Managing Creative Work

An important skill strong founders have is the ability to manage people. This is much more than delegating tasks: founders need to encourage and help others to do their best work.

We often talk about how to improve this skill, but we always come to the same conclusion. The only real way to get better at management is to actually do it. To get better at working with people, you need to work with people. Give them tasks, then provide feedback and instructions to improve the product.

Creative projects are a good place to learn, because:

  1. They are actually difficult to give good feedback on, but you’ll learn about your mistakes right away. Discussions often involve personal preferences and taste, and it’s hard give professional feedback that doesn’t feel personal to the receiver. If you can nail these conversations, that helps every other aspect of your life.
  2. There are plenty of low risk situations where you can practice. Look at Fiverr for inspiration, but you can find projects small or large right away. Anything goes, from designing a business card, to wedding invites, or just find someone to pimp up your next presentation. And of course, you can start head on with the big stuff: websites, apps, full-blown marketing campaigns.

Create a solid plan

First things first, find the thing you need to get done, then find someone to do it. The next step is to lay down the plan: let the creatives know what to do.

Every freelancer wants to know where they stand, and what is expected of them. Regardless of their industry or talents, creatives need a plan too. Your job is to create that strong project plan, to deliver this kind of clarity for everyone involved in getting work done.

In essence, a successful project plan should include:

  1. An overview of project objectives, alongside the scope and any limitations therein;
  2. You must also identify and outline the roles and responsibilities of all participants; as well as
  3. Provide information on the schedule and budget

Briefing creatives

For smaller projects there’s no need to go overboard with the specifications, but the creatives need to know what the output will be. Really simple things, such as logos or business cards can mostly only go one way, but even with those you might have guides to follow. For example, printing companies will list the paper size, bleed and color information to adhere to.

Creatives will think together with you, and therefore usually need more context about the work. Include everything that can help them understand the project:

  • Who is this product for?
  • Where and how are they going to use it?
  • Are there any brand guidelines to meet?

…and many more. You don’t have to think of everything right off the bat, creatives will help you with asking questions, but it’s good to arrive prepared.

Managing a successful creative project takes a particular set of skills. Thankfully for anyone who is wondering how to accomplish this task, these skills are not a world away from the other key abilities which build a successful business.

When working with freelancers for the first time, our classic rules apply:

  1. Start with fixed price, no matter how cheap the hourly rate looks.
  2. Always run a paid trial project first. This will be a small but important part of the project, not more than a week.
  3. Spend time on specs and answer questions as soon as you can. Be the client you’d love to have if you were a freelancer.

Maintain communication

Managing creative projects is both easy and hard at the same time, and for the exact same reason. It’s easy, because you can always see and understand the result along the way. There are no “technical details” that hide the outcome: you can follow along and see it with your own eyes whether the product meets the expectations.

And they are also hard, because you can follow the progress yourself. The first iterations of any work are not always fantastic, and it’s difficult to give useful feedback when you yourself are disappointed. Don’t worry much, this will be easier with experience.

Whatever happens however, the best is to start giving feedback early and keep frequent checkins. Once you have decided on the schedule and responsibilities, stay in touch with the creatives who will be bringing your project to life.

There’s no need to call them five times a day, but setting milestones for key stages of the work is essential. Arranging a quick check-in at allotted times will also allow you to provide them with feedback, and resolve any issues which occur throughout the process.

Evaluate and review

If the project was a success, there is a good chance you will want to retain a positive working relationship with the creatives. This is also a fantastic opportunity for you to evaluate everything that went well, and point out a few areas for improvement.

This process of evaluation and feedback will be as valuable for the creative as it is for you as a business owner. Overall, it helps to reaffirm both the positive and negative aspects of your last project, building a positive foundation for future collaboration.

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Richard Dancsi

Founder & Techie

Startup founder and management consultant with over 15 years experience in building technology teams, products and companies.