Freelance Design Work for In-House Teams

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indexConference presenter Andy Epstein joined us for a live chat as part of HOW Design Live Online, sharing his insights on freelance designers working on in-house teams.

Andy Epstein started his career as a freelance designer and illustrator. Jumping into the world of in-house in 1992, Andy created and grew in-house design teams for Commonwealth Toy and Gund. He later restructured and expanded the hundred-person creative team at Bristol-Myers-Squibb and consulted at Johnson & Johnson. After a three year stint at Designer Greetings leading an in-house design team responsible for the company’s product lines and Point Of Sales materials, Andy has moved back into pharma heading up a 65+ managed services team for The BOSS Group at Merck

At HOW Design Live, Andy presented a session that looked at various in-house staffing models by exploring full-time, part-time and freelance talent engagement options as well as adaptive team structures. Andy will also cover other critical topics, including the creation and management of a flexible and geographically diverse group and associated best practices, technology solutions and appropriate working environments. Watch the session at HOW Design Live Online—extended to June 29!

Check out what Andy had to say in this excerpt from the chat session, and register for HOW Design Live Online to catch more sessions with your favorite conference presenters.

Freelance Design Work for In-House Teams

Andy Epstein: There are many options available when it comes to appropriately organizing and staffing an in-house team. There are also many variables that need to be considered when designing the best approach. This event is a great opportunity to discuss specific approaches unique to your groups. Questions?

Adrienne: Hello Andy. I’m an in-house designer who would like to move to full-time freelance in a few years. Do you feel that there will be increase in freelancers on in-house teams over the next few years? And, what can I do to ensure that I set the stage so that I can be one of the freelancers my company works with when the time comes?

Andy Epstein: The use of freelancers by in-house teams, and by other corporate departments for that matter, is definitely on the rise. Depending on the source, contract workers as a percentage of the entire workforce could reach 50% in the next 10 years. The fact that you already have in-house experience, Adrienne, already positions you as a desirable candidate for an in-house group as a freelancer because you understand the culture (a big plus for in-house hiring managers). Working with staffing firms can help when you make the leap. Also, emphasizing your in-house experience and associated soft skills like your communication and collaborative skills will make you more valuable. One other quick note: If you have skills in multiple disciplines such as print AND interactive, you’ll be more likely to be considered for in-house freelance gigs.

Ed: Hey, my name is Ed. Thanks for chatting Andy. My question is whether you feel that there will be increase in freelancers over all in the next few years?

Andy Epstein: Hi Ed – As I mentioned in my previous response – yes absolutely. In-house teams are being called on by upper management to be more flexible, both in the number of people they engage for workload ebbs and flows as well as skill sets.

Kendra: Hi Andy! Thanks for being here. I haven’t had a chance to watch your session yet, but I will soon! I just wanted to jump in while you’re here. I’m working on starting a freelance business. What all do I need to consider if I’m interested in working with an in-house team? How do I even get started working alongside an in-house team?

Andy Epstein: Partnering with staffing agencies who already have relationships with in-house clients is one way to get a foot in the door, Kendra. Also, I’d say flexibility is a plus. Many in-house groups like their freelance staff to be available to work on site at least for some of their engagement. Being a good fit culturally is also a big consideration. Working in-house requires good soft business skills as well as a resilient positive attitude and realistic expectations about what types of jobs you’ll be working on and how much control you’ll have over those assignments. The level and breadth of your skills as showcased in your portfolio will also, of course be a major consideration. One quick tactical suggestion – it will definitely help if you create a well-designed and easily accessible online portfolio.

Ed: With more freelancers out there and ready to work for in-house teams, it’s pretty obvious that some in-house processes need to change to welcome outside contributors. In your session you mentioned that one way to make freelancers feel part of the team is to have them park in the same lot. What are some other suggestions?

Andy Epstein: Great question, Ed. Companies typically offer their employees incentives beyond a benefits package that can include child care, discounts at company cafeterias, access to fitness centers and special corporate em,ployed recognition events like picnics. They should make these same special benefits available to their freelance/contract worker employees. It’s always amazed me how often they don’t.

Kendra: That’s excellent advice, thank you! Do you have any tips for boosting the visibility of my online portfolio?

Andy Epstein: I’m not sure in-house hiring managers typically proactively go looking for talent online. I think a better approach, Kendra, is to research companies where you’d like to work and make a personalized pitch to them by sending them a creative email or promo pack that highlights your interest in working with them and what’s special about you that would make you a good fit with their team.

Adrienne: As an in-house team member, I see the benefits of having freelancers work with us. We don’t need to pay for benefits, and they are able to focus on one project at a time. On the other end, what is the benefit for freelancers to choose in-house agency work over other clients like, say, restaurant owners who need a rebrand. Is it more lucrative?

Andy Epstein: In-house teams often like to work with the same freelancers on an ongoing basis so one plus is the opportunity for steady work. I’d also say that in-house groups might be more willing to give freelancers they work with opportunities to expand their skill sets by working on assignments a little outside of their specific area of expertise. Also, if you’re looking to go perm – it’s a great way for both you and them to test the waters and see if it’s a mutual good fit.

Ed: Overall, what are the main things in-house managers look for when hiring outside talent? How do I make myself attractive to them?    

Andy Epstein: I’d say that if you have skills in multiple disciplines and can showcase your soft skills – that you’re a team player, have good writing and verbal communication skills and have an understanding of the industry the companies you’re approaching are in, you’ll have a leg up on other candidates.

Kendra: Gotcha, that makes sense. If I were to freelance for an in-house firm, do you think I can expect to be paid similarly (or more or less) than I would working directly with other clients? I’m sure there’s a lot of variation, but maybe a general idea?     

Andy Epstein: In-house teams are more inclined to pay talent on an hourly basis as opposed to by project. In my experience, they pay the same as design firms and ad agencies. You’re really looking at the difference of being paid on a project basis as opposed to hourly, Kendra.

Ed: Good point about soft skills. What’s the best way to familiarize myself with other industries? Would you recommend reading blogs or digging in online?  

Andy Epstein: The best way is to visit the websites of the companies you’re interested in approaching. A close second is to go to the websites of industry-wide organizations.


120_HDLOnline1For more information from Epstein, you can watch his session at HOW Design Live Online.

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