3 things freelancers should learn when shifting to a management role

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Managing people is not just about getting things done; It’s about building meaningful connections and relationships

Freelancing comes with its perks. Jobs from overseas often come with higher rates compared to the salaries offered by local companies for similar work. You often work at your own pace and you don’t have to worry about the daily challenges of commuting to work.

Being good at it can open up opportunities. You can get absorbed by a client full-time or, if you’ve built an impressive portfolio and worked on renowned projects, you may even find employment opportunities with local or regional firms. It isn’t even uncommon to eventually be offered a management position.

But is the shift from freelancing to a management position as straightforward as many may hope? I’ve served in various roles in my career – as a freelancer, full-time staffer, and a manager. My experience with freelancing in general has been colourful in the least and I could say that I’ve come across a handful of freelance-lifers (people who’ve been working freelance for most of their careers) who turned out to be quite poor managers.

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This led me to wonder if freelancing is a bad jump-off point for those wanting to be managers. Here’s my take on what some freelancers-turned-managers tend to do and what you should learn if you want to make the jump from freelancing and managing.

1. How to relate to people

Many freelancers are used to approaching work as items on a job order, cards on Trello, or tasks on Basecamp. Some are led to think that managing is all about tasks and deliverables which can lead them to be authoritarian and quite cold. Managing is mainly about people so people skills matter. Making human connections are important.

As a freelancer, you’ve may have had your run-ins with some bad clients who boss freelancers around and are simply interested in getting output. Don’t be one of them. Attempt to building a personal connection with your direct reports. Try to learn their backgrounds, preferences, and motivations. You don’t have to be friends with them or even try to be but it helps if they can perceive you as a decent and respectable human being.

How you communicate matters as well. Too many people think that digital, as a medium, demands you to be brief. Yes. But there’s a fine line between being concise and being brusque. Avoid bossing people around with your one liners. Learn to use politeness markers such as “please”, “kindly”, and “thanks”. Be genuine and avoid ending up sounding sarcastic or patronising.

2. How to lead your team

Freelance work demands you to be highly disciplined. You have to manage your time well, so that you can always deliver. It’s this exposure to a high degree of independence that usually trips most freelancers when they make the jump to management. As a manager, you’re not a lone wolf living in a dog-eat-dog world of freelancing anymore.

Managing is an opportunity to empower others, not just yourself. Team members are interdependent. As their leader, you should be supportive rather be competitive. Due to you high level of skill, it’s common to feel that your people aren’t up to par with yours but it’s your job to develop them.

Use your expertise to gain their respect but be mindful that you should mentor as well. Learn to delegate effectively. Even with highly-skilled or veteran staff, it pays to make your expectations clear. Speak to their motivations. Provide constructive feedback. Keep in mind that providing feedback is a learning opportunity for everyone.

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3. How to be accountable to the company

Another aspect that eludes most freelancers-turned-managers is the accountability that goes with the position. As a freelancer, your exposure to business may only be as far as your client involves you. Management requires you to think in terms of business goals and that your role isn’t about finishing a deliverable anymore, it’s to contribute to those organisational targets. You have to be able to understand strategic-level thinking and apply that to how you handle your team on a daily basis.

Being in management also requires you to manage upward. Upper management may often demand the impossible from your team, so you also have to ensure that you can communicate what is realistically achievable. While you can take assignments on to prove your team’s capabilities, at least communicate effectively what your team needs to get the job done. Always ensure that your people are well-resourced for whatever challenges they face.

Don’t throw your people under the bus. It’s easy to point blame to your underlings especially if you didn’t personally hire them but you should be the first catalyst to change this for the better.

A tough but rewarding job

Freelancing isn’t exactly detrimental to one’s managerial hopes. Just keep in mind that even though freelancing and management require a combination of business savvy and technical, they can be two entirely different beasts.

Management requires high-level people skills that would allow you to navigate the intricacies of working within an organisational structure- – something that some freelance lifers may not develop after years of working remotely by themselves. On the upside, having the entrepreneurial drive and experience dealing with tough clients also prepares you for some of the rigours of management.

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The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your post here.

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