What seemed on the surface like a simple design project for one of our clients last year turned into quite a production project — and a larger-than-expected invoice for the client. The client wasn’t happy, and we all parted ways a little frustrated with one another. That’s not how we like to do business!
If you’ve ever hired a freelancer or outsourced a project to an agency with a similar result, we would like to share a few tips for avoiding the same situation in the future.
To keep your outsourced
communicator’s costs as low as possible:
- Provide everything you know to the designer (or writer!), right from the start. For example, if you need a banner and want to include X, Y and Z on it, don’t wait until you see the first draft to say, “We really need the banner to be usable year after year, so could you please take off the numerals for the date and replace with ‘first Friday of June,’ so we can use it for the same event next year?” It might seem like a small change, but even small changes could turn into time-suckers (read, expensive changes), especially if they require a layout change as a result. Significant changes could require the designer to start from scratch.
- Be as flexible as possible with design or writing specs. In the example we mentioned at the start of the article, the company wanted us to design a sign — and use the exact same font as had been used in similar projects in previous years. It wasn’t a font that was standard to the business’ corporate identity, and she didn’t know the name of the font. There are literally thousands of fonts available for purchase, with multiple sources to scour in order to find the right one. Finding the one she wanted took about an hour on its own. Allowing the designer to choose a font instead would have shaved about 45 minutes off of the project, which only took a couple of hours in all.
Similarly, if you can be flexible in the size of your brochure, postcard or annual report, the designer will have the freedom to design it to best fit the content, which is often much faster than trying to fit content to the page.
- Avoid asking the freelancer or agency rep to travel, if possible. Sometimes, it’s essential to meet in person, and we appreciate being included in early project conversations — when it makes sense in the overall picture. But if the project you’re asking us to complete is relatively small, and you ask us to drive two hours round trip and spend an hour and a half in a meeting, you’ve already racked up three and a half hours before the project work even begins.
Many times, the outsourced communicator can join a meeting by conference call or online video. And sometimes, it’s just better for the in-house communicator to attend the meeting, take notes and share only what is necessary with the freelancer or agency.
- Edit written content for length internally. With writing projects, reducing word count can take a significant amount of time. The shorter the final draft, the longer it will take to get it there. It seems counter-intuitive, right? For example, we recently wrote an article about a complex health care topic, but the magazine requested the final piece to be no more than 150 words. That’s not an easy task! The first draft of the article started out around 800 words, and we had to reduce it significantly — while keeping the content rich and useful — to make the required length. That takes time, and, as a result, cost the client money.
To avoid that extra cost, consider reducing word count internally instead of asking the freelancer or agency to do it. Not only will you have saved some time and money, you will also have a longer version of the same article that you could potentially use as a blog post, e-newsletter article, piece for an annual report, etc. You’ll get more mileage out of the piece and save money in the process.
- Have realistic expectations. As a general rule, make a wild guess about how long you think a project should take someone, and then multiply that by two. After all, a logo design might be very simple on the surface, but it doesn’t just appear like magic — and the designer likely didn’t sit down and compile the design in one take. A logo design, for example, requires getting to know the company and its culture, choosing a color(s) based on psychological associations consumers make when seeing that color(s), searching through hundreds or thousands of fonts to find one that communicates the desired message, creating a graphic element (often from scratch), arranging multiple elements until they mesh well visually and often creating at least three variations of the design before deciding on a final for submission. If you know you want a logo and think it should only take a couple of hours at most, think again. It will likely take more like four or five.
Plan for the larger amount before you begin in order to avoid surprises.
- Talk candidly about the project with the outsourced communicator before any work begins. It’s best not to just send an email and say, “We need a postcard. Can you create one for us, please?” Instead, pick up the phone, and tell the writer and/or designer:
• What you want to accomplish with the piece
• Who the audience should be
• What problem you are noticing with your customers and what you want to fix (a misperception? lack of knowledge?)
• What you want readers to think when they receive the piece (impression/perception)
• What you want readers to do when they receive the piece (a call to action)
• What logos need to be included
• What colors and fonts align with your corporate identity
• Any other details that will be important to understand
A good freelancer or creative agency will guide you through these items before beginning. Allow some time for this conversation, no matter how rushed you are to complete the job.
- Give as much time as possible to complete the project. As writers and designers, we are often at the end of the line of people who are involved in the production of a project. By the time a project reaches our desks, it might have spent two weeks working its way down the chain of administrators, managers, staff communicators and others, and now it’s just a few days until it needs to be in hands or posted online. And we still have an approval process to navigate after our work is complete.
It’s tricky to plan, we know, but the more time you can allow for your outsourced communicator/designer/writer to do her work, the less likely you’ll encounter rush or weekend rates, which could be significantly higher than standard rates.
CorComm Creative staff members genuinely care about being fair to our clients. We try hard to keep our clients’ costs at a minimum, because we know that the more value you see in our work, the more likely you will be to return to us the next time you need communications support.
Have any other tips to share with people who might be seeking help from a freelancer or creative communications agency? Please share in the comments!