For many businesses and professionals, engaging “creatives” — whether they’re agencies, teams or freelancers —can be a nightmare. You have work that just needs to get done, and you’re unfamiliar with the terms they use, the pitfalls to avoid, or how the process typically works. Not every agency or professional is the same, but there are some basics to the relationship you should understand before you start working with someone. Asking some of these questions upfront will lead to a better outcome for you and for the creative team.
#1 NAIL DOWN THE SCOPE.
What’s included? Content? Coding? Images? Hosting? Revisions?
It sounds simple enough, but miscommunication can happen right out of the gate. It behooves all parties to have a very clear understanding of who is doing what from the start. Don’t assume something is included if it is not explicitly stated. If you have a question about whether you’ll be writing copy or who is paying for non-service expenses (like stock photos you may need), be sure to ask! These can upend a project later and ruin relationships.
#2 DISCUSS THE SCHEDULE
How often will you meet/talk? What will they need from you and how quickly?
Often, clients come into a project with an end-date in mind — when they want their new website to launch or business cards to go to print — but all the milestones in between are really important. Back that up and make sure you understand what will be delivered throughout the project and how frequently you’ll be getting updates. This makes it a lot easier for everyone to stay on track.
There’s another side to this, too: how quickly and efficiently you, as a client, provide feedback. Giving feedback late — or incompletely — is really difficult for creative teams to manage. It can delay work, can cause duplicate efforts, and can lead to versioning issues when there are too many revisions to track efficiently. When starting out, factor the time you’ll have to contribute to the project so that you’re able to provide timely, clear feedback. Take the time to review work: review, take notes, sleep on it, share with colleagues who need to sign off — and then share a complete set of consolidated feedback.
#3 ASK ABOUT THEIR STYLE
Are they experts? Are they collaborators?
Like any industry, the creative world has all kinds of personalities. Some like to work in a closed environment for a few weeks and come back to share more finished work with you. Others like to have be very open, sharing incomplete work to get your initial impressions. There are merits to all of them, and so it’s really a matter of your preference: Do you want to be very involved in decisions? Do you want someone to just take it off your hands? Be sure to understand how your creative team likes to work.
#4 KNOW YOUR TEAM
Who is your point person? Who is charged with doing your actual work?
Unless you’re working directly with an independent professional, creative teams usually have at least a few people. One is managing the project and the client relationship, while other team members are specialists in their fields and will likely have less direct contact with you. Who is on your team? What are they doing? How much will you interact with them?
#5 READ THE FINE PRINT
Are there additional fees? What are OOP expenses? Who owns work?
There’s a lot to creative work that is not always visible to the outside world, and these factors can drive a lot of the details in the contract/work agreement.
They say time is money, and that could not be more true for a field like creative services: we only earn when we are working. That’s why you may find that some professionals include additional fees if the project requires more rounds of revision or passes the original scheduled deadline (this is especially true if the reason for delay is overdue feedback). It’s not an attempt to swindle clients, but to cover their own costs when completing a project. Make sure you understand their policies on overages or schedule slip.
Many scopes focus on the creative services that will be provided, leaving Out-of-Pocket expenses left to the client to handle. This allows clients to more easily hold the license to things like stock photography, domain names and hosting sites. See if this is an extra expense, if there are any applicable handling fees that will be applied and when you’ll be billed.
Who owns what? This can often be a point of strife: clients assume they own anything and everything that was produced, but what does this really cover? What about conceptual or ideation work that you don’t want to use? What about native files versus completed works? These are important details to hash out before work starts. Often, creatives will also want permission to include the work they complete for you on their website and in promotional materials.
Most creative professionals want you to be really happy with what they produce and to have a positive, long-term relationship with you. At the end of the day, open, constructive communication is the key to any good relationship, and that’s no different here. Good luck!
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