If you run a business and you’re looking to grow, it’s likely that at some stage you will need to hire creative professionals to bring your brand and marketing content together. You can easily spend a fair amount of time and money investing in your logo, your technology and marketing collateral, and for good reason: it is an investment in the legacy of your business.
As a business owner in today’s connected world, you are faced with an overwhelming spectrum of options as to who to hire to do this work. Digital agencies, offshore contractors, local freelancers, your tech-savvy neighbour, instagram creators, development teams, jack-of-all-trades graphic designers, and everyone with a portfolio on Behance or a Github will have a potential solution.
I’m proposing that instead of succumbing to the overwhelm of these options and decision fatigue, you make this crazy ecosystem of creatives work for you.
First, let’s explore some of the existing options.
Big-ticket marketing and digital agencies will carry a high price tag for their reputation, infrastructure and quality assurance. While this option promises a level of security, you may be locked into the vision and limitations of their creative director and fixed team members.
Many people are attracted by the ‘outsourcing’ model, whereby you can contract inexpensive offshore developers to build your next app, or graphic, or or digital product etc. Costs are low but risks are higher as parts are moving independently on their own. The holistic vision lies with you, so for this option to work you need to be an excellent creative director and project manager, and in essence, your own client. Occasionally you will come across local freelancers who claim they can do it all; their websites list endless services including web design, graphic design, logos, email templates, social media marketing, copywriting… and the list goes on. Chances are this person is OK at all of these things, but not exceptional at any particular one. This can be an inexpensive option for businesses just starting out, but they don’t work well with scale. You could also hire a creative person or team to work in house, but chances are you don’t need to employ someone, and the overhead cost isn’t worth it.
While these solutions are relatively safe in that they are ‘known quantities’, they don’t take full advantage of the global creative ecosystem that is being fostered by the internet, social media and collaborative enterprises such as coworking spaces.
Take advantage of ‘The Coworking Revolution’
Coworking spaces are membership-based offices where startups and professional service providers can work independently in a shared space. The fresh, collaborative environment that coworking offers means creative entrepreneurs and professionals can make new connections and gain new perspectives, and find new ways of offering their services.
Most cities now have multiple coworking spaces, and those spaces are often affiliated with other spaces nationally and internationally. These spaces thrive on making sure their people get value out of their memberships, and so they are hives of connectivity. They are just waiting for other business owners to walk in and ask to be connected to members who they can work with. The goal of the coworking space is to help grow the businesses contained within it.
The opportunity for a business owner looking for creative and development services is that you can come in and build the foundations of your own temporary team of freelancers to suit the style and limitations of your project.
The benefits of this premise are many:
- Coworking freelancers are usually highly skilled with competitive prices. Coworking is relatively inexpensive and is typically a month-to-month model, so freelancers won’t have the same high overheads as agencies.
- Freelancers are often specialised within their industry, so you can bring together a team based on niche and industry experience.
- You can visit multiple spaces, connect with a whole range of different people and ask to be connected to those with complementary skills in their networks.
- You can pick and choose the right people for your project based on their style, their skill level, their personalities, work ethics and team dynamic. You can build a mix of seniors and juniors into your team to factor in experience and cost.
- You can get your local freelancers to manage some offshore talent, and build a global network with a local presence.
Working with a team of freelancers in a creative and dynamic fashion like this keeps the projects interesting, and creates even more connectivity in its wake.
Designing your team and your project
If you’ve never undertaken a branding or development exercise before, it can be quite daunting.
Start by brainstorming the elements you think may be involved, and then compare notes with others in your network who’ve gone through similar experiences. Think about what the makeup of your team might look like, in terms of experience, skill and style. Do you think you might need a copywriter? A database engineer? A photographer? If you start to get lost in this part, start to think about the project management as it’s own job. It’s a good idea to find someone with technical experience to design and manage the project – for example, if your project revolves around branding and visual design, you may want to hire an experienced graphic designer to project manage; if you’re developing an app, perhaps look for a software developer who has developed apps in the past. These people will know the processes, milestones and common challenges. A good project manager will be able to prioritise what you need and help to educate you about the process.
Seriously consider your budget. Do the homework on how much you might need to spend, pull together an idea of what you might need, and compare notes with others in your network. Read articles about what goes into designing a logo or building a website so you can get an understanding of how much time will be spent. Go to networking events, join business support groups on Facebook and Linkedin and ask for advice. Find designers and developers on social media and ask for their price lists and hourly rates. If what you want doesn’t fit with what it costs, you may have to take a few steps back. Decide where you want to be in 3 months, 6 month and 12 months time and work backwards from your goals.
Building your team
At this point, you will need to start seriously connecting with service providers. Ask for recommendations from your network. Look at their Instagram, Behance, Github, Linkedin and any other relevant social network profiles. Go to local coworking spaces and ask to be connected with their creative, strategy and tech people. Buy lots of coffees and have lots of conversations about your options. Ask those people to connect you to others with complementary skills whom they trust.
This whole process is like jazz – it’s important to improvise and keep things flexible. You may uncover new options and ideas as you talk to freelancers and explore possibilities.
Once you have a list of freelancers you’re interested in working with, send them each a request for a proposal, with project a brief/list of functional requirements, and a deadline. This will not only help you plan the milestones and cost of your project, but also weed out anyone who doesn’t stick to deadlines or communicate effectively.
While this approach can be more affordable and flexible than using a design house and more reliable than online freelancer service, you are working with wobbly infrastructure. It’s up to you to ensure that your reputation and financial and legal risks are considered.
You can do this by hiring freelancers who have good business practices. Some things to consider and look out for:
- Hire freelancers who have sent through structured proposals, with specs, timeframes and payment schedules – these people are good at setting expectations.
- Request their terms and conditions document, and if they don’t have one, then exercise a lot of caution.
- Same goes for business insurance – ask to see proof of professional indemnity insurance.
- Ask for testimonials or references from previous clients.
- Agree to pay each of your freelancers a deposit upfront and milestone payments for work completed along the way.
Creating great lines of communication with your team will be the cornerstone of the project’s success. As a leader, your job is to inspire, help people connect, and be the primary source of information for the business. The project manager should have the acumen to keep the project running; be vary wary of getting too involved in the management yourself. Ultimately, you will know your own expectations so communicate them early to your team and ask them to check in on you in the time and manner that suits you best.
The Creative Collaboration Approach
Typically, freelancers are running their own operations because they have rejected traditional employment. Although you are the client, you are not officially ‘the boss’. The project manager should be an excellent administrator, but they are not the boss either. Micro management will be the death of your project. No one is the boss. This can be a difficult concept to grasp but it is key for effective creative collaboration.
More and more, people are learning to work together rather than competing. Tall poppies are becoming a thing of the past and we’re flourishing in environments that allow us to work with multiple creative perspectives. If you’re passionate about your business – and I hope you are – then the approach I’ve proposed here is a really cool way to explore what gets you excited about your business.
- Creating Community Through Coworking Spaces
- Yoga, 3D printers, and ‘free-range’ co-working: the changing work environment today
- The ultimate guide to freelancing as a creative
Looking for the right freelancer to add to your team? Check out Envato Studio.