It's the framework that has allowed us to build a scalable freelancing business model in a fast-changing field.
As a freelancer, we trade our time for money. As such, we inevitably hit a ceiling on our earnings due to a limitation on the number of hours we can work. To increase our earnings, we only have two options. Option one, increase our hourly rate or option two, work longer hours. But what if there was a third option?
When the work you do is labor-intensive and you've maxed out automation, a third option is to add human capital. But adding more people often becomes a bigger burden for the freelancer as they soon discover delegating a task still requires significant time and energy.
As a full-service self-publishing work-for-hire firm, nearly every book we build is a custom job. Some clients require more 'hand-holding' than others. Due to the dynamics of different authors, genres, and niches, we've never found the 'one size fits all' model to work.
Our business ebbs and flows. As a result, I manage an on-demand workforce that is dispersed around the world. I have a cover designer in El Salvador and an illustrator in Ecuador. I work with book formatters from California to India. Our clients are all over the world.
I've learned that when I measure what matters, what I measure improves. No matter how many times I've done something, it's too easy to leave out a vital step without a process. Book publishing is more complex than it appears and producing repeatable quality work requires mature processes, checklists, accurate data, and regular communication with the author.
Once a client approves a project, email is no longer an effective way to manage the massive amount of information that will begin to flow back and forth. In the past, I'd spend a disproportionate amount of time searching for one piece of information that was hiding in an email thread related to something else.
To make matters worse, if a client can't find what they need, they'd have no choice but to email or call me. It created an unnecessary layer of time and energy impeding progress.
Over the years, I tried different project management tools. Basecamp, Desk, Monday (formerly dapulse), Atlassian, and Trello are just a few of the tools I tested over the years. Problems soon arose. Either the site would change the interface, it's business model, or disappear altogether. Often the site was trying to meet the needs of too many different businesses and as a result, failed to address vital aspects of our business.
This presented me with a variable cost that was difficult to plan for. It was always time-consuming to learn a new tool and migrating data from one to another was never easy. Each time I added a new user I’d usually have to pay for another seat. Passing the cost on to my clients was rarely an option. Worse, I'd lose access to important features only available if I paid for the next higher 'level' of service.
The challenge was to build a tool with enough structure to sustain productivity, yet allow enough flexibility to achieve a wide range of different outcomes.
In 2015, we spent six months building, testing and customizing what would ultimately become the platform to meet all our needs and scale the business. Today, AuthorDock 3.0 is a robust project management tool with over 150 users. It's been used to launch more than 50 bestsellers and allows me to effectively manage multiple projects using a globally dispersed team of agents, freelancers, and clients.
Implementing AuthorDock has allowed me to scale my business while maintaining a fixed cost to manage it. There is no limit to the number of projects or users I can add. Since I've been able to consolidate all my tech docs and tutorials into AuthorDock, it continues to increase in value the more I use it. It allows me to see with greater clarity the steps (and missteps) of a project. When a similar project comes along, we can copy the entire project and get off to a running start.
Looking at the same dashboard, 'stand up' calls with my clients, partners, and agents are handled with ease. We can dive deep and see the nitty-gritty details of a task or zoom out to see how it plays into the larger strategy. Driven by deadlines, it brings to light outstanding tasks, upcoming milestones, and allows the publisher to seize new opportunities.
Although the tool features much of what you'd expect in any project management tool, a few key aspects of the tool been major change-maker in my own business.
With AuthorDock, I find that I'm able to quickly get back up to speed on a project and pick up where I left off, even after an extended absence on the project. Since it contains a time tracker component, agents can log their time and assign it to the client & project they are working on.
Similar to a concierge program some doctors now offer, VIP clients pay a monthly fee to receive time pre-allocated each month. I can monitor time logged by everyone on the team. Reviewing the 'hours utilized' report, I can decide with greater confidence when to bring on additional resources or scale back.
I'm able to see whether we are over or under on the time a client has paid us for on a retainer. When our monthly time is underutilized, we can allocate more time next month. If we go over on hours, I can explain why they will get less time next month or discuss adding more time if they prefer. AuthorDock removes the subjectivity since it's very black and white because the time is logged along with a description of the work performed.
Key to any system that is highly depended on is a disaster recovery plan. In the unlikely event our system is compromised or corrupted, a daily script runs on the server that backs up all the data (which is stored in a single SQL file). The backups file is routinely copied off the server for redundancy.
While there has been plenty of innovation at our agency over the years, AuthorDock stands out. It's the engine that allows us to deliver results and maintain the highest standards for our clients.