Hiring Help, Nonprofits

Why you should find freelancing help before you need it

In my last post, I talked about scenarios in which it makes sense for nonprofit organizations to hire a freelancer or consultant to help with their communications. Some of those situations–like when you’re facing a vacancy on your team, or it’s your yearly crunch time and you’re scrambling to keep your head above water–require the person you hire to be able to hit the ground running. If you have to invest significant time and effort onboarding a brand-new freelancer (or feel like you have to look over their shoulder through the whole project), you’re canceling out the value they can bring to your organization.

Don’t wait until you’re in the deep end to figure out where you keep the life preserver. Photo by Stefano Zocca on Unsplash

This is why I recommend all small communications teams keep in touch with a freelancer long before they hit a crisis, and why I myself work so hard to build relationships and establish a track record of dependability with my own clients.

The thought of hiring a complete stranger to help you in a serious crunch time can be so daunting that many organizations don’t tap into this resource and end up scrambling internally to make do when they could be strategically investing in a trusted expert to help them not just survive but triumph.

The thought of hiring a complete stranger to help you in a serious crunch time can be so daunting that many organizations don’t tap into this resource and end up scrambling internally to make do when they could be strategically investing in a trusted expert to help them not just survive but triumph.

That doesn’t mean you have to establish a retainer or find a huge chunk of money to continually push projects at a freelancer to keep them on your “team.” I am not perpetually engaged with all my clients on active projects, but when they do need extra help, I already have a solid foundation of institutional knowledge to frame the problem they’re seeking to solve. In the long run, this saves them time and money, and takes a lot of worry out of whether we’re going to succeed.

After all, it’s rare that an organization with limited resources is going to commit to investing in outside help unless there are real stakes. In those situations, doesn’t it make sense to be able to call up someone who has come through for you in the past?

How to find a freelancer before you really need one

There are lots of online platforms for hiring freelancers, but unless it’s something you do often, I find it can be an overwhelming and unfulfilling exercise for both hiring organizations and freelancers. Your mileage may vary, but it’s worth considering whether your existing network contains untapped potential for communications consulting.

Here are a few tips for finding that perfect partner who can serve as your crunch time insurance:

  1. Keep in touch with past high-performing employees. Many of my consulting clients started off as employers. In the nonprofit world especially, it’s pretty common for people to take on temporary contract work to help wrap up projects or assist with a transition when they leave an organization. If someone who does great work leaves on good terms, keep in touch. It’s likely they’d be willing to help out from time to time (or, ahem, end up turning it into their full-time career. Hi.)
  2. Ask for referrals among your professional network. Nonprofit organizations exist in an ecosystem, and your colleagues within your community can be an excellent resource for finding reliable contractors. Nonprofit professionals generally love to be of service (and this is an especially low-effort way to help out). Sourcing from your network rather than the big wide world of the Internet means you’re getting introduced to people that have been vetted to some degree by people you know and trust. If you’re active on LinkedIn, post your query there–people usually happy to help you find good people to work with.
  3. Use your existing communications channels to ask your supporters. Include a blurb in your e-newsletter or send a few Tweets. You may find people within your volunteer base or within your social media audience who have the skills you’re seeking and already understand and love your mission.

There you have it. Three quick tips for seeking out communications help before you hit a crisis. Next week, I’ll talk about interviewing potential freelancers and building a relationship (even if you don’t have the budget or immediate need to hire them.)

In the meantime, help your fellow solo communicators and small-team nonprofits find me! Tweet this post or email it to a friend or colleague.  I’m making it my mission to help people like you extend your reach in pursuit of your mission. I’ve got big things planned for 2019 and I’d love to stay in touch.

Featured Image: Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

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Nonprofits

When to hire a communications consultant

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In the weeds? Maybe it’s time to hire someone.

If you’ve never worked with a freelancer or consultant before, it may not even occur to you as an option. Hiring someone on a contract or for project-based work can be a great way to maximize your limited resources. Here are a few examples of when it might be time to hire some help to extend your reach and fuel your mission.

