As a freelancer, you’ve been growing your personal brand, stretching your skillset, and shipping projects. But something is off. You’re wondering where you’re going next. Or how you’re going to continue to work alone. Or maybe you’ve read about the unbelievable perks of startups, like floating rooms for daily naps or fountains of green juice. So you’ve decided that freelance life is no longer for you. Healthcare, being part of a team, and a desire to start wearing real pants again have inspired a change.
You tap into your network, ask around, and before you know it, you receive a job offer. Congratulations!
Your story is my story. Prior to joining Help Scout and the altMBA, I freelanced and took any job that let me play with words — ghost writing, creating resumes, copywriting, and editing. I loved it, but after three years, I reflected on my growth, and I wasn’t pleased with my progress. In order to keep evolving, I knew I needed to re-join a team. When I looked around for tips on how to make the freelance to full-time move, I realized that, while much is written about making the leap to freelance, no one ever talks about the other side: What happens when you’re ready to join a team again?
So here are five key points I took from my move to keep front of mind when you’re ready to transition from freelancer to company linchpin.
1. You’ll need to re-learn how to communicate.
Communication is simple as a freelancer. One entity hires you for a specific task, you provide updates, and there’s a firm deadline. You submit your work, make edits, and get paid. It’s like casually playing ping pong with one other person.
At a company, there are multiple decision-makers and people that need to be looped into an email or conversation. This is also like playing ping pong but instead with five people at the same time without ever losing sight of the ball. To do this, you must clearly communicate what you’ve finished, what you need from other team members to move forward, and any thoughts/ideas/struggles that need to be surfaced.
I learned this the hard way at my first gig. I received an email from my director that sounded like I had the green light to move forward with our entire social media coordination, but a tiny feeling of uncertainty hung in my gut. When I double-checked with my boss about moving forward, I learned I could only move forward on one particular aspect of the project, not the whole thing. If I had run with my assumptions, I would have caused chaos for multiple people and departments.
It’s also worthwhile to brush up on your digital social skills because all that working solo probably has atrophied your communication muscles. Should you send an email and a DM through Slack? Should you @ mention someone every time? How quickly does your boss need a response? By the end of the day or within 5 minutes of the email? Get clear on that from the get go.
2. You need to redefine what productivity means.
As a freelancer, your pay hinges on the amount of projects you complete. The more project work you finish in a day, the more success you likely have.
However, at a company, you’re getting paid for the full scope of your skills that goes beyond finishing any one project. Now, in addition to your core duties, you will have other responsibilities that factor into your workday, even if they weren’t what you were explicitly hired to do. For example, I didn’t feel fulfilled unless I finished a story draft every day. But my other daily obligations—answering customer emails, meetings, and pings—started to cut into my time. Rather than finishing a draft by the end of each day, it would take or two or three days.
This was initially frustrating because I didn’t feel like I was doing my job. I was so used to measuring my productivity with my output that I had failed to appreciate or value other work-related activities. Then I realized that my output was now a sum of its parts and that I was being evaluated by all of the work I was doing—not just my writing.
3. Keep your good habits and be ready to develop new ones.
As a freelancer, you come with an advantage: You are self-aware of your habits and energy levels throughout your day. You’ve probably experimented, tested, and tried all sorts of rituals.
But you’re also comfortable with your productivity, and reinventing that is never effortless. You may be used to doing your intense creative labor in the mornings, but now you might have meetings, or whatever else your boss wants, scheduled at that time.
So seek to understand the expectations of your boss and team. What, exactly, are your deliverables? What else is considered part of your work? What part of the day is considered independent work time and what part of the day do people typically like to schedule meetings? By doing this, you can get a sense of how you need to operate in that schedule.
4. Replace efficiency with generosity.
In freelance, your goal is to finish projects quickly. The faster you get it done, the more you can do. Doing anything outside of single-mindedly focusing on projects—like meeting a peer for lunch or attending a conference that doesn’t directly result in an income boost—might have seemed frivolous.
But it’s different at a company. We are more than what we produce in a day. The value that we create for the company goes beyond our work and hinges on our relationship with the team.
I remember my first team dinner and, honestly, I just wanted to go home at the end of the day because there was so much to digest. Besides, going to a group dinner wouldn’t directly contribute to me doing better work. However, over Latin food and delicious wine, I learned about the lives of my new coworkers. I heard about what drove them, why they started or joined the company, and what they did in their spare time. They also gained a better sense of me—my habits, beliefs, and motivations. It was true that in the end, the dinner didn’t help me become a better writer, but it helped my co-workers connect with me, and that’s a vital part of workplace success.
5. Take advantage of the ability to learn new, unexpected skills.
In freelance life, your head is down and you work all day. But with a company, you’ll rarely have that same linear, ruthless drive for getting things done. You’ll have various side tasks and obligations. At first, this may feel frustrating: Why are you building client partnerships when your job to design websites?
If you think long-term about the extra jobs you might have to do, you can view them as important resume building blocks that will ultimately make you a stronger future job candidate, whether you stay full-time forever, return to freelance, or move back and forth between the two for the rest of your career.