it makes organization and communication easier.
For my situation, the design aspect was one of my assistant's weaknesses. How we are working on this is by taking on smaller events that I can handle by myself, but still inviting her over so she can watch me put together the arrangements. In these circumstances, I focus on designing slowly and explaining each flower choice and placement as well as possible. I then let her practice an arrangement next to me as I do the next one so she can mimic me as I go. Finally, we try once more a little more hands off. It makes the design process slower, but with small events, there is less of a time constraint, so we have time to practice fully. You can also incorporate this with any flower leftovers you may have from larger events if needed. I found that while teaching, the arrangement design looks much more thoughtful and intentional and is also wonderful practice for me.
Another situation we are working on is day-of time management and having tasks and schedules planned out. These include all floral pieces, when I expect to do them, how much time to spend on each, and what materials I need to have organized for each task. I create the timeline myself and share it using Google documents. However, there are many workflow management platforms like Asana and Trello that you can also check out. I have begun to use these management systems for my pre-event tasks and reminders but find that day-of, I don’t have time for the computer system, hence my printable documents.
Sizing up is difficult, and you will need to explore all of your time and workflow management options. Having an open conversation with your workers will help you realize where you are strong and where you are weak, which will help with your selection. If you can, hiring a manager would be optimal, but until then, keep your mindset towards becoming better not just in design, but in management as well.