You need a specialized skillset.

This is perhaps the most obvious situation. Small organizations and nonprofits tend to have generalists–people who can do a little bit of everything, but may not possess deep expertise in a particular skill set, such as graphic design, programming, search engine optimization or another highly technical field. Usually, this is because you don’t need full-time access to this skill. But if you know what you need, and just need someone to help you build it, a freelancer can be a great option.

You’re not sure what you need.

The other side of this coin is just as important. Maybe you don’t know exactly what you need, but you have a problem to solve. A trusted partner who can serve as a consultant can be a tremendous resource in this situation. They can conduct research, connect you with potential resources and present a clear situation analysis and possible solutions so that you can make informed decisions. In addition to saving you a lot of nitty-gritty work, freelancing consultants can bolster your authority if you are presenting your proposed course of action to your manager (or, as is so often the case within nonprofits, a committee). This person can also serve as a neutral outsider to help disarm some of the […?] so common to mission work.

Your Important/Not Urgent Quadrant is Sorely Neglected

When you’re a one-person team in an organization, sometimes you go through entire seasons feeling like you’re putting out fires rather than building the systems and tools that could make real progress toward your objectives.
By Rorybowman [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Maybe you could really use an editorial calendar to help guide donor communications, but you just can’t find the time to build it out. Or maybe you have some highly detailed organizational project you don’t have a week to pore over, and it’s too important to rely on a volunteer who may not come through. Maybe there’s been something you’ve been meaning to research, and instead of spending 15 hours trawling the Internet for useful information, you’d really like a high-level report to help guide your next steps.

It’s Crunch Time

Year-end campaigns. Annual fundraising events. Whatever your organization’s insane crunch time is. When you’re working long hours and just aren’t sure how you’ll get everything done, an extra hand can be the difference between burnout and triumph.

You Need to Bridge a Vacancy

Even with plenty of notice and a thorough hand-off process, it can be hard to keep up when people leave your team. No, this likely isn’t the *best* time to also hire a brand-new freelancer, but if you have an existing relationship with someone you trust, it’s a great opportunity to hand off some of the work that might otherwise slip through the cracks as you’re saying goodbye to one team member, interviewing candidates and onboarding a new hire. Which brings me to the topic of next week’s post: Why you should have a relationship with a freelancer, even if you don’t think you need one. Stay tuned! Photo by Jonny Caspari on Unsplash
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Nonprofits

Four reasons former nonprofit pros make great freelancers

While my career has spanned a few different sectors over the past decade, I have spent most of my time in nonprofits. In that arena, I have felt the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and through it all I’ve learned a ton. From my own experiences and from my interactions with talented colleagues across this space, I can confidently say that people who come from the nonprofit are uncommonly suited to the freelancing world. Here’s why.

We’re efficient.

Anyone who has made good things happen at a nonprofit knows how to turn a little into a lot. “Hustle” has become an almost meaningless buzzword, but in the nonprofit world, hustling is our standard M.O.

We often operate within tiny budgets with no room for extras, and still get amazing things done. Often, clients are looking for freelancers because of their own resource constraints (they need expertise or capacity but can’t hire someone on full-time), and nonprofit professionals can relate, adapt and–well (forgive me) hustle to make magic happen.

We’re courageous chameleons.

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Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Unsplash

The “not my job” mentality that creeps into a lot of workplaces falls away out of necessity in the midst of a successful nonprofit project, and because of this, nonprofit professionals are among the scrappiest, most adaptable people I know.

Years ago, I was the junior member on a two-woman marketing team charged with the task of hosting a big wine tasting fundraiser on the eve of an even bigger, brand new music and wellness festival. From branding and getting people to show up, from permits to advertising to space planning, we were in charge of making it happen. It didn’t matter if I didn’t quite know how to do something, I had to figure it out.

In the weeks leading up to this weekend, despite all our preparations, I couldn’t help but wonder (and worry) how we’d manage to pull it off. My colleague, with several years of experience under her belt, was unruffled. She taught me the graceful art of eating the proverbial elephant.

