Adding a new service to your in-house team’s roster can require a leap of faith and as with any leap, there are risks. My experience with building the business has been with adding copywriting services, but I suspect the story, and some of the lessons, may be applicable to other creative services as well.
For two years, our team experienced limited copywriting needs. We got by using freelancers and our more experienced editors but because there wasn’t enough business to support creating a full-time role, every time we did get a request for copywriting, it was a mad scramble.
The business though, began to slowly change. More requests trickled in, sometimes in spurts that were difficult to support. We had a good pool of freelancers to call on, but it wasn’t enough. Early this year, after a series of missteps—including one solid freelancer breaking down and a few near misses on support—I decided it was time to pull the trigger and risk adding a team member to support copywriting on a regular basis. The biggest risk was that if I couldn’t keep the copywriter utilized, we wouldn’t be able to recover the cost of employing him or her through our chargebacks, leaving us in a negative budget situation.
Fortunately, my manager was supportive (the business needs reinforced the request, after all), and one of our freelancers was excited to expand her role. We officially added a Copywriter position. I stressed to our new team member that, as a department, we didn’t know how to use a copywriter and that it would be a learning experience for everyone.
Boy, was it! We had established weekly check-ins to assess her workload and had three very different Fridays in a row: At week one, we weren’t sure if there was enough work to truly support the role. By week two, things seemed just right. At week three, we needed to bring in freelancers to support our new copywriter. “If you build it, they will come,” and indeed they did.
Roughly six months later, while we’re still fine-tuning the service, I believe we’ve downgraded from “recurring pain” to “periodic stress.” If I had it to do over again, though, there are a couple of things I would have done differently:
- Because we had trouble defining our real needs—as opposed to reacting to rushed requests—it was difficult to proactively define the role we needed. Turns out that once we got a copywriter in, folks were very excited to work with her on other functions, like brainstorming and concepting. Our “copywriter” quickly evolved into a broader “communications specialist.” In the future we’ll survey team members and clients before launching a new service.
- In addition to having difficulty defining the role, we also didn’t define project initiation protocols or the working relationships associated with the new copywriter. As a result, as people worked successfully with our copywriter/communications specialist, they grew so comfortable with her that they circumvented her manager (me) and began requesting her services directly. This meant that I quickly lost sight of her workload—and my ability to prioritize her projects and protect her from burnout! To address this problem we put a process in place for requesting her services. We then educated the appropriate stakeholders on how to make those requests.
- Similarly, as I mentioned, we didn’t pre-define working relationships. How would this new communications specialist role (very different from the freelance copywriters we’d used previously) interact with our art directors or creative director? What would happen when copywriting was requested, but the content lead later assessed that an editor would be more appropriate? We’ve addressed these types of issues on an ad hoc basis, but it would have been beneficial to do so beforehand: it’s always easier to create new work habits than replace flawed ones.
Despite all the bumps, we’re in a much better place than we would have been without the addition of our in-house communications specialist. The time was right, whether we were ready or not. Six months into the Great Copywriting Experiment of 2014, it’s been a resounding success. Our communication specialist is universally respected and appreciated by her teammates and our clients— and has already helped the team win multiple awards!
The lesson here? Don’t be afraid to take the leap of faith and build your business, but look before you do or you might sprain an ankle.
George Krubski has two decades of experience as an editor, writer, and manager. He has helped build, rebuild, or develop editorial teams at a half-dozen organizations. He currently works for The BOSS Group at Merck, where he is an Associate Studio Manager, overseeing an editorial team two-dozen strong and implementing studio-wide initiatives.