Why Managing a Creative Team Is So Hard (and 5 Tips to Do It Better)

Suzanne Scacca.
February 15, 2018
Why Managing a Creative Team Is So Hard (and 5 Tips to Do It Better).
Starting any new business venture is exciting. You’re free from the shackles of corporate life and you’re finally able to control your own schedule, rates, client base, and workflow. Life as a freelance web design professional rocks, doesn’t it? But what happens when you rock it too hard? In other words, you have too much work coming in and not enough time or energy to throw at it without compromising on quality. You want to be a successful and happy freelancer, but you know something has got to give as your design business grows. When you’ve decided you’ve had enough of the long hours, perpetually high levels of stress, and waning output of creativity and productivity, it’s time to start hiring. But it’s not as simple as hiring a few contractors to outsource work to. Managing a creative team for your web design business can be difficult if you’re not properly prepared to handle it.

5 Tips for Successfully Managing a Creative Team

So, you’ve decided it’s time to get assistance for your business. Here are 5 tips to keep in mind when managing your new creative team:

1. Decide Who Will Manage Them

You run a web design business, which means you need creatives to round out your offering and offload some of your work. This may entail hiring:
  • Web designers
  • Web developers
  • Copywriters
  • Video designers
  • Animators
Ideally, you should start with hiring people to cover tasks that are not within your wheelhouse. This may include hiring a creative director or production manager if you don’t feel up to the task of managing a creative team yourself. Consider the following:
  • Do you enjoy building relationships with coworkers?
  • Do you handle conflict well?
  • Have you been told that you are a good coach or trainer?
  • Do you enjoy leading meetings and brainstorming sessions?
  • Do you give practical, helpful, and positive feedback to others?
  • Do you enjoy receiving feedback from others?
If you answered “no” to more than three of these questions, then add creative director to your list of new hires. If you answered “yes” to more than three of these questions, then you’ll do a fantastic job managing your creative team and can keep reading for more management tips.

2. Understand What They Do

One of the more frustrating parts about working as a freelancer is when clients—and sometimes managers—claim that the work is “easy”. While it may be true that a design layperson can use a program like Canva and “design” an image for a website, or a manager can craft an op-ed for a blog, the quality of work these untrained individuals produce won’t match the quality of work you get from well-trained and educated creatives. Of course, you already understand this as a web design freelancer. However, do you really understand what goes into the web development process and why it may take a programmer a month to complete a website? Or how about copywriting? Do you understand the intricacies involved in optimizing content not just for user readability, but also for search engines? While I’m not saying you need to train in each of these fields, it’s a good idea to have an understanding of what each of your team members do. That way, when they encounter an issue or push back on a request you’ve given them, you understand the underlying reason behind it.

3. Encourage Controlled Creativity

In your line of work, you know that clients don’t always appreciate unique or experimental designs, which can make the management of creative freelancers somewhat difficult. While you don’t want to stifle anyone’s creative efforts, you also don’t want too many deviations from client-mandated guidelines to constantly put you behind schedule or over budget. In order to pull off this balancing act:
  • Provide team members with a formal training process that acquaints them with how to use style guides and abide by best practices.
  • Always give your team clear guidelines and instructions with each new project.
  • Encourage creative input from your team. You can do this with regular brainstorming sessions that allow them to contribute to your design strategies and plans.
  • Assign work that challenges their skill sets and provides a more stimulating environment. This will keep them from going too far off the rails if they’re feeling bored.
Just remember that without underlying training or clear instructions, your contractors may feel like they’re free to take their work in any direction they see fit. So, it’s ultimately up to you to create a secure framework they can work within.

4. Streamline Their Workflows

Whenever possible, provide your team members with better, smarter, and faster ways of doing things. Again, this isn’t about snuffing out creativity. This is about freeing them from the mundane parts of their jobs so they can get excited about and have more time for the fun stuff. Consider investing in:
  • Project management systems that enable closer collaboration;
  • Wireframing, storyboarding, and other brainstorming and planning tools;
  • Design-specific tools for creating mockups, prototypes, and more;
  • Writing tools for quality checks, headline optimization, SEO assessments, and more.
And be sure to have documentation created for each role. This will streamline the on-boarding and training process and serve as a good future reference point.

5. Schedule Regular Meetings

Whether you hire full-time employees, part-time employees, or contractors to fill your roles, these individuals are now valuable members of your team and need to be treated as such. Of course, applying the above principles to your management style will support that type of working relationship. However, you will also need to go beyond that and dedicate time each week, month, and quarter to check in with them. These check-ins are up to you to define, but should serve a clear purpose. They shouldn’t just be to say “hi”, to micromanage, or to compromise your relationship in any way. Here are some ways in which you can use these regular check-ins properly:
  • A weekly meeting to discuss projects in the pipeline and any questions/concerns with deliverables or timelines;
  • A monthly meeting to talk about wins as well as areas for improvement;
  • A quarterly meeting to review individual goals and to devise a plan for meeting them;
  • A yearly meeting to review overall performance and discuss future goals and career tracks for the team member.

“No Man Is an Island”

...and when it comes to the world of web design, that statement has never been more true. While the beginnings of your business may find you working solo, you will eventually need to hire others as you scale. Just be careful about how you manage them. There’s a fine balance to be struck when managing creative individuals and the 5 tips above will ensure that you keep everyone’s best interests in mind as you do so.

Suzanne Scacca

Suzanne Scacca is a freelance writer by day, specializing in web design, marketing, and technology topics. By night, she writes about, well, pretty much the same thing, only those stories are set under strange and sometimes horrific circumstances.

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