How To: Be the Boss


When I first left my publishing job to freelance full-time, I thought I was leaving office hierarchy behind.

I soon realized, however, that I had to be my own boss, and eventually became the toughest one I’d ever had.

But leading a team of bloggers was an entirely different animal.

After the jump, what I learned about being the boss:

How to Hire the Very Best:

As books editor for an adult website about four or five years ago, I was a complete mess.

I was in charge of hiring and managing a team of book reviewers, but had no clue how to evaluate applicants or conduct interviews. I generally hired on anyone who showed an interest in writing for me, so eager was I to nurture the careers of other aspiring wordsmiths.

As a result, I ended up with a team of writers who felt no qualms about (consistently) missing deadlines, or turning in work that required heavy editing.

Now, when hiring on new writers, I:

  • refuse to consider anyone who has not taken the time to write a proper cover letter
  • throw out applications riddled with typos or grammatical errors
  • discount anyone who can’t follow directions…
  • …as well as those who are obviously unfamiliar with the publication
  • only seriously consider those with excellent writing abilities…those who turn in clean copy matching the tone of the publication they’re applying to write for (when samples are requested)

While I can’t predict how an employee will perform after being hired, being particular during the hiring process should at least weed out those who aren’t serious about the opportunity.

How To Coordinate and Manage a Team:

Though my management style has generally been more hands-off, I’ve learned over the years that it does help to set some guidelines.

So while the Modern Materialist has never operated with an actual editorial calendar, I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of regular features, formatting consistencies (having an unofficial style guide can be helpful), and content quotas.

The amount of actual management necessary can vary wildly from business to business, but it’s always essential to make sure you’re all on the same page.

How To Collaborate:

Managing a team can be cake if the team members are…well…brilliant. Why not make your job easier by encouraging brainstorming and initiative among your oh-so-brilliant employees?

It can be tough to see all the weak points in your business plan, just as it can be tough to self-edit with objectivity. Similarly, while it’s key for a writer to get a second pair of eyes on their work, it’s also key to invite criticism and new ideas from your team. 

Utilize technology in your quest for collaboration. Have brainstorming sessions via group chat, or even group e-mails. If you’d like to focus even more on collaboration, try one of these online tools:


  • Basecamp and Backpack are online collaboration tools that allow you to share files, schedule deadlines, assign tasks, and gather feedback.
  • Goplan is another online project management application that helps with scheduling, task assignments, discussions, and file swapping.
  • Writeboard makes group editing easy.
  • ConceptShare makes it simpler to gather feedback from team members.
  • activeCollab is project management software that you can set up on your own server in order to keep projects on track.


How To Show Appreciation:

I’ve always thrived on feedback, good or bad. Of course, the positive feedback tastes the sweetest. How else to know if I’m on the right track…either good at what I do or a hopeless case? I fall apart, and become filled with self-doubt, when I don’t receive feedback from editors and readers alike.

It’s true that I am neurotic. 

But it is also true that an untended flower withers and dies.

Show your team members that you appreciate them by sending them a personal note, publicly highlighting a job well done, or promoting their work to others.

How To (Constructively) Criticize:

I’ve always had trouble chastizing team members for mistakes they’ve made, or pointing out the areas where there is obviously room for improvement.

Who am I, I think, to criticize them?

Who are you, however, to deny them the opportunity for career growth?

When you’re the boss, your employees look to you for guidance, whether or not you feel qualified to give it.

To ensure that you’re being constructive — rather than merely critical — be specific in your critiques, give concrete examples of work done correctly, and continue to give feedback as they make the effort to get things right.

How To Set a Good Example:

In the past month, I’ve had a mixup with my meds, suffered from a severe bout with CFS, and been riddled with fear and stress due to changes at Nerve.

Rather than holding it together, I dropped the mothereffing ball. 

For a few weeks there, it didn’t matter that not doing the work meant not getting paid.

When you’re the one in charge, you can’t afford to lose your grip or drop the ball or suddenly decide to take a powder. Despite personal difficulties, you must produce the same quality of work you expect from your employees.

Then (because everyone needs to decompress), schedule a vacation for the near future, ensuring that your team is alerted in advance, and that all work responsibilities are covered in your absence.

How To Maintain Your Distance:

I was never very good at maintaining a professional distance from my superiors during my time in the corporate world, and I’m no better at maintaining that distance when it comes to those who work for me.

I’m not sure how to help you here, except to tell you that you should be friendly but firm. When you’re friends with your employees, it’s that much harder to pass judgment, enforce rules, or engender respect.

How To Fire Your (Best and Worst) Employees:

Speaking of the difficulties generated from getting too personally entangled with those who work for you…

The other week, I was forced to pass along some awful news to my team: The blog they were writing for was being discontinued, and I would no longer be needing their services.

While I was terrified of how this would negatively impact my own income, I was even more affected by what this meant for my writers. Passing along the news made me nauseous, and I had several sleepless nights.

Terminating one’s employment is never an easy proposition, but just remember:


  • be matter-of-fact
  • be honest
  • show gratitude for the work they’ve done
  • be willing to aid them in any future endeavors (well…if you feel their work warrants it)


Now, as far as how not to be the boss:


Related: Wearing Different Hats

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