Small Agencies Need Quality Control for Contract Workers

How Do You Hire Freelancers Without Risking Client Relationships?

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One of the challenges for small agencies is recruiting top talent, both from an economic standpoint and the number of quality opportunities that could entice them your way. We compete with larger agencies with some disadvantage. However, that doesn't mean we don't have a shot. Recruiting top talent to your shop is possible -- in some ways the talent will find a small agency more desirable. However, small agencies find it challenging to be deep on the bench should a star player leave or a wave of work sweeps in. You have to be able to maintain quality on a moment's notice.

Many agencies maintain quality with hired guns. When things get hectic, it's an obvious way to keep quality high and overhead low. The problem is finding and maintaining relationships with quality people. And every small-agency owner has experienced the horror of hiring someone untested. Many times I'd rather work all night doing it myself than putting my relationship in the hands of someone who may not have his or her head in the game.

A couple of years ago I met Julie Bowman. Julie is probably best known for her work on Tabasco, a personal favorite of mine, so it was fun to get to know the person behind the great work. After going freelance landed her a load of work, Julie decided to spread the wealth by starting a creative resource called Giant Noodle. In effect, she is a matchmaker between agencies and the creative brainpower they need. She goes beyond aligning jobs to available personnel. She matches personalities and style of work as well.

Firms like Giant Noodle help agencies quickly find a particular type of creative person: top award winners with senior-level experience and proven track records of success. This specialization is an example of how sophisticated the contract-work segment of our industry has become. It also reflects the needs of our industry. You need contract work, but you also don't want to risk client relationships with unscreened candidates.

Quality is more important than ever. There is little to no room for error. Relationships with clients are as solid as your last offering. So when the need arises for supplemental help, quality is like flood insurance: You hate paying for it until the storm comes roaring into view.

Fortunately, technology has leveled the playing field for small agencies. Talent once available only to larger agencies is more affordable than ever. For example, there is no need to fly people in or put them up. You only need to pay the rate and use Skype.

Is your agency using contract labor in a productive way? I invite you to share with our readers what you find works well and what you wish worked better.

Bart Cleveland is partner, creative director, McKee Wallwork Cleveland, Albuquerque, N.M.
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