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Entrepreneurship, Startup
Demographics, a cornerstone of marketing, is quickly being replaced by Customer Personas. Marketing theory has traditionally said that customers all fit within prescribed demographics; age, gender, socio-economic status, education, profession, hobbies and more. While the traditional way of segmenting customers might have worked in the past, the theories can only serve to act as a lesson on what not to do.
These profiles sound nice, but they’re nearly worthless and provide next to no valuable insights into a market. Empty descriptions that might describe one customer, but completely fails to recognize all the secondary and tertiary opportunities that exist. This failure to connect can leave vulnerable startups missing out on early adoption and a greater understanding of their product-market fit.
The reason so many company’s marketing fails to connect is because teams never leave this flawed approach—they think they know what their customer should be, but they really have no clue who their customer is.
Stale approaches like, “Do you want to increase your productivity?”, “How would you like to try out product X?” or, “Want to lose weight, click here!”
This 👏 Doesn’t 👏 Work 👏
Marketing Fails Because it Isn’t Speaking to The Customer
Forget the tired demographic stats.
Customers are not age ranges, job titles or salaries. They’re living, breathing, active people. And they can see through marketing BS instantly. Just like you, they have a fine-tuned sense of marketing BS and are not going to fall for a weak message.
Countless marketing and advertising executives trip all over themselves to make messages easy to understand and in the process dumb down marketing for the lowest common denominator. This completely overlooks that they’re selling a complex product to a discerning market who want to be treated like an intelligent adult.
Customers are people, speak to them in the way you would want to be spoken to and magically a conversation can start. The brands winning on social media didn’t learn this, they intuitively knew it before they even started.
To really connect with your customers, ditch the latest shiny thing, drop the marketing speak and start to focus on them, as a person. This requires more research and digging to fully understand the ‘why’ embedded in everyone’s thinking. Instead of knowing that they are 24-55 years old, urban, completed post-secondary education and make between $75k and $90k, ask yourself, why do they do things, what do they feel, what would they think about this?
Why do they do live in the city?
John works for a big bank downtown and hates the thought of losing three hours of his day commuting.
What do they feel about it?
Living in the city isn’t who he is, a small town is more his speed.
What do they think about it?
Living in the city is short-term pain for long term gain. He hopes to open a financial advisor business in a small town.
By asking questions of your customers you can start to learn what makes them tick. Drop the pretense and assumptions, they’re most likely wrong anyway. Start asking questions, listen and understand what your customers say. By understanding who your customer is, the easier it will be to build a customer persona. Then set you up in a stronger position to start the marketing conversation. Knowing their motivations is a far more successful sales approach than grandiose promises or bait techniques.
The best way to understand your customers is to build out a customer personas for each segment. A customer persona is a snapshot of who your market is—a fictional character with a name and face who embodies all the traits of your typical customer. This allows you to visualize who you’re speaking with and connect in a direct way to them.
Personas help everyone in your company; marketing, sales, product, customer success and service can all lean on a well-crafted persona to see if their work is aligning. It is someone you can lean on and relate to as a real person. Having a deep connection to your customer personas is a major part of creating the right content for them, developing the right features or services for your product, devising sales strategies and follow-ups, really anything that involves outbound communication and sales. Instead of asking, “will this work?”, you team can now ask, “what would (customer persona) John think of this?” Having the right personas can take out some guesswork of marketing, just look at these stats to show the positive shifts it produces (source):
  • Companies who exceed lead and revenue goals are over twice as likely to create personas than companies who miss these goals.
  • 71% of companies who exceed revenue and lead goals have documented personas.
  • 47% of companies who exceeded sales and revenue goals consistently maintain their personas.
  • 37% of companies who simply meet revenue and lead goals have documented personas.
With a clear understanding of who your customer is as a person, and not a demographic representation, you and your team are ready to adjust your marketing messages so they can now connect directly with them. In turn, you can now expect to see your marketing picking up steam and starting to work for you.
So, who are your customers?
Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.

Entrepreneurship, Startup
Every founder is an investor because founders are the first to place a bet on their company. These investments come in a few forms; seed capital, sweat equity, partnership or in-kind contributions. Regardless of the structure, one truth remains – if you want to grow your business from a side hustle into a scalable, full-time operation, you need capital. You’ve put in the sweat equity to-date, and moved your idea from notes on paper to a business plan or working prototype. Now is time to show investors you’re serious by putting your money where your mouth is. 
Why smart founders invest in their startup
You need to put money into your startup if you want to build your product, land critical sales and grow into a sustainable business. After the initial idea-inertia, founders tend to run right out to fundraise, assuming that with their shiny deck they are ready to chase investment. However, few are equipped to present investors with more than just an idea. If you’re standing up there, tossing out a business without fully costing it out, or even ensuring there’s a product-market fit, just wastes the investors time. Usually, It ends worse the founder. If you’re pitching without something concrete to present, like a prototype, your chance of landing an investment is basically shot.
As talk with investors, they’ll want to know how much cash you put in. Making the commitment of putting your money on the line shows investors that you’re serious about this idea and you are willing to take the risk as well. When you put your own cash in, you’re demonstrating that you expect to see a return and you have faith that other people will invest. Bottom line; if you plan on asking others for money, you have a far better chance when investors know that you invested in your startup first.
When I was actively fundraising for my businesses – meeting with private equity investors and doing the well-rehearsed dog and pony show – without fail one of the earliest questions was, “what’s your investment?” Proving that you have skin in the game, that you’re not only working off the sweat equity, is a critical component to securing investment. That’s not to say that you can’t pitch sweat equity alone, simply that you should be prepared for a tougher raise and to see a higher equity requests from investors who are taking the larger risk. 
Should you find yourself in a sweat equity position, it might be in your best interest to carve off a larger employee option pool and have it written into your term sheets that the founders get first shot at the options (up to X amount) to help top up their shares should the company reach its initial stages of success and is proceeding towards a Series A or B. This route allows you to give up more at the start, but saves the opportunity to gain back some equity once the agreed upon metrics of success have been proven. 
If you are ready and capable of making an investment then you’ve already planned out the initial growth and know how much you should be putting in to give yourself enough runway to reach either initial sales, MVP, government grants or fundraising. When investing one big cheque into your new bank account remember the business plan, and make sure you have build a strong set of financials so you know exactly where every dollar is going, and when. As long as spending doesn’t get out of control and threaten cash flow, the business should grow along.
It would be wonderful if every founder was already independently wealthy and could self-finance their startup but short of that, there are other ways to get your proverbial skin in the game. 
Credit Cards/Line of Credit
Google’s founders, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin, famously maxed out their Amex cards racking up over $15,000 in credit card debt. Just like you at the start of your company, they didn’t know they’d be building Google, they simply had a vision and used what limited resources they had to bring it to life. This is not to advocate racking up unsustainable debt or putting yourself or your family in a precarious position. If you are in a stable enough position to start drawing upon credit – with a plan to pay it back – then credit might be a solution for you.
Friends & Family
Imagine having a network of friends with deep enough pockets that they can drop five digits (or more) into your startup to get you up and running? Not so far fetched as most serial entrepreneurs run in circles with other serial entrepreneurs who would want to invest in the next big thing. Even if you’re not rolling with an exited friend or two, it’s always worth practicing your pitch on friends and family and asking for a small sum to help get up and running. If you can match to make it a ‘friends & family & founder’ round, you’ll look more committed to potential investors down the line. If you’re not willing to take the risk with your friends and family’s money, why should an investor take the risk?
Everyone’s favourite counter culture party game, Cards Against Humanity, launched via an incredible  Kickstarter campaign that showed how bang-on the creators knew their product-market fit, along with a complete understanding of their end users. With crowdfunding platforms the name of the game is marketing. If you or your co-founders have a marketing background, especially advertising, this is where you can let it shine. Crowdfunding is great for smaller scale prototypes and favors more physical product-based startups.
In-Kind Contributions 
Your startup is focused around what you know, and how to do it better. Chances are, you have some equipment or other types of contribution from your previous career or hobby that you can give to the company. Whether its computers, machinery, lab space/time, vehicles, etc… these can all count as an investment. Your accountant will need to know about this, so they can track depreciation and factor that into your financials. Vice’s three founders made their initial investment in thirds. Co-founder Suroosh Alvi spoke on NPR’s How I Built This. “I borrowed five grand from my parents, Gavin borrowed five grand from his parents, and Shane got $5,000 worth of computers from his dad. His dad worked in IT or something. And so it was with the ten thousand dollars Canadian that we started Vice.”

