When we talk to companies about their creative workforce and what challenges they face, it generally comes down to 4 topics:
- The need for more agility
- How to plan for a flexible workforce
- Building resilience in a freelance workforce
- How to find quality freelancers
The need for more agility
The days when brands or agencies could build fixed teams that service a fixed constant program of activity are few and far between. Marketing programs are more diverse than ever requiring a greater diversity of expertise to implement and run. To remain competitive brands now have to consider how to combine smart marketing technology, creativity and media channels to grow their business. Given the proliferation of marketing activities, a program can quickly splinter into many different activities spanning a huge spectrum including platform development, drip email programs, retargeting campaigns, app development and content marketing. And that’s before a traditional advertising campaign is included.
Compounding this, within each activity, more often than not, the expertise to set up a program is completely different to the expertise to run it. This breadth means brands need to be smarter and more efficient about where they invest their money and time.
They need to be agile.
What’s more, as the industry moves away from agency retainers, this creates more peaks and troughs in workload for both agencies and brands. More brands are looking to internalise their marketing and with any marketing calendar, there are busier periods than others. Equally so, agencies are increasingly at the mercy of a project-based program of work that inherently creates more revenue volatility. It also gives more variety in the projects that come through and the types of expertise required to support them.
Again, this reinforces why agility becomes a business imperative.
How to plan for a flexible workforce
Establishing agility is a top-down business decision that requires a flexible workforce model to be established. For many companies, this requires a deliberate decision to reduce (or maintain) the size of their full-time team and choose the areas where they will rely on freelancers to scale or pivot.
Fundamentally, this establishes a reasonable budget to be allocated to freelancers and plans to identify what is needed and when. For many planning can be tricky because of the uncertainty of rates against different disciplines, time to source and the contract period for the Freelancers. To help support this process, &FRIENDS has developed Freelancer Rate and Market Guides to take the guesswork out of planning.
Building resilience in a freelance workforce
The best-laid plan for a flexible workforce becomes unstuck quickly if a company cannot source and build a reliable team of quality freelancers.
Many companies put their eggs in one basket and rely heavily on one or two regular favourite freelancers. When those freelancers are busy, they are often left high and dry. It’s by no means the fault of the freelancer. It’s a symptom of a lack of resilience in the approach the company is taking to build their freelance team.
To build resilience, companies need to get ahead of their freelance needs and expand the number of Freelancers they have vetted and trust. So that when they do need freelancers, there is a greater chance one of the freelancers is going to be free.
In addition, if you’re able to easily monitor your freelance team availability and quickly give them heads up on up-and-coming projects, you learn early whether you need to go to market to find freelancers.
Companies consistently run into trouble when they need a freelancer urgently and have to go to market. The reality is that posting an urgent brief for a Freelancer is a lucky dip exercise. You are simply putting your faith in the random chance someone of quality is going to by chance be available. This is a risky strategy and typically stressful.
The creative services industry has for years relied on referrals to find good talent. It makes sense on so many levels. If you trust someone professionally, you’re generally going to trust their judgement. Getting a great referral is like gold dust. It creates a MASSIVE shortcut in the recruitment process and guarantees you a strong addition to a team.
The problem with this approach is that doesn’t scale well. Nor does it suit the rapid proliferation of different types of expertise being introduced into the creative services industry. Many of these new skills move between a broader set of business circles and therefore being part of referral networks become a lot less likely.
This limitation of referrals has led to an increased reliance on recruiters which naturally has a cost associated with it. Despite the perceived high fees, recruiters will tell you themselves that freelance gigs are not great business for them as it requires a huge amount of effort for limited commercial gain.
Using Recruiters also has another very dramatic impact. When the only path that a company has to finding freelancers is via recruiters and therefore paid, they will tend to only look for freelancers when they absolutely need them. This inherently means companies cannot get themselves ahead of their freelance needs which in turn makes freelancing a risky strategy to rely on, because of the quality, cost and stress associated with finding freelancers at late notice.
Spending the time to building a quality Freelance team is a wise strategy and we would argue necessary for any business who actively building a freelance capability. However, this approach has traditionally taken a fair amount of time and energy, which has made it hard to sustain.
The good news is that with &FRIENDS, this process is now easier, quicker and cheaper than its ever been. Our talent pools functionality has been designed to make it effortless for companies to find, build and manage a Freelance team.
By making the process of sourcing and managing quality creative services talent reliable, we believe &FRIENDS for many companies is the missing piece of the puzzle in helping them establish an agile approach to delivering their marketing programs.