10 Tips to Effectively Manage Outsourced Creative Talent
By Eric Samson
Outsourcing creative talent can be a cost-effective alternative for small companies without the budget to hire a new full-time staff member or team. While outsourced creative talent may be cheaper than in-house staff, working with freelancers poses a unique set of challenges. For the relationship between manager and freelancer to thrive, certain measures should be taken to ensure clear communication and understanding.
Outsourced talent can be tricky to manage, particularly creative types, who have unique personalities and idiosyncratic character traits that call for a flexible management style.
Just like snowflakes, no two creative freelancers are the same. All people have their own unique ambitions and style of working. To ensure that you hire a creative freelancer that fits your company’s culture and needs, I’ve compiled a list of some helpful tips in hiring and effectively managing outsourced creative talent.
Don’t rush the hiring process
Spending a little extra time on the hiring process can save you hours of frustration later on. There is nothing worse than waiting on a freelancer to send you work as the deadline ticks by.
Finding talent is the easy part. All you have to do is closely examine the applicant’s portfolio and CV. If you have any friends or co-workers who are more knowledgeable than yourself about a specific creative endeavor, have them confirm your findings. After all, it is difficult to judge a video editor from a bad one if you know nothing of filming practices.
It’s also wise to use your network. As with any type of hiring, an endorsement from a respected colleague is worth more than anything else.
Another important factor is the interview. Creative types may not display the same level of clear spoken “business-speak” that you’re used to – given your area of profession. Don’t judge a creative applicant on this alone. You are not hiring them to give boardroom speeches or rally the ranks. You are hiring them to do something creative and specific.
That is why, aside from personal recommendations, an applicant’s portfolio is the most important factor to consider. Judge their talent off their previous work and then gauge their personality and work ethic from the interview.
I’d also recommend giving each a freelancer a trial run of one or two projects before setting up a reoccurring project schedule.
It is imperative that you set up clear communication channels with your creative freelancer. While most communication will likely occur over email, a bi-weekly or monthly call will help you provide constructive feedback. In relationships based solely on email communication, a sense of alienation can arise in the outsourced talent, which could cause them to lose motivation. By maintaining a human connection with your freelancer, he or she will inherently care more about meeting your needs and not letting you down.
Communication is also key in project assignments. Nothing frustrates a creative type more than vague directions. Vagaries of guidance will only lead to the freelancer having to re-do or make edits to a project, adding time to their day and decreasing the revenue per project for them. While making edits is part of the business for any creative professional, you don’t want to be the “annoying” client who always gives their freelancer a hard time. So be concise and clear in the beginning so your outsourced creative talent knows exactly what you want and how to give it to you.
Treat them as employees
While you can’t afford to pay or offer benefits to outsourced talent (otherwise you wouldn’t need to outsource in the first place) you can make an effort to include them as part of the team, especially for freelancers with whom you regularly work.
For example, if a freelancer lives local, invite them to a happy hour or a company party. Wish them Happy Holidays when appropriate. These small and simple gestures will go a long way in building a relationship of trust and respect with your freelancer.
While it is not your job to be everyone’s friend, any effort that you put towards building a relationship with your outsourced talent will have a return in value. People work harder for people they like. It’s as simple as that.
It doesn’t take much either. If you can recommend your freelancer to others and give them extra work, you will in return gain their loyalty. If you take them out for drinks once a year or send them a $25 gift card over the holidays, you will gain hundreds of dollars in returned value from increased work ethic.
Trust me, if you build a relationship with your outsourced talent, missed deadlines, and poor quality work will disappear.
Negotiate schedule, and stick to it
Many independent creative professionals became so for a reason – namely, they disliked the structure of the corporate workplace and like to be their own boss.
While that is great for them it is also important that they make deadlines and don’t gum up the works. When you first begin working with a freelancer on an ongoing project be flexible in negotiating the schedule. But once the schedule is set, be firm if deadlines are missed.
Encourage process building
Most creative minds aren’t the won’t draft a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) or abide by intricate pre-designed processes. Nevertheless, while they may not enjoy the act of developing a process, processes can be very useful to creative freelancers who often manage many projects at once.
If you can, gently encourage them to set up a process for any ongoing project, so you can effectively manage where they are with a project at a given time. Having a well-defined and smooth process will lead to less missed deadlines and miscommunication.
Cater to people’s strengths
Are you currently paying two people to write on two different topics? Before assigning the projects to the writers, take a second and think about who would do a better job with each one.
Catering to an individual’s strengths when possible will only add value to your exchange. Not only will the work be better by virtue of the person’s natural talents, but they will be happier while working on it and thus do a better job as well.
Respect their drives
As previously mentioned, most freelancers became freelancers for a reason. Many creative types place a high value on quality of life. One of the biggest complaints I hear from others about their outsourced talent is that they check out early in the day.
This is only a problem if they aren’t completing their work. Just because they don’t respond to emails after 5:30 is no reason to get upset if the work is being completed.
Providing feedback to creative types who know a lot more about their art than you do can be difficult. While they may know more about the art of photography, they don’t know your business’s needs better than you. It’s your job to communicate tough truths when necessary and also to let them know when they are doing great work!
The only way to better a relationship with outsourced talent is through clear and concise communication.
Beware of burning out talent
Creative work, especially writing, can be extremely exhausting. It is not the type of work where you can throw on headphones and zone out. You must be focused and thinking hard the entire time. As a result, burnout among creatives is common.
Be careful not to overload your outsourced creative talent. They may have a strong work ethic and never say no to a project. While this is great, it can be dangerous. A great way to gauge the level of burnout your creative talent feels is to simply call and ask them how they are doing from time to time.
Photo credit” garagestock/Shutterstock
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