At the end of the day, you’ll need to keep track of your investment to show for tax purposes initially, but to also use as a point of reference as you go forward. This is where your accountant comes in. Don’t have one? Now would be the time to find someone trustworthy and affordable. If that really isn’t an option, using software like Wave Accounting or QuickBooks is a bandaid alternative. Your accountant will structure your business using the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) to ensure that you’re not only set up with the Canada Revenue Agency (or your national tax collector) but that you are following standard business practices that can be showcased when fundraising. When it comes to taxes, your accountant will thank you for keeping track of where the money is going so that it can be correctly reported to maximize your returns (and save you hours on your accounting bill). Additionally, with funding allocates in streams, you might be able to claim additional tax breaks, or apply for government grants, loans, and incentives. When approaching investors, having the ability to show them where the cash went and a full accounting from day one will be a requirement from you and absolutely part of their due diligence. 
When you’ve reached the point that you’ve brought on other investors, it is good to have a plan on what to do with your investment as the company grows. Most founders will roll their money into their existing equity stake to grow their ownership back up to stem the tide of dilution. Others offer the cash as a loan and treat it to similar loan conditions. A note of caution with the loan route – this is something you’ll want your lawyer involved in. They can make sure you have the proper terms regarding repayments and consequences of a default. These term sheets will need to be included with your investors due diligence package so there is a clear understanding that their investment dollars could be used to pay you back. Expect this to come up during negotiations! Either way, if the business does not succeed you will not get a return at all and either have to write off the loan or write off the investment. Make sure your accountant has a plan for either scenario when tax time comes around.
How much to put in depends on your personal situation and your tolerance for risk. Some companies have gone on to incredible success, launching will as little as $10,000.

Startups are risky. If you don’t want to bet your own (or your friends and family’s) cash, your prospective investors might not want to either. The bottom line is, if you want your startup to be successful, you should invest in it. However, like any investment, don’t just roll the dice and hope for the best. Know what you’re trying to do, understand the market and the chances of success. This is an investment into yourself, so plan diligently and make a smart investment.

Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.


