Recruit, restructure or freelance?

Image for Rebecca Cash By Rebecca Cash

New opportunities are a cause for celebration.

At first.

Then the panic often sets in.

Can we cope? Have we got enough people? No, we need another person. But not full time, we could get a freelancer. Oh actually, we could just rejig things a bit to free up time.

Working out whether you need to hire, bring in a freelancer or already have the team capacity to deliver the work can be a headache.

But it also can be done, with a bit of organisation and a few simple equations. First of all, stop panicking. You’ve done this before and will do it again. Then look at what you are actually trying to forecast. Look at what guaranteed business you have, generating income for the pot. What opportunities are likely to be coming in? And what staff do you currently have?

Remember, recruitment, restructuring and retraining all take time. The sooner you get planning, the better.

A few simple equations can help here. Looking at your guaranteed work, what does this mean in terms of hours per team for the duration of the project? This will give you a mini department profit and loss forecast for these projects.

What current resource capacity do you currently have? Look at the billable hours per person and/or team and calculate what this means in terms of revenue (hourly rate x billable hours per head / per department).

Then look at forecasted workload by department. How many people are available and can they realistically deliver what’s coming in?

To hire or not to hire?

It’s tempting to simply think throwing more people at the problem is the answer. And sometimes it is. But first, you need to look at your current teams. If there is a lack of capacity because of overservicing or underperformance, it’s time to look at how to get everyone working more efficiently and at optimum performance before deciding to hire.

A good place to start is meeting with department heads on a weekly basis to review work and make sure it’s completed in line with where it should be. If it’s not, why not? How can you improve process, are there any third-party tools which can drive efficiencies?

Restructure restructure restructure

If one team has no capacity, it could be that another has plenty. Depending on the skillsets the project needs, could you restructure your teams to complete the work? Even on an interim basis?

While this is often a good, if temporary, solution, you do need to give it some careful thought. If it’s a case of effortlessly moving a few people from one team to another, where they can seamlessly pick up new work, then it’s a no-brainer. If you need to start training and reskilling then there will be an investment of time and cost. Is this worth it? Or is it simply going to hinder you?

The freelance answer

Looking at your forecasted opportunities, could these be managed with freelancers without the need to add to your overheads? If you don’t have a lot in your pipeline, then a freelancer can be a good idea for the odd ad-hoc project.

But although hiring a freelancer is often relatively quick, you still need to do some planning upfront. Who to use? Often freelancers will be people you’ve already worked with. You need to know they have the right skills and will be a good fit for the project. You don’t want to spend a lot of time training or explaining to them. This is a good back-up solution, rather than a long-term overhead cost.

Thinking hire…

If you have an underutilised or unprofitable department, it’s time to start making some difficult decisions. Set a cut-off date to see if things start to pick up. Then get talking to the team. Would they be interested in reskilling or supporting elsewhere in the business? Remember, these are people, probably worried people, and you need to be respectful of this. Offer them an opportunity to take a slightly different direction and you’ll find the vast majority will be happy with this.

Resourcing an agency efficiently is always going to be hard. The feast-and-famine nature of agency work means you can have some teams twiddling their thumbs while others are rushed off their feet. While an agency is all about creative thinking, running one is about doing the maths, and making sure the numbers add up.

Every time.

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