Should you scale your freelance business?

Growing a business in a way that makes sense for you

There will come a point in your freelancing when you’ll max out. You’ll have offers of work coming in but won’t have the time to do them because you’ve already got too much else on your plate. 

Having too much work as a freelancer is undoubtedly a good problem to have. In fact, someone once described it to me as a Maserati problem. But while it’s true that being busy is a sign that your business is doing well, it’s also a potential red flag. If you’re too busy and something slips, you’ll start tumbling towards overwhelm territory. 

It’s a problem I’ve been coming up against myself recently. I took on a few too many projects because saying “no” to work doesn’t come naturally to me. However, then something unexpected happened that meant I lost a few days of work and suddenly playing catch up felt insurmountable. When there is only one of you doing everything, that puts an inordinate amount of pressure on you.

My long-term solution to getting out of this place is to start scaling my business. By that, I mean putting processes in place in order to be able to grow my income in a manageable way that doesn’t only require me selling time for money.  

Figuring out how to actually do that, however, has been an interesting journey. I didn’t realise how much pressure I felt that I should be scaling before I was actually ready to do it. I blame startup culture for this, but it seems everywhere I turn all the businesses I come across are either the “first”, the “biggest” or the “fast-growing” companies in whatever sector they operate. The message I was digesting was that unless my business was huge, it wasn’t worthy.

But bigger really isn’t always better. It’s one thing to be thinking about how to grow your business in a sustainable and a healthy way, it’s another to just pursue aggressive growth just for the sake (or status) of it. 

Don’t get me wrong, when done right scaling a business has many upsides. In theory, it should result in making more money in less time – and who wouldn’t want that outcome? But that doesn’t have to mean turning your freelance writing business into a global content agency. In fact, I’ve started to appreciate that scaling can look like lots of different things for different types of freelance businesses. Hiring a part-time assistant to help with administrative tasks is scaling. Paying for a transcription service is scaling. Starting a Pateron account is scaling. These options are not as flashy as raising capital, renting out office space and hiring ten full-time employees, but if it’s what works for your business and circumstances that’s all that matters. 

What I’ve realised is that before any scale can happen, first you have to be super clear on why you’re even doing it in the first place. I now know that I want to scale because I plan to keep doing this work for a long time, so I need to find a pace I can sustain for the long-haul. Don’t scale because you think should, scale because it makes sense for you.