Design, Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Startup
Think of all the great creative work we see on a daily basis. How the right image paired with the right words evoked reactions. How a new interface felt like a friendly piece of software that you were able to use with ease. Or a new product that came in such precise packaging that you wonder if you should keep the box as well. 
All of these pieces, products, and designs came to life from a creative brief. A creative brief is the foundation of any design project, UX product, marketing campaign and really anything produced by a creative team. In essence, a brief is a roadmap outlining the journey that the creative team is about to embark upon. The brief shows the team where to start driving to discover ideas but also how to evolve those ideas into fully formed concepts that complete the journey. 
One of the biggest challenges multidisciplinary teams face is getting, and keeping everyone on the same page. The creative brief is the proverbial shepherd herding all the stakeholders together. It provides a central point of reference to clarify the project goals, details, mandatory elements, timelines and budgets for creatives and clients to reference throughout a project. It also has the added bonus of acting as a cover for scope creep for creatives and a deliverable list for clients. A creative brief also provides a way to navigate the messier parts of collaboration on big, complex projects with multiple moving parts and people.
In the blog, 5 Ways to Keep Revision Costs Down, one of the key elements for cost control is a detailed creative brief. By capturing all the project elements in one place, both client and agency teams can be held accountable allowing for a more accurate quote and fewer revisions in the final stages.
A 2017 survey of over 1,200 international advertising executives by Ad Age asked them to rank clients on topics including integration, procurement, compensation, and consolidation.
Specifically, regarding creative briefs, their response was, “Agency assignment briefs were a major problem area, highlighting the old ‘garbage in, garbage out’ mentality. Most agencies reported some level of frustration regarding the quality of assignment briefings: 53% found briefs complete but lacking in focus; 27% found them incomplete and inconsistent; 20% found them complete and focused most of the time, and zero respondents found them complete and focused all the time.”
Now, more than ever, teams need to orchestrate and distribute brand campaigns that include multiple media options, timed deliverables, and collaboration efforts with creatives located all over the globe.
At the start of a creative project, it is important to answer some essential questions from the key stakeholders.  
      • What problem needs to be solved?
      • Who is the target audience?
      • What product, service or solution will solve the core problem?
Clarity around these aspects is at the heart of any project success. These questions work for any project type and help get everyone on the project aligned with the main objectives.
At its purest, a creative brief is like building a house; a strong foundation will ensure everything else stays together. So, how do you want to build your house? Here are some tips.
1. What Are Your Goals?
Before diving into the details of the project, try focusing on a few details. This will allow you to keep the project manageable and your brief focused. However your project is structured, it is important to lay out individual goals that will comprise the steps required to complete the project. 
Having a clear vision of who you are is critical when communicating your goals to the team, so they can amplify your amazing qualities. If you have a brand guide, you’ll need to attach it to the creative brief to reinforce who you are and give the creative team a reference they can look to when questions arise. If you do not have a brand guide, now is the time to get one (warning: self-promo ahead) from Method Creative Studios; user experiences driven by simplicity. 
2. Who Are The Key Stakeholders?
Ownership drives accountability, on both the client and agency side. Having someone, or team, listed as the decision makers for the client and main point of contact for the creative team allows each group to identify the project leaders. The brief should clearly outline who’s driving the car and who is the senior leadership that can provide guidance if problems arise.
Selecting stakeholders who will play an active role in the process will leave the teams with a clear understanding of who they need to turn too when questions arise. However, be sure to not overload already busy staff who might overlook important details. Realistically, this isn’t always possible, but it’s nice to dream, right?
3. Who Are We Talking To?
This should be self-explanatory. If you don’t know who you’re talking to this project is far too embryonic for a creative brief. At this point, you should know who your audience is and what their customer person looks like. This needs to be clearly communicated to the creative team. If you have research and detailed persona outlines, put this in an appendix. The agency teams love having a detailed understanding of who they’re talking to.
4. What’s The Deal With Your Competition?
Who’s the competition? What are they doing? Where are they finding success? When are the right market conditions? Tell us your ‘why’ statement. This information will help inform the direction that your product, service or brand will go to stand out and help focus both client and creative teams towards a clearer picture of the destination on the roadmap that is our creative brief.
5. What Is Our Key Message?
This is the biggie of the project, everything created is in service of this message. To help point the creative team in the right direction try to position the tone and style around the brand’s voice, mission and/or values. 
Thinking about the overall goal, try to distill it down to one sentence, or even a few words if possible. If this is presenting itself as a challenge, try using the Golden Circle approach to simplify your message to its core elements. From there, both teams will be able to focus on the best way to communicate it with your audience. 
6. How Are We Communicating Your Message?
Let’s get into the specifics now. What channels are you using to push your message? On a screen in a conference hall is a far different screen than your phone playing on Instagram. By narrowing down where your message will be placed, the creative team can design it to cater directly to your audience.
7. What Are The Deliverable Details?
Now it’s time to dive into the details. This is where you document exactly what needs to be developed, what mandatory elements are needed, what size the final product needs to be, how it will be produced, who’s responsible for completing a phase and who is it being passed onto. 
Let’s get a laundry list of what MUST appear on your piece. Things like logos, selling lines, legal copy, phone numbers, web address, etc. You can also help us out by identifying any possible legal pitfalls or regulatory issues. Do you have a branding guide? What are your corporate colours and fonts? Does it need to be bilingual?
This is also your chance to have some fun and join us in the creative process. Please share with us the idea you have in the back of your head, let’s call it a ‘bad ad’ or a ‘jumping off’ point. We know you have an idea of how you see things ending up, it’s time to share. Pull out the crayons and get started. If you have samples of images, brands, ads, apps, websites, or anything else that inspires, this is the time to share it. By knowing what styles, UX’s, tones, etc. that you like, the creative team and focus in on delivering your vision.
Don’t be afraid to get really into it here, the more details on the final deliverables, the more focused the creative team can be thus saving you revision costs in the long run.
8. How Is Success Measured?
Before the creative team goes nuts building the next great app, do we have tangible metrics to track that will determine growth and success? Do the current analytics account for multiple campaigns and outbound sales activities so this project can be isolated and measured on its own? 
Establishing metrics in advance for reporting data helps facilitate stronger client-agency relationships in the long run. It builds trust upon everyone delivering their tasks, and allows for insight into problem areas as they arise. Just make sure there are agreed-upon metrics so everyone knows whether goals have been reached.
9. What Are The Timelines?
Let’s face it, some projects are far simpler than others and some are multi-agency, multi-disciplinary complex projects that require a lot of detailed specs. Understanding where this project falls within the marketing mix, content calendar or marketing strategy can help outline the appropriate timeline for completion. 
Timelines are the backbone of your project and should be laid out plainly in the creative brief. Try to focus on time windows and then narrow them down to specific days after working with your creative team to fit your project into the production schedule if possible. Ultimately, each deliverable needs to have a due date, as well as a sign-off date. These timelines let the teams know what needs to be done to hit the deadline and how things may be delayed if something is not completed for the next phase.
Remember, if every job is a priority, then none of them are a priority. 
10. What Is The Budget?
Let’s talk money. What is your budget? We can tailor the job to your budget? Does your budget include hosting, media buys, delivery, and/or printing and production costs? Have you factored in translation costs, audio production, stock image/video purchases, transportation, location fees, licensing, permits, etc.?
In most cases, you’re working with a set budget based on the complexity of the project – a 15 second motion graphic ad for Facebook has a smaller budget than a live action 30 second on-location spot that includes digital and print ads to accompany it – this needs to be included in the brief and part of the discussion with the agency team. They will want to know where the flex points are to see if new ideas or techniques could be applied. 
If the agency’s quote is above your budget, talk it over with them. Quite often we’re willing to tailor a job based upon budget and needs. Through this dialogue, we can figure out realistic expectations and deliverables before jumping into the project and discovering that the budget has been burned two-thirds of the way through. 
Final Thought
Taking the time at the start of the project to think through these 10 tips, and reviewing the brief your agency sent, you’ll be able to build a creative brief that is not only thorough but effective and focused. Now armed with your creative brief, you and your agency team can build the right project for your business. 
If you would like a sample of our thorough creative brief here is a copy of Method’s that you can use as a starting point (here is our additional website brief to compliment the main brief). Now go out there and create something beautiful.
Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.

