At a time when many companies are scaling down their marketing budgets, Web design consultancies are finding it harder to win new clients and projects. Things maybe tough for the larger design firms, but the situation could be ideal for freelancers and other smaller operations.
One obvious advantage that full-service design companies have over solo freelancers is access to a wide range of creative and technical resources. So how can the soloist compete with multi-skilled consultancies? The answer is to form a Virtual Team.
By joining forces with other freelancers who offer complementary skills, you'll be able to offer a more complete service to your clients. One person on their own can't hope to compete with a full-service consultancy on price alone, no matter how tight budgets are. If a free agent can't meet a project's business objectives, he isn't going to win the contract. Partnering with another specialist makes you look more credible and professional, especially if the client is aware they'll only be paying for a specific service from the specialist. Clients are increasingly wary of design agencies offering services they'll never use and feel that they are paying for them through extortionate fees.
Here, then, are some tips for partnering with other free agents and successfully running a joint project:
Know where to recruit and be recruited
You don't need to wait for a new project before sounding out potential partners. Register your details with freelance and recruitment directories, giving details of the services you offer. You never know if someone else is out there looking for the skills you have to offer. Use these same directories to search for complementary free agents when you need additional help.
Do a search to see if there are any local online directories. Most of my enquiries have come from people who found my details on sites based here in the UK - in some cases, Brighton where I live.
Also, contribute to online New Media forums and communities, many of which are free. You'll find all the various technology disciplines represented in the Web forums at About.com.
If there are any close to you, get involved in local New Media groups - both on and offline. People tend to find it easier to work with people they've met and know. At the very least, others maybe able to point you in the direction of freelancers who could use your help.
Use your gut instinct
When considering a particular individual, follow your instinct - if you have any doubts about working with someone, chances are it won't work out.
Contracts and briefs - put everything in writing
Bearing in mind that this team of freelancers may only exist for one project, each individual should have their own contract. Don't make the mistake of being responsible for paying the team. Free agent contracts and invoices should go direct to the client. You are not an employer so it's up to everyone to make sure they get paid, not you.
To avoid confusing the client - who may not understand what each person does - it makes sense to send them all the contracts together, accompanied by the project brief - you do produce written briefs, don't you? This should give information about all the team members - brief biographies are helpful as well as details of what everone is responsible for on the project. Individual contact details are also advisable.
Make sure that each team member gets a copy, not just the client.
Co-ordinating a team - who leads?
Usually the person who builds the team is the one who should lead the project. Sometimes a client will approach the freelancer with a project in mind, recognising that at least the majority of it can be produced by a soloist.
There have been times where I've been asked to design and build a Web site that contains a small element of Flash. Because Flash isn't one of my strong points, I would brief a specialist designer to produce the required elements to include in my design. In a case such as this, as the vast majority of the project would be my responsibility, it makes sense for me to brief and oversee the work of others involved.
Keep all project stakeholders informed all the time - that means everyone who has any involvement including the client as well as all creative and technical suppliers. Details of all developments should be passed to everyone involved, preferably by email which can be CCed.
Break it up into small pieces
Turn a large project into several smaller ones. This makes it easier to manage by assigning each task to the team member whose responsibility it is.
All this advice requires you to use some project management skills on a day to day basis. But it's all possible if you plan carefully and use common sense.