A guide to working with the best freelancers.
Don't assume we're all the same!
From a young age I always knew I wanted to be some kind of artist or designer. At the age of 7 I wasn’t exactly sure what that was but I loved to draw, I was fascinated with anything visual. I noticed things that most just took for granted, a nice bit of packaging, a beautifully illustrated poster, a clever logo design. I began to visualise my future working as a successful artist or designer, art & design gave me a buzz and made me feel good. Unlike most of my friends back then I didn’t spend the school holidays playing footy with my mates I sat in my small bedroom sketching. It was more than a passion it was an obsession.
As I got older I began to plan my future, I needed to understand the route I’d need to take to help me realise my dream. I grew up in a working class area of Manchester where most people left school and joined a YTS scheme and going to university seemed to be something only the privileged got to do so I had my work cut out. Despite being ridiculed for wanting something different I was determined to get there.
Luckily I managed to secure a place at college and loved every minute of it, then went on to specialise in graphic design for a further 3 years. There were no computers, no smart phones, apps or digital drawing tablets. It was old school. Fine liners, pencils, layout pads and magic markers. I loved it. Things moved on quickly from the point of graduating and I hit the industry around the time the first Apple Macs had found their way into design studios.
By this time though it didn’t matter, I had skills which I had been developing for the majority of my life. I’m talking about fundamental skills such as thought process, being able to put ideas on paper and visualise before going anywhere near a computer. It’s such an important part of any creative process and helps to better facilitate originality and solidify ideas without any distraction associated with tech.
The tech we use today is nothing more than a digital drawing board. It doesn’t matter how clever the software is, it won’t make you a better designer. It won’t provide you with a well thought through creative strategy or resolve a user interface problem. It’s just a tool.
Unlike the early days when there was no clever software to hide behind tech does allow someone with a little bit of knowledge to create something that looks OK and here lies the problem.
If you wanted to call yourself a designer when I started you needed raw talent, that raw talent had to be honed through years of practice, experimentation and formal training by industry served professionals who knew their stuff. You had to spend at least 2 to 3 years working at a junior level and prove yourself worthy before being given the chance to work on anything of any real interest. It wasn’t easy. It meant long hours and often working 6 or 7 days a week for very little pay. All of which you would happily do because you loved it and thrived on it.
I've spent years working at numerous design and advertising agencies in and around Manchester. I started at the bottom and eventually worked my way up. I earned my stripes so to speak.
Several years ago I made the brave move into the world of freelancing. A whole new learning curve had begun. It wasn't easy to begin with but I after a while I realised that everything I had learned enabled me to provide a high quality and more to the point professional service to my clients. Whether that be for a small start up business or a multinational. It didn’t matter, the same ethos I had when I was a young lad working from my bedroom still applied.
It had to be the best.
The point of the back story is to highlight the changes I’ve seen occur in the last decade and to hopefully help people avoid making bad choices when it comes to working with a freelancer.
We might all call ourselves freelance graphic designers, writers, creatives, web developers or whatever but we’re certainly not all the same.
What does it take to go freelance these days? Not much it seems. A website and a LinkedIn profile. Perhaps a gig on Fiver and some dodgy testimonials. If you know your way around a computer you can create something. Whether that something is any good or not is debatable yet so many people today are doing just that and providing their clients with substandard work, inexperienced freelancers delivering average at best results. Unable to understand how to communicate with their clients properly and support them with their objectives. Letting you down at the last minute. Not delivering what you asked for. Sound familiar?...
I hear statements like this on a weekly basis;
“We don’t like using freelancers because they’re unreliable”
“We used a freelancer to design it, we weren’t that happy with it but it’s all we could afford”
What's gone wrong?
It is simply all too easy to set up shop and call yourself a freelancer these days. You don’t need any experience, industry background or talent. Just set up a website or social media account and you’re good to go!
The problem is once bitten twice shy and there are too many inexperienced freelancers out there giving dedicated, reliable and time served professionals a bad reputation.
So how do you choose a professional?
Working with a freelancer should be an enjoyable and fruitful experience and still can be, you just need to do some basic homework first.
Have they got a college degree or any formal training?
How many years professional industry experience do they have? If less than 3 then they’re still considered junior so bare that in mind
Who have they worked for?
Can you get a reference?
Create dialogue and build a relationship before committing
Ask to see work examples and discuss one of their projects with them. Asses what their input was. They could show you an amazing piece of work but may have had very little involvement with it, this is common
Don’t let the lowest price be your selection criteria
Don’t start working without having perfectly clear expectations from each other
Those who choose to freelance do so for a multitude of reasons but a good freelancer doesn’t do it because they can’t secure a full time position. This is not a stop gap until something better comes along. It’s a choice they’ve made because they possess a specific set of skills and can confidently provide their clients with exceptional results.
Studies have shown that the freelancing entrepreneurial spirit is thriving and many professionals are increasingly leaving their full-time employment to take the plunge. Investing in a well vetted freelancer can bring untold advantages to your business.