Entrepreneurship, Startup
The bags under your eyes betray the forced smile on your face. It takes twice as long to get ready in the morning, picking the right clothes feels like a monumental chore, and in the end, you’re dressed in black anyway. Stress has overwhelmed you, hampering your ability to simply pick an outfit and now you need to come up with creative and innovative ideas.
While we’ve all experienced burnout and have developed solutions to survive it, there is added pressure if you’re in a creative field, or are faced with developing a creative solution. Unfortunately, burnout can hit when you need the clearest focus to be creative. 
Some people live to work towards a deadline, crushing items off the list and squeezing a project out just in time. Others prefer to manage their time in chunks so they can methodically proceed through their days in a comfortable manner. Some people believe that their work is better when it is produced under pressure while some know their output is best when they can dedicate days on end to the task.  But there are times when no matter what your style is, it feels like stress is winning and your creativity has been zapped. During these times of creative block, it is great to be able to turn to some proven tactics outlined here to help keep your head in the game, and your creativity flowing.
Set Deadlines
Waiting until the last minute to start a project was a terrible idea back in university, and it’s even worse as a professional. But that’s never stopped any client or boss from last minute requests. One of the best time management techniques is to break big projects into smaller pieces and this can help stimulate creativity every day – taking baby steps or breaking a project into the sum of its parts. By driving yourself towards daily deadlines, that rush to hit the goal can inspire new and creative thoughts on how to complete the task. Smaller steps help you to focus as you reach each milestone and once it is achieved you can then think and concentrate on the next step.
Collaborate With Others
Stress is usually caused by other people, so it might seem like working with others is the antithesis of calming stress to be creative but it can be the exact opposite. Gathering a small team of your co-workers can help you increase the opportunity for those breakthrough moments of innovation and ideation.
Allowing yourself to listen to other ideas being generated fuels your own mind. It also comes with the added benefit of removing your head from your personal situation which is causing the stress. This gives your brain a much needed constructive distraction that can help realign your thinking. Sometimes listening and seeing what others are doing – or have done – can lead you to your own innovations and creative solutions. 
Reduce Distractions
Loud office, text messages, emails, aggressive music and more are all competing for your attention. While you might have one eye on your work and the other on the clock counting down to your deadline, distractions sneak in and become productivity vampires. Distractions pull you away from the task and pull your mind out of the zone you worked so hard to get into. 
By focusing on a single task (sometimes easier said than done while under pressure) you can improve your creativity. Giving yourself a spotlight on the task at hand can open doors of thought that you might not have expected to see. Adding in some ambient music like low-fi beats or classical have been proven to increase brain activity and also lower blood pressure, thus reducing stress. When you’re able to block out distractions your anxiety and stress go down and your mind is prone to be more creative with your thoughts. 
Take a Break
Go for a walk. Seriously, get up, grab your jacket, leave your phone and go wander for 15 minutes. Doesn’t matter where, simply get outside, breath the fresh air and soak up all that is life in your part of the world. Walking is consistently touted as one of the most underrated exercises – it is low impact, improves circulation, steadies breathing and burns those extra lunch calories. 
By leaving your workspace you get to leave your stresses on your desk for the time being. You can bring your thoughts along and take the time to untangle the problem without distractions during increased cardio activity where your brain is alert and firing on all cylinders. Walking is the perfect exercise to wake the brain and keep it clear enough so you can focus on one problem at a time. There’s truth to the CEO’s who constantly say, ‘walk with me’.
Immerse Yourself in Inspiration
Does music evoke emotions, photography inspire dreams, written verse transport you into new worlds? As we know, inspiration is supposedly everywhere, but when faced with a creative block due to stress, inspiration needs to be strategic and selective. Not just any song or playlist will do (Throwback Thursday might be fun to dance to in the shower but it might not inspire writing a pitch deck), and not every visual stimulation will connect to a dream. Being selective about your stimulation can help break down the walls of stress and lead to productive solutions.
In our modern connected world, keeping a selection of inspirational stimulants on our devices has never been easier. Finding opportunities to save playlists, images, verses, dances or more can help you build an inspiration library that you can turn to in times of stress. Think of it as another tool in your kit to stimulate creativity and innovation. 
Stop Beating Yourself Up
This one can be the hardest, especially if you’re a perfectionist. Simply the thought of missing the mark on your tasks can send you into a tailspin of negative thoughts which can become a millstone pulling your mind down into the darkness. Get in front of the negativity before it creeps up on you. While this might sound a little like a self-help TED Talk, it is important to remind yourself that you are doing fine, strike a power pose in the mirror, find a quiet corner to practice calming breathing or simply look at some cherished memories on your phone. 
The important thing is to get out of your head, to stop questioning your abilities and punishing yourself for simply being stressed. Remember, stress comes from events and actions outside of your control and while you can’t change the past, you can choose the attitude you carry into the future. Go a little easier on yourself and you’ll be surprised at how quickly your creativity and clarity of thought come back.
Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.

Design, Startup
Nothing kills the good feeling of deploying a great looking product to your audience than receiving a bill far higher than you had anticipated. Sure, there were some revisions but the back and fourth for those final little changes didn’t seem like it took too much time. If you’re not mindful of it, revision costs can cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Most studios, agencies and freelancers bill by the hour – every little colour change, type movement, image swap – is logged on a timesheet, and those little tweaks can add up fast. It doesn’t have to be this way, here are some tactics to help keep your revision costs in check, and also streamline communication with your creative team.
General practice is to provide a couple rounds of revisions – two to three – included in a quote, with anything beyond those being billed on the clock. A good account manager or freelancer will alert you when the clock starts ticking, however it’s never a bad idea to ask. A revision round is considered any change made to a file and is generally present in the file name of any creative work being sent for review (PDF’s, JPGs, PNGs, etc…) with a filename looking similar to this, sample_card_v4 (or sometimes r3). So when you see ‘4’ showing up, the clock is probably running. A good practice when working with a new studio, agency or freelancer is to understand how their billing time works; by the minute, quarter, half or full hour and when the clock starts ticking, like when a file is opened for example.
Looking for tactics to keep your company’s revision costs down? Here are five tips to help you and your team avoid extra rounds of revisions.
1. Define project goals
Although this article is about how to keep revisions under control, like most things in life, setting a project up for success at the very start always proves to be invaluable when it comes time for changes. Before any research is conducted or concepts explored, the major stakeholders of the creative project need to clearly and specifically define what the expectations are. 
For example, if a new brand is required, what are the expectations around it? What is a logo to you and your team? Is it an icon? A shape? A word mark? A combination? What does that logo stand for? What is its mission? And these are just the start of the questions on the business side of a brand, there’s a whole other world of questions around your customers and audience, but we’ll get to that in the next point.