To my amazement, everything went great. Our exhaustion was bone-deep by the end of the weekend, but we were triumphant. I will be forever grateful for that lesson in courage, because it was the first of many seemingly impossible tasks in my career.

We know how to measure results.

I think people in the for-profit sector often look at nonprofits (especially small ones) as lagging behind when it comes to things like metrics. Nonprofits have a reputation sometimes of being light on numbers.

The fact is, though, that funders want to know their return on investment, and consistent support hinges on being able to show what those funds means for a mission.

When you’re not in the business of making money, you have to get good at understanding your true impact. Successful nonprofit pros develop a critical eye for what’s working (or not), and how you can tell, and know how to communicate it in a way that resonates with supporters. This ability to SMART-ify objectives and then contextualize them, compellingly, make nonprofit pros savvy problem-solvers and great partners.

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Photo by Marvin van Beek on Unsplash

We’re mission fueled (and we know how to fuel a mission).

Nonprofit professionals (at least the honest ones) aren’t in it to get rich. Sure, everyone works for a paycheck, but the nonprofit pros who find success and fulfillment in their work get behind the mission, and believe in it.

And because we ourselves believe in the work we do, we know how to spark that fire in other hearts.

Featured Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

 

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about me

Authenticity and freelancing

While it’s second nature for me to explore the strengths, opportunities and unique traits that help connect an organization and its people, it’s so much harder to turn that lens on myself.

This morning I took to Twitter to hash out the interplay of vulnerability, authenticity, motherhood and consulting. Let me know what you think.

In launching my own website and trying to see myself as a brand (yuck), it’s hard to figure out how vulnerable to be and how much of my personality to display.

In some ways, I need to see myself as my own client: What message are you trying to communicate? What will resonate with your intended audience?

In other ways, part of my vision for freelancing and career fulfillment in general is being vulnerable and authentic. I know I have valuable skills and talents that can make a difference for my clients, but I can’t sustain a Snapchat-filtered persona.

It’s a tough balance to strike when you’re trying to convince people to pay for your expertise: Why would you project anything but perfect competence?

The conclusion I’ve come to is that I only want to work with people who want to work with a human being.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that I only want to work with people who want to work with a human being.

That doesn’t mean I expect people to expect less of me. I intend to deliver on my commitments and help organizations achieve their goals.

But I’m not going to hide the fact that I’m still learning, that I’m tweeting while wrestling a baby down for a nap, that I’m perpetually tired and can’t keep up with laundry.

Because this is my reality. This is what my “having it all” looks like.

This is the hardest my life has ever been, and I’m really excited to be doing the work I’m doing.

Working with a working mom isn’t a gamble or an act of charity. It’s smart and it pays off.

I’ve seen what my fellow #workingmoms are doing and it’s not just “backwards and in heels.” It’s backwards and in heels with leaky boobs and 5 broken hours of sleep, but we are still doing amazing things.

So I’m not going to pretend it’s effortless. That would be a lie that serves no one but the people who want evidence that working moms don’t need more support.

You know the saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person”?

If you want a Big Something done, ask a busy person who has a vested interest in a better future.

By that, of course, I mean a mom.

Photo by Serhat Beyazkaya on Unsplash

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about me

Hi there!

As a recovering perfectionist (parenthood is the ultimate immersion therapy for this, btw), it’s hard for me to embrace the tenet, “Done is better than perfect.”

Hitting publish on my website has required me to “screw my courage to the sticking-place,” because there is always room for improvement.

Nevertheless, live it is. Because I’m too excited to introduce myself and connect with passionate people to wait a second longer.

Stay tuned for ideas for improving your nonprofit through storytelling, musings on freelancing and (it’s inevitable) minute, perpetual tweaks to my site. In the meantime, check out my about page for more information on where I’ve come from and how I arrived here.

Welcome. I’m so glad you’re here.

– Reanna

 

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