Blog to support the book "Creatively Self-Employed: How Writers and Artists Deal with Career Ups and Downs" by Kristen Fischer

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Breakin’ In the New Guy

Kristen Fischer

It’s inevitable that many freelancers will watch the people in the companies they work for come and go. You know, turnover. But as a freelancer, you may be the one sticking around while others leave, and the transition can be difficult.

That’s because many freelancers love an ongoing gig—so when you get a new contact at a company, the shift can be unsettling. What if they use another freelancer? Will they communicate as well as your old representative did? What can you do if they’re not performing well? Is it your job to intervene when you’re a contractor?

As you watch a client’s organization change as a freelancer, you’re not always privy to the who, what, when, where, and why of it all. Who knows why Chuck left the company—he may not even send you an email to let you know that he’s moved on. You may not hear from him for months and contact the company only to realize that he’s left. The worst is when he doesn’t pass along his freelance contacts to his successor. Then you could get lost in the shuffle and you could lose the client!

While you may be happy to be the veteran when a new contact comes on board, the change can also make you feel a little on the offense (or defense). It’s crucial to approach the new contact with caution and not let your emotions about the shift affect the new relationship you’ll need to forge.

Here are some things to consider when you meet the new replacement.

Be polite

Whenever I hear that my contact at a client’s office is changing, I am always polite to the new person. Whether they email you an introduction, you send them a note, meet in person, or talk on the phone; it’s best to be respectful. I always stay away from telling them things I didn’t like about their predecessor. If asked I can offer feedback and am more than happy to tell them how things worked with that person in the past and how we can improve it, but I try to give them time to show me how they operate before I rush into anything. Most importantly, being courteous is a huge first step. Chances are that new person will appreciate you giving them time to assimilate.

Accept change

The new guy will never do things exactly like your old contact did. You’ll either find the new person is swamped and overloaded and unable to handle the workload, or you’ll find that they’re 110 times better than your last contact and you’re happy about the change. In many cases, you may not get the best vibe at first, but you’ll eventually mesh well and the new person won’t be worse or better—just different. Regardless what kind of relationship you have with any new company representative, you should expect some change. Hopefully the switch is as smooth as can be.

Observe their form

It’s easy to say that you want Mary to come back, but Mary’s long gone and you’ve got to move forward. The best way how to gauge the new guy’s manner is to observe. Does the new contact email you when projects come in, or will you need to call? Is he or she better reachable by phone? Will she let you interact directly with their customers? Is he or she a micromanager? Do they fill you in on why the company does certain things that affect your job? What needs to be done to make working with him or her easier? Before you can figure it out, give the person a chance to show you how they operate.

Step up, nicely

So, in the case that the new guy isn’t working out to well, it’s time to step in or you could be phased out. For example, if your new contact tells you about things last minute when Mary used to give you two weeks notice, it’s okay to ask him or her for more notice. I wouldn’t mention how kind Mary was, but I would politely ask if it’s possible to give you more notice so you can be sure to accommodate the project. In one instance, I had a “newbie” come in and cut out half of my work. After a few weeks, I had to gently ask her what was going on. I simply let her know how many hours I previously had and asked if I could expect the same—they soon after resumed and it turns out she wasn’t sure how much she was allowed to give me. Point is, don’t rely on Mary to have relayed everything to your new contact. Once you see how they work, you’ll have to ask for the adjustments you need.

If your new contact person isn’t all that you’ve dreamed of, try not to fret. With a little thoughtfulness, time and professionalism, you can most likely pick up your regular working relationship where it left off—and hopefully make this one even better.

link | posted by Kristen at 8:23 AM |

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