The major stakeholders need to conduct internal research on what the project goals are, who they are serving, who will be involved in the approvals process (so they can help define the goals) and who will be the single point of contact between the company and the creative team. Knowing who is responsible for what, and who everything will funnel through can catch errors sooner and save valuable time over the course of the project.
2. Start with the brief
The brief is really where everything comes together in advance of project kickoff. It’s your opportunity to capture everything that you require from the creative team. A good creative brief will not only ask what pieces are required – Five sizes of google ads, Facebook and Instagram ready videos, business cards, and letterhead, etc – but will also explore your customer and audience personas. This is your opportunity to take the creative team on a deep dive into your request. Creative briefs should be detailed enough to give the team a clear focus on what is required while leaving them with enough leeway to do what they do best – design incredible pieces for your company. To see what should be included in a brief, here is a copy of Method’s that you can use as a starting point (here is our additional website brief to compliment the main brief).
Solution: Don’t be afraid of the details. Take the opportunity to provide visual samples (or links) to designs and work that inspires you and influenced this project. Describe the user experience you’re aiming to achieve and show some other companies that have achieved this. Before you submit the brief, be sure to get buy-in from all the stakeholders involved as this will ensure that the project it completely clear on your end helping minimize revisions in the long run. 
3. Assign one point of contact to communicate with the creative team
Studios and agencies have built their client facing department – account managers – around the proven practice of having one manager overseeing an account; being the sole point of contact between the bustling bodies of the studio and the client. This process not only eliminates broken telephone between creative departments but puts accountability for all communications through one funnel. The same practice should be applied on the client side. Consider this; there are four stakeholders on a web design project all wanting to communicate with the design team. Throughout a day, four different emails are sent, saying four different things. This not only takes time to untangle the requests, it often increases the margin of error and ultimately the number of revisions.
Solution: To avoid the phenomenon of ’too many cooks in the kitchen’, establish a single point of contact to speak with the creative team. This individual will be tasked with sorting out questions and opinions internally before connecting passing them on for execution. Sometimes it’s necessary to have a few people involved. In these cases employing the use of project management software like Asana or Airtable which will ensure that everything is logged and minimize miscommunication internally.
4. Consolidate rounds of revisions
Receiving the first version of any design project is exciting! It’s the first time you get to interact with your vision and really see what your creative team is capable of, and how well your team was able to communicate requirements. While you might be tempted to share immediate feedback (praise is always appreciated) it is inevitable that you’ll have additional ideas in a few hours, after sleeping on it and especially when other stakeholders get involved. Rapid fire revisions are not a good use of time, and pretty much instantly eat up your revision rounds. 
Solution: Book a meeting of all stakeholders to review, discuss and consolidate all revisions. Sometimes a project needs to be shared internally (even with the board) for a week or so to properly collect everyone’s feedback. This is also a situation where project management software can help keep track of requests. The added benefit of consolidating feedback is that the creative team will know the timeline of when to expect the revisions and can schedule them into the workflow keeping your project humming along on time.
5. Ensure feedback is specific and exact
When the time comes to send feedback and revisions to the creative team, specific requests that avoid vague or buzz terms ensure a clearer understanding of what you’re looking for. Nothing is worse than requests like, “make it cooler’, or “there’s something here that isn’t working”. Feedback containing really subjective terms such as ‘cool’, ‘modern’, ‘techy’, ‘relaxed’, etc… are catnip for extra rounds of revisions as the creative team is left to decipher just what ‘cool’ really is. The reason is that everyone has a different interpretation of what ‘cool’ means, and looks like. 
Solution: Don’t be afraid of the details. Avoid subjective terms altogether. Similar to the briefing stage, this is another chance to go into more detail by using visual references to explain what ‘cool’ is to you and your team. Having visual references allows the creative team to focus in on what your expectations are, without being mind readers. Don’t worry about limiting designers by getting too specific, we actually love it – it allows us to focus our energy and produce the right solution faster because we’re not guessing or lost down the wrong road. 
At the end of the day, we all want to see a successful project completion, and that includes presenting a final bill that is within the agreed upon quote. Following the tips above you’ll be able to contain overage costs and keep everything on a smooth timeline. The added bonus is that your creative team will love you! While we love billing for every little change, the reality is that doing 25 rounds of revisions is not helping anyone and is only demoralizing both teams. Happy teams produce great work and in the end builds a strong relationship that should serve you well into the future.
This blog is dedicated to my Marketing Director fiancée, who has dealt with more than her share of runaway revisions over the years. Since she has put these principals in place her team has seen great success on projects spanning the print and digital design universe.

Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.

Design, Startup
Being a designer is a dream for many. Full days creating beautiful pieces and stunning interactions. This is great for members of a design team, but it’s only the beginning for a design leader.
We’ve all seen agencies and studios promoting their skills and why they ‘know brands’. But once you look a little deeper, it becomes clear that most don’t really walk the walk – and worse, are posers copying designs and reselling them as their own original creations. While businesses are in the midst of a tectonic shift towards user experience and good design, understanding and finding the right type of design leadership for your company is critical. 
Design Thinking is here and with it comes the need for design leadership. With this, the question arises; what makes a great design leader? Here is my take on the qualities that shine through.
1. They see simplicity
Great design leaders can see problems stripped down to their bare essentials, understanding what matters and what is superfluous. They find simplicity in everything from experiences, packages, products, collateral, interfaces and methodologies. Ultimately, design leaders establish simple processes and encourage their teams towards the solutions. 
2. They know process wins arguments
Having the vision to establish creative methodologies, then developing the processes to support them is critical in separating great design leaders from everyday designers. They understand the differences between processes like Waterfall, Agile, Sprint, Scrum, etc… and have the ability to switch between them based on the project. Ultimately this will help elevate your company’s Design Thinking approach as a whole. 
3. They actually know what makes up a brand
Lots of people talk about how they know branding, yet only a fraction of them actually know what they’re talking about without the use of buzzwords. A great design leader sweats the small stuff to understand things like: 
• How a service is delivered
• How a technical product works
• How a user interacts with an interface
• How a brand becomes relevant to its buyers
• How to use innovation to solve a problem or when to innovate a new solution.

Great design leaders know brands, and more importantly, they know how to give a brand meaning. They know how to create experiences, how to be relevant and how to execute on these to bring the whole brand package together.
In every company, every touch-point has been designed. It is the responsibility of the design leader to connect the dots – to create a seamless experience that stretches from the products a company puts out into the world right down to the employee onboarding process.
4. They get empathy
Listening is a lost art, but one that great design leaders have honed in on and have learned to perfect. They ask questions, inquire and inspect. They know how to assemble great teams to compliment their strengths and those of the company at large. With the right team in place, they’re able to inspire and guide them to success. 
They laugh and cry with their team, and get their hands dirty all the time. One of the most important aspects is their ability to critique the work and not the creator. Being able to provide clear, constructive feedback enables the team to create even better work, while avoiding the built-in sinkholes of critiquing someone’s art.
5. They are futurists
Great design leaders are thinkers, always dreaming and creating solutions to today’s, tomorrow’s and next generation’s problems. While they are solving today’s problems, they are thinking four steps ahead to how their solution will impact future iterations and making necessary adjustments to minimize impacts to come.

Design Thinking drives innovation, as we discussed last week in a similar post. Design solves problems, and strategic design connects the right problems with the right solutions. Great design leaders know how to make this happen, they are probably sitting in your office right now. Maybe it’s time to tap their shoulder to learn how they would solve your product problems. 

Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.


Many first-time founders don’t realize this, but it’s crucial to understand that an investment round is not only the investor choosing the startup to invest in but also the other way around. Choosing the wrong investor can ultimately bring significant consequences which might take months or even years to correct. Recently we discussed what entrepreneurs should look for in their investors, what type of interview questions and track records they need to understand before they can bring a term sheet to the table. Today I’d like to start looking at the consequences of choosing the wrong investor for your startup.
Recognize first and foremost that you are choosing a partner, not money. People have opinions, biases, and egos, money does not. You need to go in with this mindset and imagine yourself spending significant time with this person. Do you feel a level of mutual connection and mutual respect? On the flip side, always ask yourself the proverbial airport test: if you were stuck overnight in a dirty, smoke-stained motel room on the outskirts of O’Hare Airport with this person, would live through the night, would you feel neutral, or be glad for the unexpected quality time?

What Makes An Investor Wrong?
You may not have the best fit with your investor – be it personality, background, even lack of sector expertise, but these can often be overcome. But if the motivation is wrong – if they’re just looking to offload funds before the end of the tax year, for instance – you’ll find it hard to get the conviction of an investment partner who genuinely believes in you and your business.
Other signs can be when you hit that inevitable startup valley of death: will they offer the right commitment, support, and input? It’s easy to be supportive in the optimistic glow of a raise but you need to make an assessment of how they might react when things get sticky. How did they deal with any tricky issues during your negotiation?
If investors bring little value other than cash, you may want to reconsider them as ideal partners going forward? Can they also bring advice, mentoring, industry expertise, an incumbent network? Think about the long-term too. Can they provide follow-on funding or will you have to go through all this again?

