How freelancers should get feedback

Just like their employee counterparts, the creative industry’s freelance workers can overlook the brief, fall short of expectations and deliver haphazardly.

Harvard professors hint there is nothing wrong with this – in fact, they say that because we learn from our mistakes, business leaders should go out and make some deliberately.

For employees, this age-old process of learning from mistakes is easy: they wait for their appraisal, typically at the project or month-end, to hear from their boss where they went wrong.

For freelancers wanting to improve their service, there are often two parties scrutinising it – a recruitment agency and an end client, or a creative agency and their end client.

But while freelancers, therefore, face a greater onslaught or, as Harvard implies, a greater learning opportunity, neither agent nor client are normally contractually bound to give them feedback.

The result can leave freelancers feeling ‘in the dark’, unsure it is their place to ask about their performance and disheartened, as employees grow wiser about projects that they helped implement.

'Inhibited'

Gill Hunt, a director of Skillfair, a provider of advertising, marketing and design consultants, agrees that many freelancers are “inhibited” about asking for feedback from clients and agents.

“Maybe it’s a British thing,” she reflected. “The trick [for freelancers] is to ask at appropriate moments -- straight after you've won or lost a contract is a good time.”

“If you have a long term relationship with a client then it's reasonable to suggest a review every so often… and if you present this as being in the client’s interest…it would be hard for them to say ‘no’.”

'Only fair'

Lisette Howlett, director of staffing portal Hirescores.com, says that, given they forego formal reviews, it is “only fair” freelancers solicit feedback regularly, if they have built up a rapport.

“Feedback should be sought during the project to make sure everything is on track and after the project has finished,” she said, advising all freelancers, newcomers in particular.

“Not only [do this to] make sure everything went as scheduled, but also so that you can get over that you are available for further projects.”

Blue Marlin is a leading creative agency that uses freelancers to complement its existing skills; typically in roles where having a full-time practitioner in-house would be unsustainable.

'Horses for courses'

The agency, whose clients include Cadbury, Schweppes and Tesco Lotus, said there was “no difference” between how an employee and a freelancer should ask creative agencies to feedback.

“We want to make freelancers feel that they are as much a part of the team as anybody else, so that means they’re included in critiques of the work,” said Stephanie Brown, its global marketing director.

She acknowledged that the ‘right approach’ for freelancers seeking feedback from a creative agency would depend on the length and type of assignment they undertook.

“Partly,” Ms Brown explained, it is “a ‘horses for courses’ situation in terms of when freelancers should ask for feedback.

“However, of the work that they do, many agencies will have some sort of feedback loop, but I think it is still worthwhile for freelancers to pro-actively ask on feedback.”

'How they can help you'

If approached correctly for feedback, both clients and agencies are likely to realise such dialogue helps forge business relationships, prompting them to return the request.

Addressing freelancers, Ms Hunt, of Skillfair, said clients who agree to sit down to provide feedback are effectively giving “you an opportunity to let them know how they can help you.”

“But it's critical that you remain professional and don't use this as an excuse to have a general moan, complain about other staff or angle for a pay rise”.

'Special treatment'

Creative recruiters at Xchangeteam hinted these pitfalls facing freelancers are bigger today than at any time in recent history, given the current fluidity of the jobs market.

“Freelancers should not be pushing for special treatment in this economic climate as they will also be competing with extra talent coming into the marketplace,” advised Val Gascoyne, its director of design and advertising.

“Some freelancers are setting up limited companies which employers seem to appreciate as it takes the onus off them and they may be looked upon more favourably when it comes to the selection process.

“The qualities they look for [in freelancers] are reliability, flexibility, adaptability [and the] ability to ‘hit the ground running’ and fit in with current team.”

'Virtual studio'

If freelancers provide these traits, Blue Marlin hinted that they would be looked upon favourably the next time a creative agency decides, often at the last-minute, to hire external expertise.

Freelancers are then empowered to repay the favour: “Freelancers are our second virtual studio, therefore it is behoven on us, and all creative agencies, to treat them as they would permanent employees when it comes to feedback on their work.

“If agencies treat freelancers well, then they become a great referrer about the agency,” Ms Smith said, “and therein [the agency] starts creating a type of virtual circle of attracting talent.”

Freelancers’ status – skilled but independent labour, imposing no hefty overheads, available at short notice and often with no termination notice, provides another reason for jittery employers to keep them sweet.

'Practical approach'

“There is no doubt that the creative industry too is suffering in this turbulent financial time as budgets and campaigns get cut,” Ms Howlett, of Hirescores.com, said yesterday.

“Freelancers are instrumental to helping agencies manage their workload and cash-flow in a responsible and comprehensive way. Freelancers and agencies need to take a practical approach to feedback and it is …not to be viewed as an option that is only open to those directly employed”.

 

8th October 2008

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