Monday, April 22, 2013

c+notes: “Trusting your Freelance Designer”

“Trusting your Freelance Designer”
A recent conversation brought up a common concern that new or potential clients express about freelance designers: Trust
Occasionally we hear of horror stories of clients being left high and dry by individual freelance designers, who over promised, under-delivered and missed key deadlines. Then to make matters worse, they disappeared completely from the face of the earth when their help was needed most.
On one hand, this is music to our ears because our competitor’s professional short-comings have brought this client to our door step. On the other, it is concerning when their behavior reflects on us as a whole. As a freelance design firm in business for almost 12 years, we are not most freelance designers. We have built our firm around being responsible, responsive and respectful of our client’s needs. When looking at hiring a freelance designer here are a few questions to consider:
Team: The exhibit design industry is a fast paced and deadline orientated business. When looking at a freelance designer, consider the team not just the individual. How many people will work on your project? How many designers do they work and collaborate with on a daily basis? How many are off-site “contractors” hired temporarily to complete your job?
Takeaway: Be careful that you are not putting all your eggs in one individuals basket. Who will back them up if they are sick, on vacation or overbooked? Most of all, do they have other designers in-house they can lean on to make sure your deadlines are met.
Deadlines: As a freelance design firm in business for almost 12 years, we have never missed a deadline. If we take on a project, we will move heaven and earth to meet your deadline. Period. It is important to ask what steps they will take to meet them. Everyone knows the right answers, so consider asking scenario questions and have them confirm their track record meeting deadlines. As designers, the concept of “deadlines” is beat into us in design school. If they have ever missed a deadline, or show indifference towards one, kick them to the curb. They don’t get it.
Takeaway: There is no excuse for missed deadlines. If one is missed, more will follow. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But some day, this designer will burn you.
Confidentiality: This is the lifeblood of our business, and we have taken steps that are borderline OCD to secure our client information in-house. When you are looking at a freelance designer, you need to consider how they will treat your sensitive information. Who owns the designs you have paid to develop? Will they develop the same design/project for two different clients? Will they provide CAD files of the designs upon completion?
Takeaway: Having them sign an NDA can go a long way, but signing an agreement and adhering to it are two different things. They should be able to explain what steps they have taken to secure your information on their servers/workstations and staff.
The Why and the How: Why and How did they become a freelance designer? Did they choose to become a freelance designer or are they simply between jobs trying to make ends meet? In this economy, there is certainly nothing wrong with doing that or using them, but consider that there are many talented designers working as freelancers by choice.
Takeaway: While some freelance designers would prefer a full-time job and are doing this until they find one. Be certain you are hiring someone who will still be there in 3 months when you need them.
Portfolio: Does their portfolio consistently represent the talent and level of execution you are looking for? If not, ask them why. Their work should be taken as a whole, not based on a few projects. If there are only a few “quality” projects, ask them why. Furthermore, ask them if they did everything in the designs. Did they do the project download, organization, research, ideation, sketching, color roughs, estimate drawings and final computer color renderings? Ask to see examples of their process.
Takeaway: Some designers will represent an entire project as their own, when they only worked on a portion of it. The idea here is to understand what their capabilities are. Just because someone shows up in Formula One race car, doesn’t mean they are capable of racing it in the Indy 500. Ask questions and make sure you’re hiring Mario Andretti and not the Valet.
Availability: Be specific about a project when asking a freelance designer what their availability is. Define the project. What is their lead time based on these parameters? This is a bit of a trick question, because it is all relative. Be less concerned with their ability to start immediately, and more concerned with their confidence in meeting your deadlines. They may be thinking in terms of nights and weekends to get the job done.
Takeaway: Ultimately, you are looking for honest communication regarding their capacity. Beware of designers who never answer the phone or take days to return calls. Other warning signs are when they say they can turn around a project in 2 days with little or no project information or that they are booked for a month.
Personalities: As freelance designers, we probably know and understand “Freelance” types as well or better than our clients do. We realize that some of our competitors walk a fine line between greatness and barely keeping up with the day to day. Ultimately, a designer are creative types, and with that comes a few quirks.
Takeaway: We are just this side of a starving artist.The difference is we decided our creativity was worth getting paid for in this lifetime. With that realization, comes a reasonable amount of analytical and professional common sense that you can count on.
Trust & Confidence: Regardless of how our competitors conduct themselves, we earn our clients trust and confidence the old fashion way: One project at a time. Our reputation is everything, but ultimately we could not have grown our design firm for the last 12 years if our clients did not trust us to meet their deadlines and exceed their objectives. If the designer you are working with does not give you the same confidence, then it is time to speak with one who does.

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