Watch for the Signs
One of the key signals is delay, delay, delay. Beware of investors who lack clarity about what they want from you and/or suddenly start rushing you into last minute, and unfavorable terms. Compare your investor’s terms with others and conduct your own due diligence on their previous investments. Ask them for contact details of investee companies and get in touch with them to find out their experience. Again, any points of resistance from your prospective investor and you need to raise the question, why?
Also, ask the question; what happens if you run out of money? What’s the follow on or strategy for further assistance? Who do they usually co-invest with? What are their feelings on syndicates?

Avoid The Temptation To Take The First Offer
Investors are bombarded with the good, bad and very ugly of business plans. They have to sift through bags of noise, before pinning their investments on the few ideas that stack up and have a fighting chance of survival.
When it comes to approaching investors, be 100% clear about what you’re looking for. Where will $Xmm take your business? What’s comes next, a bridge, mezzanine, series X? What’s your one year/five year/ten-year plan? Investors who know will be seeking this vision from you. And they will understand if their offers don’t match up to this.

Research Your Investors
Most (if not all) investors will do due diligence on you — some more than others – and I’d be wary of anyone who does not perform due diligence. If they’re not bothered to learn about you but are willing to offer an investment there will be strings attached that you might not see. Run away, now!
Similarly, you should do your own research on investors. Personally, I learned the hard way by NOT doing due diligence on my follow on investors which left me playing catch up to learn who I was speaking to and how my company needed to be presented to them. I was initially super stoked about some investors who became after-thought prospects once I talked to other entrepreneurs. And there were other investors who seemed, meh, initially that I became excited about after some digging.
How can you go about doing due diligence? One way is by reaching out to the investors (or Angel groups) investee companies and having a heart-to-heart. If you’re dealing with an Angel group, go to one of their meetings, this is a great opportunity to network, but also meet other founders who can provide valuable insights. Ask them about their experiences working with the investor or group, how they’ve been helpful, what their core value-add has been. Don’t forget to ask about the tough times too: “What happened when shit hit the fan”, What is something that could have been done better?” Trust me, every investor has their flaws, so ask a lot of questions and remember to balance it all using your own judgment.
Another way to do due diligence is to reach out to anyone in your network – entrepreneurs and anyone else connected – who know this investor and ask them for their candid thoughts. These should all be relatively quick emails that lead to an easy 5 – 10-minute phone calls. Do these steps, and anything else you can think of, it will pay off in the end.

Closing Thought
You are choosing your investors just as much as they are choosing you. Find out who they are – their strengths, weaknesses, and ways they add value to their investments – before you take the investment.

Remember, you can always say no.

Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.



Practically every startup founder has or is on the hunt for investors to seed their vision. While the wrong ones won’t necessarily ruin a company’s chances, the right ones can make your life as a founder infinitely easier through those all-too-critical initial sales. Below we look at five areas of alignment between a founder and investors and then explore five common returns entrepreneurs want from their investors.

A lot has been written about what to look for in an investment, a founder and a company, but a major part stays in the relative shadows; what founders should look for in their investors.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve found that while they are scrutinizing you, you need to be equally as diligent in learning about them. One of the magic beans to growth is having a group of seasoned, understanding, early-stage investors on your side who can turbo charge your company’s growth. Startup business is all about people in the early stages, expertly building the correct mix of development talent and product management and sales and executive strategy. Topping this team off are investors who believe in the vision, the founder and the opportunity. When all the pieces fall into place the chances of success skyrocket.

On the inverse side, if the investor is not right for you – maybe they see a quick exit but don’t believe in the vision – then the results can be disastrous.

Before signing with an individual, an angel group or larger investment organization, consider what you want to ensure your investors are aligned with you and your company.



1. Vision & Values

Many investors take an aggressively active role in startups. There’s a fine line between offering wisdom, insight, and productive thoughts and flat out taking over the direction of the company. Taking the wheel and driving the vision isn’t what you’re looking for. You need investors who understand that you’re going to make mistakes. The goal is to avoid as many as possible, but they are guaranteed to happen.


Sharing common values not only affords quick bonds of professional friendship but can help cement the right type of corporate culture early on. Having strong alignment on values will radiate from the top giving your employees a clear understanding of what the company stands for while providing the leadership to follow through on them.


2. Trust

Startups are an emotional and financial roller coaster. You’re up, you’re down, you’re upside down, wait, how did we stop sideways? Through it all, you need to remain positive, optimistic and focused Easier said than done. You’re a founder, but you’re still a person who experiences negativity, pessimism, and depression, which the startup ecosystem is finally starting to address.


Many entrepreneurs keep these feelings suppressed (I know I did, a lot). A great investor is someone you can confide in during these tough times of the journey. Trust, transparency, and understanding are some of the most powerful qualities an investor can bring to your company.


Do you trust your investors with your rawest emotions? Will they trust you to be honest about everything happening in your startup? The sooner trust, true trust, and transparency can be established, the sooner your investors can jump in to help when problems arise. 


3. Goals

Not everyone company is looking to become the next unicorn with a flashy exit and their face on the cover of Fast Company. In fact, most entrepreneurs start their businesses because they want to change the world, and they have a unique product/solution that they believe can do just that. Entrepreneurs have a burning fire inside that drives them to take smart (and sometimes foolish) risks, but those risks are all in service of the common goal of success. The right investor will be aligned with your goals and plan.


They will not act as a force to push you in another direction, or question your ultimate goals – they will challenge your assumptions and question milestone goals, which is their job as a proverbial ’third eye’ on the company – but will help you establish attainable goals that service the ultimate vision.


4. Their Desired Role

While you might have already formed a complete picture of who your investors are, and what role they will play in your startup, it’s important to understand where they are coming from. They will undoubtedly have their own concept of what role they are to play and sometimes those visions are not in alignment. Ask yourself, does your investor need to be:


Active: Someone who is intimately involved in the business, on a near day-to-day basis. Someone who has the company’s best interests at heart and believes in it so much they’re essentially a co-founder?


Passive: Someone who can help finance the business, but has no desire to be involved in the operations and would prefer to receive quarterly (or monthly) reporting on the health and growth of the business?


Advisor: Someone who can be involved on a weekly basis? Someone who can work with the executive team to help guide them through the weeds?


CEO Mentor: This is someone who could actually encompass an active investor and an advisor. Someone who has an active interest in the operations of the business, but takes a specific interest in growing the CEO’s potential so they can slowly extract themselves from the operations as the CEO realizes their own skills to effectively lead the business to scale. 


