The future is freelance: Why flexible working and remote teams get better results
“Just under two years ago I set up Manyminds, a digital marketing agency that is built up entirely of remote, independent freelancers. I hadn’t come across another agency like this before, so I viewed it, as a bit of an experiment and honestly, had fairly low expectations of its success.
“Two years, 13 clients and over 30 freelancers later, it’s grown hugely and continues to do so. Over the past couple of years I have learnt an unbelievable amount, one of the biggest lessons being that my original assumption of ’a group of freelancers with different skillsets collaborating will probably deliver better work is proving to be true.
“I decided to create Manyminds based on my previous experience working within traditional agencies. Over the past decade, I have worked with huge global corporations alongside small startups. Some of the agencies that I worked in were big media networks; others were small boutiques - though I noticed that despite differences in their process, structure and capacity, we always faced the same challenges when trying to deliver the best work for our clients.
“It’s hard to recruit good staff and even harder to retain them. In the traditional agency models there’s often significant staff turnover because digital marketing is a space with increased demand. The best ones get headhunted and leave with relative frequency, making delivering consistent quality incredibly difficult, and huge amounts of time and energy are spent on recruitment as a result. This also means that a lot of the staff in traditional digital agencies tend to be junior.
“Whilst giving people an opportunity to develop is one of the greatest societal responsibilities of any business, this often means that during a pitch process to win clients, agencies send in the ‘A team’ of the best resource they have. Though when it comes to the day-to-day delivery of the projects, it’s the junior staff that execute – and as a result, client expectations are not met against what was originally pitched.
“Traditional agency models, especially the larger ones, can also be very rigid in their structures. They often have a hierarchical model that is applied to any client, regardless of their size of requirements, because large agencies have established processes they need to adhere to. This makes them more expensive, as staff resource is being deployed regardless of whether it delivers direct impact.
“So, when a friend asked two years ago “Kirsty, I need a new agency - who do you recommend?” I replied “Just get some freelancers to work together, you’ll get better results and better people that way.” It occurred to me in that moment that I wanted to set up an agency, or collective, that did exactly this and I quit my job two days later.
“Whilst working with freelancers can equally have its challenges, this model has certainly proven itself. It’s not hard to find, or retain, good quality freelancers. An experienced, career freelancer is often very equipped with a wealth of knowledge of their market. Their reputation is what, quite literally, feeds them, so there’s a direct connection to the work they delivery that makes it quality and on time.
“And, for the most part, once somebody makes the jump in to becoming a freelancer, it’s for life, so as long as you continue to provide work, brief well and pay on time, you will retain that resource for as long as you want them. The internet allows us to access to best talent across the world, so why limit your hiring to people within a 20-mile radius? We can be completely flexible and only charge for specialised skillsets, and having no hierarchical structure means clients don’t pay for resource that isn’t driving direct ROI.
“The workplace is changing and people increasingly expect the freedom to work where they want, in hours that they choose. Historically, when I was working full time for agencies, there’s be days where just showing up was enough. Now ‘going to work’ isn’t about getting up and doing a commute and showing my face in a few meetings, now ‘going to work’ is simply opening my laptop and actually doing some stuff.
“Myself, and the team, spend less time ‘at work’ but we’re more efficient and productive, because we work when we’re feeling most productive (for me, that happens to be at about 9.30pm with a good Beaujolais). We collaborate well because we’re not living together under the same roof, fighting for the same promotions.
“Most of my team have children and I am proud that I have a business that facilitates people spending more time with their family, less time commuting and as a result, delivering incredible work for our clients. My business model also allows us to charge a lot less than a traditional agency, with process, offices and overheads, ever could.”
Manyminds’ client base includes Virgin Atlantic, IBM, Lebara, Claires Accessories, Wayfair and many others.