From Freelancer to Successful Remote-Only Agency

 In Operations

Fifteen years ago, Beth Carter started freelance copy-writing from home to help support her family. A mother of two young children, Carter was facing a challenge similar to one faced by many families: she wanted to work, but the traditional 9-5 job just didn’t fit what she needed as a new mother with a husband who traveled extensively for his job. Freelance writing allowed Carter to be home when she needed, find her own time to get her work done, and also fit in all those life errands required when managing little kids – doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, play dates and many, many loads of laundry.

“For years, this was a great fit for me,” Carter says. “However, when you’re freelancing, the only way to grow your income is to either work more or raise your rates. After a while, you get to a point where you can’t raise your rates very much higher. And, there are only so many hours in a day, so there’s a limit to how much more you can work.”

Starting on her own

The time had come for Carter to raise the bar on her work-from-home business. So, last year, she took the leap and started her own agency with remote workers. And thus, Clariant Creative was born.

“We are completely remote,” Carter says. “I have team members in three different states. The flexibility this gives us is amazing; I can focus on hiring the best talent from anywhere, which makes recruiting much easier.”

“We save a ton of money on overhead, too,” she adds. “However, being remote isn’t without its challenges. That spontaneous collaboration that happens when you’re all in the same office doesn’t happen when you’re all over the country. So we really have to be deliberate about creating opportunities to collaborate.”

To make communication work for the remote agency business, the Clariant Creative team relies on GoToMeeting‘s video conferencing, Slack‘s desktop and mobile chat tool, and Trello so everyone’s on the same page with project statuses and deliverables. Then they round that out with old-fashioned phone calls, emails and texts.

Growing the business

Over-communicating wasn’t the only lesson Carter learned while building her business. Here are five of Carter’s other key takeaways she gained while managing and financing a new business that you can use if you’re growing your own business:

  1. Take some time early on to figure out what your brand is going to be; who you would bring to the team; what types of services you will provide;what types of clients you will approach; and how to pull it together and make it all work as a business.
  2. Tap into your local network when you launch your business. Tell everyone what your new business is about, and you should benefit from word-of-mouth recommendations.
  3. Be willing to take on your first client or two at a lower rate than what you might like — this first client can help you test out new things, perfect your techniques and work out the kinks in your service plans.
  4. It can take some time to find the right employees for your business. You might find yourself working with some immensely talented people who just don’t fit your working style. That’s okay — keep searching.
  5. Cash flow can be a challenge for agencies — you can’t pay people to get the work done unless you get paid. Be sure to start with a stockpile of cash while you build your business and don’t have a lot of revenue coming in. When you’re more established after a year or so, you might still find yourself in a crunch for cash flow which is when business financing might be a good option for your agency.

Final advice

Carter has some final advice for independent contractors who might also want to build their business or start their own agency with remote workers — first and foremost, stick with it and don’t get discouraged.

“When you start a business, in the beginning, you’re all adrenaline and anticipation,” Carter says. “It’s very exciting! You have all these huge goals, and your future just lays before you like this beautiful blank slate. And then, as you dig into it, reality sort of smacks you in the face. Starting a business is hard. Finding clients is hard. Making money is hard. You go from this huge high, this rush of excitement in the beginning, to a bit of a trough as you realize your future isn’t really an open path. Instead, it’s more like a giant mountain of obstacles you have to climb. I definitely fell into that trough.”

“I had a nice stockpile of cash when I decided to actually make the leap [to start my own business],” Carter adds “I’m not sure I could have made it without that. There were many sleepless nights. Anxiety. Worry. As the balance in my check book got lower and lower, I started to do the math to figure out how much longer I could keep going before the money ran out altogether. But I still kept going. And then … it all changed. I got a client! And then another one! Then another one! Before I knew it, I went from having no incoming work to having too much incoming work, and I realized I needed to expand my team.”

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