This type of planning comes out through conversations and building the relationship while bringing the prospective investor into the fold. Just remember to go into these conversations with an open mind and flexibility so you can both aim to meet in the middle, or better yet, on the founder’s side.



5. Positivity

Everyone is happy at the start, but how we act under pressure reveals our true selves. This could not be truer when dealing with someone who has put their own, hard-earned money into your venture and trusted you to produce results. Aligning yourself with someone who has a positive outlook, and knows that there will be ups and downs can help be a steady hand when things get rocky, but also a much-needed boost of enthusiasm for beleaguered founders in times of need.


Now you have an idea of how you should be aligned, it is time to ask, what do you want from them?


1. Strategic Expertise

Strategic expertise is real-world experience. An amazing MBA GPA doesn’t count – theory and case studies are great, but clean hands don’t build buildings. You want someone that has gotten their hands dirty. They’ve lived on instant ramen and spent years of their life building something great. They know what it means to be an entrepreneur in practice, not just in theory. 


The best investors leave decisions in your hands and respect your authority as CEO, but they’re also not afraid to speak their minds and voice thoughts and concerns that they’ve amassed through experience. If they’ve invested in a company like yours before – or even run one – then they’ll have first-hand knowledge of the various pitfalls and opportunities that lie ahead of you.


To become an entrepreneur is to embrace failure every day. An experienced investor has made errors of their own and typically, they’ll be able to tell you how to avoid them. If you’re going to make mistakes, they might as well be new ones! An investor who has ‘been there, done that’, is the one you want behind you, championing your company.


2. Contacts

The importance of this one is self-explanatory. A robust network of connections within your company’s industry can help quickly forge important early partnerships and customers to help make your first sales. As a founder, you should reach out to investors who have specific industry connections in your specific industry segment.


An investor who has 10 years of experience in your industry is far more valuable than an investor who has 30 years of experience in a completely unrelated industry. Do your due diligence on any investor you’re speaking with and figure out who they know and how long they’ve known them – these could be your key connections moving forward. Platforms like LinkedIn, AngelList, and good old-fashioned telephone calls are your best bet here. Don’t be afraid to ask about the connections you consider valuable. While LinkedIn might say they’re connected, they might have met once at a conference but cannot offer any more of an open door than a direct message via Twitter could offer.


3. Successful Track Record/Serial Entrepreneur

Ideally, you will find an investor who has either been an entrepreneur themselves or has invested in early-stage companies that have gone on to be successful. If they’ve built a company that has successfully exited, or if they’ve invested in a company that has, they will know what it takes to punch above their weight and scale a company to success.


Having an individual with a reputable name as an investor or serial entrepreneur can afford your company a sense of competence and prominence in the marketplace that could have taken years to build up if you follow the bootstrapping path to growth.


If your investor can point to past successes in your industry or other relevant industries, that should give you confidence that they’re good to work with. Even better if they can point to specific examples of how their influence helped businesses like yours grow and achieve their potential.


4. Mentorship

Particularly in the early stages of your relationship with your investors, you will need to be comfortable working with them on a fairly regular basis, taking the opportunity to become a sponge for knowledge and knowing how to manage their expectations and their opinions about how things should be done. While the ultimate decisions fall to you as the founder, there will be certain situations where your investor’s experience will be far greater than your own and you’ll need to let them call the shots (behind the scenes). Taking this opportunity to learn and be mentored by someone who has been there and done that can tremendously aid your development as an entrepreneur – after all, you don’t know what you don’t know.


However, giving up the reigns can sometimes be difficult for founders, particularly first time entrepreneurs who are used to making all decisions. The test for this is to ask yourself when speaking to potential investors if you would be happy working for them if they were the ones running the business. If you wouldn’t be comfortable with that, then they may not be the investor for you.


5. Straight Talk

Entrepreneurs are emotionality invested in their business, how could you not be! This is your baby, you conceived the idea, poured many sleepless nights into forming it, took the risk to strike out on your own and have grown it to today. 


For many founders, their company becomes a part of their personal identity. This makes it very difficult for entrepreneurs to step outside of themselves and think about things from an objective perspective. Great investors help the entrepreneur see situations from a different point of view. They’re able to present the third eye approach to problems and give you the straight goods on where the pratfalls may lay, and more importantly, advise on the best course of action to find the right solution. 


They know you’re personally invested, but they’re financially invested so it is in their best interests to give it to you straight and quickly so that solutions, pivots or dodges can occur and you can get on with building the next unicorn. 


While these are some of the areas of alignment and wishes to have in an investor, by no means is this a complete list. Each company has its own unique needs and requirements. Each investor has their own checklist for due diligence on a founder. It is where they meet in the middle that the great partnerships are formed and the founder and investor work together to build to scale. 

Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.


“That seems like a lot for a freelancer, why don’t we find a cheaper junior option?” And with those words, the start of the project from hell came to be. Not because the project had crazy requirements, but because in the quest to save some cash, a founder hired a lower cost freelancer only to get stuck in revision purgatory and with it, a vicious final bill that was over triple the intended project cost. 
Lots of entrepreneurs face the dilemma – hiring in-house or freelancer? Junior or senior? Think about it in this frame:
• You can hire a full-time senior creative (designer, writer, etc…) for $120,000 per year,
• You can hire a freelance senior creative for $120 per hour.
What is right for your business, of course, depends on where your business is. Some examples of when it’s time to hire a freelancer, and if spending less is a good idea are:
• Have you started marketing?
• Have you raised a Series A?
• Is your internal marketing team stretched beyond their skill sets?
• Do you need a part-time Chief Creative Officer?
• Is your brand strong, or is it time to build a professional, robust brand?
• Is advertising part of the plan?
Saving money is great, but there are discernible downsides when it comes to low-cost freelancers, such as:
• Saving money, but quality could be questionable,
• Saving money, but revision costs could eat up any savings,
• Saving money, but projects could take longer due to misunderstandings (and not knowing when to ask for help),
• Saving money, but no oversight that your freelancer is billing accurately,
• Saving money, but dealing with a junior that doesn’t know what they don’t know, and you end up paying for their education.
Most creative freelancers on the market are senior talent, individuals who have honed their skills over the decades working in agencies, production houses or studios. These creatives have seen it all, and have a wealth of experience and knowledge to draw upon. Most importantly, they know what they don’t know and are not afraid to ask questions. 
The disturbing trend recently, with the advent of Fiver, Upwork or 99Designs (to name a few), is that juniors are joining the ranks of freelance creatives. While they have great ideas and undoubtedly skilled portfolios, they lack experience in dealing with clients. Worryingly enough, their confidence masks that they truly don’t know what they don’t know, so they don’t know what questions to ask. This is where revision purgatory starts.
Consider this low cost scenario: The project starts off well, the work produced looks great on screen but then all of a sudden when part of the project needs to live in the real world – away from screens and on printed pieces – the colours look dull, the front and back don’t align and the fonts didn’t work. Everything now needs to be reformatted and reprinted. Costing you not only double in print costs, but also in revision costs, not to mention your marketing team’s time in dealing with everything. It turns out your junior freelancer only has experience in digital design and has never produced for print before. 
While a company might see savings through junior talent, those savings can be eaten up through miscommunications, excessive rounds of revisions and overall poor client/project management. All of a sudden the senior creative seems very reasonable and might be the best solution to troubleshoot the project to completion. 
To help pick the best solution for your company, start by doing a thorough portfolio review. Quantity does not always equal quality, and most top creatives will only present a handful or projects; the ones they are the proudest of. When interviewing a junior, their portfolio might look great, but how do you know it is their work? Always ask specific questions about their creative rationale. If it’s shaky or doesn’t add up, they might have plagiarized it. Ask to see a copy of their creative brief. This is the window into their thinking by learning what type of questions they ask of you, and how deep are they willing to dive to learn about your needs? You can also ask to read testimonials or references from their past (or current) clients to understand what it is like working with them. As seasoned marketers, you know what flags to look for in this process.
At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for producing creative marketing for any company, however, there are steps you can take to decide which freelancer is right for your business – junior or senior – and what the ramifications could ultimately be when discovering that you truly get what you pay for. 
Do you have a creative project that needs troubleshooting? Or are debating what freelance option you should look for? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and review your needs, find the holes and propose solutions to get your brand on track.

