The past two years have forced businesses to do things differently. Organisations which would never have considered allowing their staff to work from home, overnight found themselves in a situation where this became a reality. For the most part, it has exceeded everyone’s expectations: we’ve made it work and work well. Whether organisations have continued to offer fully remote working or have implemented a hybrid approach, the pandemic has introduced the possibility of new ways of working and the value of ‘bums on seats’ feels, quite rightly, like a thing of the past.
The changed ways of working has opened many employers’ eyes to getting the job done differently which has been great news for consultants and freelancers. Many organisations are seeing the merit of outsourcing work whether on an ongoing basis or when there is a specific need and lack of skillset in the existing team. Employers are making decisions to pay for the work needed on a project or one-off basis rather than by recruiting staff and all of the ongoing costs that this brings with it. Or for those struggling to actually recruit in what feels like an employees’ market, they need short-term support in the interim.
So with what feels like more organisations than ever looking to outsource work, how do you get the best out of working with a consultant or agency? Here’s what I’ve learned after 7 years as a marketing consultant.
Produce a clear brief
It sounds simple but providing a freelancer or consultant with a clear brief of the scope, objectives, desired outcomes and measurables for the project doesn’t always happen. Spending a bit of time ensuring that everyone has the same shared vision for what success looks like, means there’s more chance of the consultant or agency getting it right. If you’re not sure on how to create the brief then talk it through with the consultant or agency. It’s likely that they can help you to create this and having them involved right from the beginning, ensures that everyone is invested and on the same page. Win-win.
Decide how you want to charge for the outsourced work
Different freelancers and agencies charge in different ways. Some will provide a project cost based on the initial scope of the project, others work on a day rate. If you’re looking for longer term support, you may agree to work with a consultant on a retainer basis. If you work on a day rate approach, it’s important for everyone to be clear on what can be delivered for the agreed amount of time and budget per month. As we all know, projects can change and with that so can the work required. Communication is key here to make sure that everyone is getting what they need within the agreed budget available.
Provide a point of contact and update the consultant regularly
As a freelance consultant, the best work I do is when I am regularly updated on where we are with a project and I am clear on any other factors that may have an impact on the work I’m undertaking at any given point. This happens when I have ongoing catch ups with the client. They don’t have to be long but they are invaluable. I’d rather have too much information (so that I can decide what’s relevant to the success of my delivery and what isn’t) rather than too little. Always.
Ensure all parties agree with what’s in and out of scope
We all know that objectives can change and actually when delivering a marketing plan effectively, you have to be flexible and regularly review what’s working well and shift and adapt activity accordingly. But it’s important to have a clear understanding at the beginning of the project as to what’s in or out of scope.
For example, I’m a marketing consultant. I don’t design websites, create logos and produce what an online brochure looks like. But I do work with a range of graphic and web designers. If a designer is needed for a project I can get quotes for the client to approve and I can manage the relationship with the designer if they want to proceed. So I can solve the client’s problem but producing design work is outside the scope of my remit unless I outsource this to a third party. I’m clear about this from the outset.
Know who is actually going to be working on your project
A large difference between using an agency and a freelancer or one-woman-band is that if you go with the latter you know that the person you bring on board and have the calls with, is likely to be the person actually doing the work for you. This is not always the case with an agency. In many situations the person ‘winning’ the work is not going to be the person doing the day-to-day delivery of it; that is often left to a more junior person in the agency. If you’re happy with that and are still getting the quality you expect then all is well. But it’s always worth finding out who will be working on your account if you decide to go with outsourcing work to an agency.
Have an agreed approval process in place
Is your key contact able to sign off on the project? Or does it need to go through five other people internally as well? Ideally, in order to save time and costs, the approval process should be short but I often work with clients where whole teams input and have opposing views to each other. To be honest it’s often a waste of both my time and the client’s budget. If something needs input from multiple people internally, it make sense for this to be collated by the account handler and fed back to the consultant by one person. This streamlines the process and saves time and budget. And frustration all round!
Have a wrap up meeting and get feedback
It’s always worth having a final meeting to review the project against the original brief. Have the objectives been met? What could be done to make the process work more smoothly next time? Is there anything else you need in order to continue delivering the project internally?
And for freelancers: word of mouth recommendations remain the best way to find new clients so make sure you have happy clients who are glad they’ve used you to get the job done and they’ll likely use you again or recommend you to others.