Best (Solo) Practices:
Getting Contract Work
September 13, 2015
Photos and summary by Paul Nylander, Solopreneurs committee member
Kicking off the AIGA Solopreneurs three-part series was the September 9 panel discussion, “Best (Solo) Practices: Getting Contract Work.” Held at COCO Uptown, this discussion was moderated by our committee’s own Michelle Schulp, who led four panelists through the gamut of the contractor experience.
The panelists represented a diverse range of advertising, design, in-house, and freelance creative services buyers: Ryan Libby, director of studio services at Martin Williams and co-owner of 612Brew; Reid Peifer, partner with Modern Tribe; Rick Dupré, senior art director and brand manager with Allianz Life; and Jenn Morgan, independent project manager.
Why contractors are hired
For every freelance or contract designer, the panel stressed the need to be authentic to yourself, and realistic about the environment. Contractors are hired universally for budgetary reasons: because a particular specialized skill isn’t (yet) needed full time or additional hands are needed for a large or quick-turn project. By contracting with individuals, a client or intermediate agency avoids the overhead costs associated with hiring an employee directly, or commissioning a multi-person agency with its own overhead built in.
How to get hired
It takes more than just skills to earn successful repeat business: How you interact with the in-house team is equally important. That is, assuming you are connected in the first place. Doing good work, making a positive impression, and networking are essential. A high-quality presentation of work on your website may attract their attention, but generally our panelists go with whatever route gets them to the right person most quickly — word of mouth is huge, but follow-up and perseverance are essential. Be prepared to wait: A first meeting may not lead to work for months, depending on how urgent their needs are. In the meantime, keep the relationship alive with periodic updates.
Read the fine print
The actual contract of contractual work makes many newcomers nervous; the panel’s advice is to be open and upfront with questions. Virtually everything in the contract you’ll be asked to sign is negotiable. At a minimum, be sure you understand what you are signing; especially when it comes to non-compete and non-disclosure clauses, payment terms, and the right to use work in your portfolio.
Renegotiating a contract at renewal time is a perfectly normal part of business, so be sure to discuss your needs and value early in the renewal process — before you sit down to sign the documents. Be realistic: Your rate for a well-organized agency that takes care of the operational details will probably be lower than the fee you charge a direct client where you have to manage all the costs yourself. Agencies and clients know the market rate just as well as you do.
Communication is key
As with any work environment, open communication is critical, both for remote and on-site projects. The panelists stressed that every client or employer wants to see you focused on them and their work by digging in, really understanding the project and their firm’s process, and bringing your energy and enthusiasm with you every time you meet.
Special thanks to our venue host, COCO Uptown (www.explorecoco.com).