“We really need some design help on this! Should we get an agency, or does anyone know a good freelancer?”
This phrase has been uttered one way or another in practically every startup’s office within their first year of business, and it leads to the common dilemma, agency vs. freelancer?
In my career – which spans running an agency, working as a freelancer, and helping startups as an advisor and consultant – I’ve heard this question countless times. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. However, there is a framework that I use to help startups decide what kind of design help is right for them.
All too often, companies start by evaluating different freelancer and agency options without really understanding their needs. Just like starting a marketing plan, you need to know where you want to go and have defined goals before you can know which content outsourcing option is right for you.
The first thing you need to do is understand the difference between the two:
A freelancer is an individual who is self-employed. They are selling a specific service to you and are usually the only person working on your project.
An agency is a full-service team. They will provide you with an account manager to manage your business. They then have a team of designers, art directors, copywriters, media buyers and strategic planners at their disposal.
What Does Your Business Need?
The next step is to ask yourself (or your team) some questions about the project and consider the following:
  1. What kind of work do you need executed?
  2. What is the size of the project?
  3. What is the complexity of the job? Does it need an efficient team or can it be achieved by a skilled individual?
  4. What is the budget?
  5. What is the timeline? 
From these 10,000 foot questions, you can dive into the deeper questions that are applicable to your specific situation. These don’t necessarily cover all the questions but are a good start for branding, marketing and product development.
  1. Do you need a logo? Are you looking to establish your brand? Do you need a complete visual identity to reinforce what the brand means?
  2. Do you expect an informal deliverable (e.g. a logo with rough brand guidelines) or a comprehensive package including brand vision, voice, and use guidelines?
  3. Do you need help with the content, messaging, and structure of your marketing website?
  4. Do you need help with your social media strategy? Do you need support over time to execute that strategy?
  5. What about advertising, email campaigns, product videos, analytics, or marketing insights?
  6. Do you plan to build a marketing department internally, or are you focused on product design and engineering?
  7. Do you know what problem your product is solving, and for whom?
  8. Do you need help designing and testing your product?
  9. Have you figured out how all the pieces are going to fit together — stories, content, screens, UI/UX,  video, animation?
  10. Do you need a polished, sophisticated product at this stage? Or just a basic functional interface that will capture the attention of users and the imagination of investors?
With answers to these questions, you can limit your search to the agencies and freelancers who specialize in the kind of work you need. Listen to what kind of work they say they do, but don’t forget to look at their portfolio for concrete examples of the kind of deliverables you expect.
Where Are You As A Business?
Once you’ve figured out what you need, you’ll want to consider the state of your business — size, stage, culture, etc — so you can look for help that will be a great fit.
Traditionally, creative teams evaluate potential clients along three main verticals, which you can also use to evaluate your business as well:
How fast is your business growing? Is your primary focus to continue feeding and accelerating growth? Or do you plan to evolve more slowly, refining the technology and product while looking for the right application along the way?
Where is your company headed? Are you offering a specialized product that’s aiming for a specific result? Or are you defining a new business, paving the way as you go? Or maybe your business is so disruptive that it will affect an entire culture.
How easy would it be to shift your focus if you identified a more attractive business goal? Would you be slowed by infrastructure, investors, team, or culture? Or would you be able to react nimbly to the new opportunity you identified?
Finding Your Solution
Let’s use your answers to find a good starting point for your search. Here are a few examples that should help you decide where to look for your company’s design needs.
Big Agency
Our company is focused on a clear target market (direction) and we need to move quickly (agility). We can’t afford to make mistakes. We’ve passed our Series A and are well funded. We need an experienced team that offers a range of top-level services. 
In this example, your team probably needs a big agency.
Small Agency 
Our company is growing rapidly due to unexpected demand, but we’re not quite sure where we’ll level out, or how our focus may change along the way (pivot anyone?). We’ve received our seed financing, and have had a couple of bridge loans to help us along to our Series A. We need a team that can run with us, adapting as needed and growing with us. 
In this example, your team probably needs a small agency.
Our company is just got our seed funding. We have a really great idea, but the target market isn’t entirely clear. There’s not a major sense of urgency or competitive pressure to go-to-market, we need to make sure our product-market fit is right first. We need a partner who can help us explore and experiment with limited cost and uncertain expectations.
In this example, your company probably needs a freelancer. 
Big Agency
A big agency has over 100 staff, usually around 250 – 500 in each office and are frequently (but not always) multi-national corporations with offices around the world that can pull from a massive network of talent and media connections. They tend to service Fortune 500 type brands and mostly produce consumer-facing traditional advertising and branding solutions.
Small Agency
A small agency is usually fewer than 50 people – lead by a team of experienced senior specialists who in turn lead smaller teams of junior and intermediate account managers, art directors, copywriters and media planners. They frequently call in support for photography, animation, video production, audio production and other specialist skills from trusted freelancers with whom they have long established relationships.
A freelancer is usually a highly skilled senior specialist (design, copywriting, front-end development, photography, video production, animation, etc) who has established their career in big and small agencies over a 15-20 year period. They know their craft and can help guide you along acting not only as a hired gun, but as a mentor to educate you and your team on their specific discipline. 

However, not all freelancers are senior specialists. More and more frequently freelancers are bidding on jobs with only a couple of years experience in the industry. These are the ones to watch out for, their lower cost might fit your budget now, but the long-term cost in foresight planning, revisions and mistakes can end up costing your company multiples of the initial project fee. This is a much larger topic, which I’ll be discussing in a couple of weeks in a blog focusing on the tradeoffs of spending less on writing/creative (and is it worth it).

Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.