Building a Bench + Being the Bench
Let’s talk about benches.
Not garden benches, though I’m super pumped I can finally use this squirrel picture I took at Newfields in 2014.
We’re talking about a bench of people to help you and back you up. Like a sports team bench! A basketball team doesn’t only have the players on the court at any given time. They have additional players on the bench they can sub out if someone gets tired, injured, or they need a player with a different specific strength to hit the floor.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my bench lately, and working on building it.
The reason why is that, like many freelancers, I sell my time, and so if I run out of time, I can’t sell more work. If I get sick, I’m screwed. If someone dies, I am going to be worried about taking time off.
If I have no bench, I can’t take a vacation. And you know I'm all about vacations.
I need people who can handle things while I’m gone and who can help me get projects started and writing in draft.
I am also not good at everything. I am terrible at graphics. If I had to keep my own books and do my own taxes I’d be in jail for failure to pay. Therefore my bench includes people who are good at things I’m not and who provide complementary services such as graphic design, website design, copyediting, and so forth.
My bench helps me a) spend more time doing things I like and am good at (instead of doing things like taxes that I’m not good at and don’t like) and b) sell more services in bundles, because I can offer a complete package.
Building a Bench
How do you build a bench? Look around and ask around. See who is working in your industry and inquire about subcontracting work to them.
SAY you are looking to build your bench. Put it out on the wires that you’re looking for copy writers, editors, contractors, hair washers, administrative assistants. When you ask for help, help will often come to you.
You can also post on places such as UpWork, Facebook VA groups,, and other job boards.
When you find someone you want to try, get them under a subcontractor agreement and have them do a trial project. Not for free, but give them something small and pay them for it.
Sitting on Someone Else’s Bench
I have a great bench, and it is getting better. I also sit on other people’s benches. I’m super happy to be on other benches because THOSE BENCH OWNERS GET ME WORK. And who doesn’t love getting work you don’t have to source yourself?
If you’re a solopreneur, you need to be careful not to sacrifice your entire business for the business of the bench upon which you are sitting. Make that clear if you provide a lot of backup for someone else. Put agreements in place. (I’m all about the agreements.)
How do you get a spot on someone’s bench? You could respond to RFPs, or bid on job boards. You can also cold email people with whom you might want to work.
Do your research before emailing, provide some samples, and don’t bug them. If they need help they’ll call you or email you.
I ended up on one bench for which I’m a key player by emailing the person. A year and a half later she gave me a trial project. We saw each other from time to time at networking events, and had several phone calls, but it took a while for her to have a project for me to do.
If you’re a longtime freelancer, you also know that you’re always hovering on the edge of enough work and too much work you can’t possibly do it yourself. Your potential client might call you six times before they actually have a project for you. You might have to play the long game. It WILL pay off, though. Be patient.
Who do you need on your bench? Make a list! (I also love lists.)