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How to Decide Who to Send Your Agency's Work To

This post is part of a series called Evolve From Freelancer to Agency.
How to Find Enough Work to Keep an Entire Agency Busy
How to Manage an Entire Agency and Still Get Work Done

Especially when you’re first starting out, the odds are good that you’re going to be relying on other freelancers to handle the work that you can’t manage on your own. Depending on how you choose to grow your agency, you may continue to rely on contractors well into the future. But that means that you’re going to have to take on the role of client: you’re going to have to decide who you are comfortable sending your agency’s work to.

It’s a bit extreme to think this way, but the fact of the matter is that the work produced by any freelancer you hire will reflect directly on you. This doesn’t mean that you should go into full-on micro-manager mode, but it does mean that you need to be very clear about your criteria for who you will work with and your expectations throughout the process.

You Don’t Have to Be Friends with Your Freelancers

You know a ton of other freelancers, many of whom you probably count among your friends. You probably assume that you can just automatically bring them on board to the agency you’re forming and the question of who to work with will be automatically solved. But it’s well worth your while to go outside your existing circle to find people to work with — don’t assume that just because you’re best buds, you should work together.

There are any number of reasons such an arrangement might not work out. Even something as simple as having very different styles of work can mean that someone isn’t a good fit for your agency. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t hire any of your friends, but don’t give them preference in the decision-making process over any other freelancer you might consider.

Make a point to look at a wide variety of freelancers when you’re first starting out. You may need to try out a few different combinations of freelancers to find a team you like working with on a regular basis; depending on the types of projects you take on, you may wind up with different people that you call in for different projects. If you’ve got a long list of people to start with, finding those different combinations will be a lot easier.

Use Portfolios to Weed Out Your Options

You’ve built a portfolio for yourself in the past, which may make you far more picky about what you see than the typical client. But while you should evaluate the freelancers you’re considering working with based on the quality of their portfolios, you should also make a point of looking at their style.

Experience is a matter of time and you may very well be able to train a less-experienced freelancer to do things exactly the way you would yourself.

A slightly lower level of quality shouldn’t be a deal breaker when you are choosing freelancers to work with: as long as it’s a question of experience, you shouldn’t immediately eliminate that person from consideration. Experience is a matter of time and you may very well be able to train a less-experienced freelancer to do things exactly the way you would yourself.

But style is a different matter. There are some freelancers who can work in a wide variety of styles. Not everyone can, though. If you see only one style throughout a freelancer’s portfolio, you need to be very sure that style matches with your own. While styles can certainly evolve, it’s much harder to switch all the way over to another person’s approach. Rather than trying to play that game, find someone whose style works with yours so that you don’t have to explain to a client why two different parts of a project look radically different.

Do a Minimum of One Round of Interviews

Hopefully, you’ll wind up with a reasonable number of freelancers to consider just by pulling out those that you don’t feel could match your style. From there, an important next step is to find out whether the freelancer in question wants to work with you (or with agencies in general). No matter whether you know the freelancer in question already, it’s important to line up an interview.

  • Ask about their long-term plans: Before you get your heart set on working with a particular freelancer, ask them about their own plans and goals. You may see an easy way to work together, but, then again, you may also quickly find that you’re not going to be able to fit into their plans.
  • Ask about their work habits: When you’re running an agency, you’ll have many parts of various projects in motion at once. That means that you need to know that your team is able to keep up, whether they’re on staff or brought in for an individual project.
  • Ask about their tools: Converting files can cause problems at the best of times. Using different software than you may not be a deal breaker, but it’s something you need to be aware of before you make your final decisions.
  • Go through your planned policies: What might be a dealbreaker for one freelancer is fine with another, which means that you have to check those potential problems. If, for instance, you expect that any work done through the agency will go only into the agency’s portfolio and not that of any freelancer who works on it, establish that fact now.
  • Ask anything else you can think of: This may be your only chance to really dig deeply before you send this person a project worth a fair amount of money. Make sure you both feel comfortable working with each other.

Check References on Your Picks

As the owner of an agency that will be working with clients, you have an obligation to do some due diligence to make sure that you know exactly who you’re working with. Even if you’re just working together on a trial project, do your research.

Unless the freelancer in question has a unique name, it may be hard to find a lot of information, but you should check just the same.

Run a few searches online to find out what you can. Unless the freelancer in question has a unique name, it may be hard to find a lot of information, but you should check just the same. Don’t be afraid to ask that freelancer about anything problematic you find: considering how easy it is for anyone to post anything online, it’s only fair to get both sides of the story. But if you see something along the lines of multiple negative reviews on a freelance bidding site, it’s not that easy to explain away.

Ask to speak to a few real live clients that the freelancer has worked with in the past. While it seems like asking for references has become less common as more people are working online, most of us still get occasional requests. If providing references is problematic for a freelancer, you may want to reconsider working together.

Consider a Trial Project

Before you promise to bring every piece of work you land to a given freelancer, it may be a good idea to do a trial run — one low-stakes project where either side can walk away afterwards, no hard feelings. It’s not always an options and sometimes you just don’t need it, but when you can, it’s a good way to get to know a new freelancer.

Particularly good test projects include those where the freelancer is working on something for you, without another client in the background. If you regularly donate time to a non-profit or you work on a big competitive challenge every year, you can test out new people with few risks.

You Need a Creative Brief

Even if you have your go-to freelancers lined up, you need to write a creative brief for every sub-project that you’re handing off to someone else. Consider it a best practice for making sure that you’re being clear in describing what you need done. It serves other purposes than just that, though.

Actually sitting down and writing a brief makes it a lot easier to know what results you’re looking for, along with what you’ll need to hand over to the agency’s client. It’s only when you see each of those details that you can clearly tell if the person you usually rely on is truly a good fit for a given project.

A creative brief can also serve as a way to check back in on how a project went, to help you evaluate your working relationship with a freelancer and whether you want it to continue. At the end of each project, collect the creative briefs you wrote and check how closely the deliverables matched what you asked for. If you aren’t getting what you need, it’s up to you to discuss the issue with the freelancers you work with, even though that’s rarely a pleasant proposition.

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