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How to Build a Solid Freelancer Pool for your In-House Agency

Like any deadline-driven business, the workflow at in-house agencies tends to be feast or famine. It can be difficult to predict what will come in the door next. Most in-house teams rely on full-time staff to cover the majority of work typical for their team. However, a flexible staffing model is essential for managing workload peaks, valleys and specialized service requests experienced by every agency. 

The many benefits of utilizing a flexible staffing model include:

  • Cost savings. You only pay for talent when you need them and not when you don’t. 
  • Employee retention. There’s no need to overstaff with FTEs (full-time employees) during peak periods, only to be faced with going through layoffs later. Utilizing freelancers provides a buffer to full-time staff when work slows down. Offering more stability to your FTEs helps to increase their retention.
  • Right butts in seats. Your full-time staff can focus on what they do best, and the freelancers can handle the more specialized work as needed.
  • Succession planning. While utilizing freelancers, you are building a pool of proven talent who can potentially move into your next full-time opening.
  • Improved quality. Outside freelancers bring in new creative concepts, innovative ways of doing things and fresh ideas.

Here’s the good news! Most agencies are already using freelancers. According to the 2019 In-House Creative Industry Report, 89% of in-house agencies are utilizing contingent staff and 86% are either maintaining or increasing their spend on freelancers this year. The key to utilizing freelancers is to have a solid, broad and deep bench… but where to start?

1. Understand the needs.
When building a talent bench, it‘s important to evaluate the business and potential upcoming projects and determine where help will be needed. Is it overflow help for a large initiative, or a specialized skill that is not currently found among your current full-time staff? The following questions need to be answered prior to recruiting:

  • What hard and soft skill sets are needed?
  • How many hours of work are expected per week or month?
  • Can the work be handled off site or does it require on-site availability? KEY INSIGHT: We strongly recommend utilizing off-site freelancers when possible. It will greatly expand the available talent pool and provide a greater ability to truly use freelancers on an ad-hoc basis.
  • Can the work be handled after hours or must the individuals be available during a standard business day?

2. Proactively recruit.
Contingent team members are critical to the success of projects and departments, and therefore the recruitment process must be treated accordingly. Look to partner with a staffing agency that specializes in creative services such as The BOSS Group. Use the same type of recruitment search that’s conducted to fill full-time roles, and be sure to let candidates know that the goal is to identify freelancers who are open to developing a relationship that will be beneficial to both parties.

Our specialty is creative, marketing and digital staffing. We do it well!
Contact The BOSS Group

3. Engage in interviews.
As is customary for filling any open position, interview top candidates—preferably in person or by video conference, when possible. Understand what the candidates are capable of from a skill set standpoint, but also what commitment they are able to make to the bench. For example: Do they currently support other clients? Are they able to come on-site for collaborative meetings? How much notice would they need to start a project? Are there any days when they are unavailable to work? 

4. Onboard the candidates.
Onboard these candidates utilizing an abbreviated version of your current onboarding process and ensure they have the equipment and tools they need to execute their responsibilities (whether they use company-issued tools or their own equipment). Spend time training on job- and operational-specific details, along with the studio’s goals, mission and values as well. These individuals should truly feel as if they’re part of the overall team, regardless of their status. KEY INSIGHT: All onboarding should be completed well in advance of assigning them work. This way, when a project hits, the individual can start without any delays.

5. Organize the bench.
Create a list, spreadsheet or database that can help track available freelancers. Specify skill set, level of experience, availability and pay rates in order to accurately align the right resources with the right projects.

6. Use them.
KEY INSIGHT: Provide the freelancers a project within one month of onboardingeven if it’s something small—to further evaluate their skills. This will show the freelancers that the agency is committed to working with them, and it deepens their loyalty to help on future projects.

7. Maintain freelancer relationships.
To keep in touch, set up a communication plan with the bench, provide feedback and give them updates on projects in the pipeline. KEY INSIGHT: Be proactive in maintaining these relationships to ensure a healthy bench. If there is no foreseeable work for an individual, be transparent and, if necessary, formally offboard him/her from the bench. Do not completely cut all communication without notice, as this will hurt your employment brand and your ability to add freelance staff in the future.

8. Repeat and review.
Consistently review your bench to ensure you have the right people, in a quantity that fits the work requirements. If the current freelancers are critically busy, or generally unavailable, then consider bringing in additional help. Just start the process over and follow steps 1 though 8!

Having a reliable talent bench provides the flexibility to expand and contract your workforce as the business dictates. Proactively onboarding freelancers, takes the stress out of aligning the right resources with the right project work. In addition to hitting deadlines with ease, the entire organization will benefit from an elevated level of creative and innovation. Not to mention a better bottom line—it’s a true win/win!


Maria Sommer

Maria Sommer has 15 years of Creative, Marketing, and Digital talent management experience. She currently holds the role of Senior Director, Talent Management at Cella Consulting and is responsible for developing and overseeing strategic staffing operations for our Managed In-House Agency clients. Maria holds a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from Penn State University, as well as a Certificate in Digital Media from Moore College of Art and Design. She lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with her husband and boy/girl twins. 

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