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Virtual Team Work

At a time when many companies are scaling down their marketing budgets, big design firms are finding it harder to win new clients and projects. Things maybe tough for the larger design firms, but the situation could be ideal for freelancers and other smaller boutique operations that can operate virtually.

One obvious advantage that full-service design companies have over independent freelancers is access to a wide range of creative and technical resources. So how can the individual compete with multi-skilled consultancies? The answer is to form a Virtual Team using a product that provides collaboration software that gets everybody on the Same-Page.

By joining forces with other freelancers who offer complementary skills, you'll be able to offer a more complete range of services to your clients and prospective customers. One person on their own can't hope to compete with a full-service agency on price alone, no matter how tight budgets are. If a freelancer can't meet a project's business objectives, he isn't going to win the contract. Partnering with other freelancer makes you look more credible and professional, especially if the client is aware they'll only be paying for a specific service from the specialist. Clients are increasingly wary of design agencies offering services they'll never use and feel that they are paying for them through high ticket fees.

Here, then, are some tips for partnering with other freelancers and successfully running a joint project:

Recruit or be recruited

Both actually. You don't need to wait for a new project before sounding out potential partners. Bookmark the sites of potential partners. Register your details with freelance and recruitment directories, offer details of your services you. You never know if someone else is out there looking for the skills you have to offer. Use these same directories to search for complementary freelancers when you need additional help.

Instinct + Think = Partner

Visit your potential partner's website and review his portfolio. When considering a particular individual, follow your instinct - if you have any doubts about working with someone, chances are it won't work out. Check out the clients listed on the website. How did the client enjoy working with your potential partner. Check on their references.

Put everything in writing

Bearing in mind that this team of freelancers may only exist for one project, each individual should have their own contract. Don't make the mistake of being responsible for paying the team. Contracts and invoices should go direct to the client. You are not an employer so it's up to everyone to make sure they get paid, not you. If you do decide to bundle invoice you are entitled to charge a markup (15 to 20% depending on industry) for your efforts.

Avoid confusing the client

Don't allow your team to start emailing files to the client. A client may not understand what each person does. It makes sense to use a collaboration website with project management tools. Same-Page.com offers a highly customizable workspace where you can focus the team. Make a list of the project contacts readily available, create calendars and provide a centralize email notifications system.

Co-ordinating a team

Usually the person who builds the team is the one who should lead the project. Sometimes a client will approach the freelancer with a project in mind, recognising that at least the majority of it can be produced by a lead freelancer. Using a project management tool like TaskTracker allows the efforts of the team to be funneled through a lead project manager. Assigning task and letting team members know that co-workers are depending on their reporting each completed task is a priority. Deploy an issue management system for dealing with project interruptions.

Frequent communication

Use a hybrid intranet / extranet solutionto keep stakeholders informed all the time - that means everyone who has any involvement including the client as well as all creative and technical suppliers. Details of all developments should be passed by the email system to everyone involved.

Break it up into small pieces

Turn a large project into several smaller ones. This makes it easier to manage by assigning each task to the team member whose responsibility it is.

All this advice requires you to use some project management skills on a day to day basis. But it's all possible if you plan carefully and use common sense.

Just remember, for your team to be effective everyone needs to get on the Same Page!

B Collen is the managing Partner for Same-Page.com. He brings a unique perspective to this area due to his 7 years of experience helping companies with dispersed workgroups get on the same page.

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