How to work with freelancers during the creative shortage

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Finding top talent might feel like an impossible task during the creative shortage, but it doesn’t have to be.

Working with freelancers can be a great way to get the expertise you need without committing to a full-time employee, but it’s becoming harder to find the right fit for businesses during the creative shortage. Here’s a few things to consider if you’re looking to build your own network of trusted freelancers.

Finding reliable freelancers

Being able to rely on a freelancer’s ability to produce good work to deadlines is important, but being limited to one or two regulars can throw a spanner in the works when they’re away on other projects. Investing time into building a larger pool to draw from can come in handy in these situations.

Word of mouth is a powerful tool and a good place to start. Ask the freelancers that you already have a relationship with whether they might know anyone else that they’d recommend for your project. Similarly, ask your colleagues about their own contacts. Maybe they’ve worked with someone previously that has gone freelance, or they have their own network that they can reach out to.

If you’re looking for a creative, portfolios are useful tools to gauge their skillset and whether they would be a good fit for your project. However, note that a portfolio usually won’t tell you how long the outputs took to create, or if they were completed individually or as part of a team.

Going through a freelancer website has its advantages too, especially because you’ll be able to see the reviews that others have left. If the freelancer has their own website, there’s also a good chance that they’ll have client testimonials on there. The more evidence they have showing the quality of their work, the more likely they’ll be a good fit for you.

Don’t forget to expand your search and look beyond traditional channels. Check social media, professional networking sites, and consider hiring from different parts of the world.

Building trust while working remotely

How can you build trust with freelancers when you have little to no face-to-face time?

Start small and traditional. Once you’ve found a freelancer, host a quick thirty-minute video call to get a feel for who they are and how they work. This’ll be another opportunity to gauge their skill level, and gives you a chance to brief them on the project and set any expectations early on.

After you’ve agreed to work together, you can get them started with smaller tasks that won’t be catastrophic if things go wrong. Remember though: you should allow them as much independence as is reasonably possible within the demands of your project, giving them time and freedom to produce their best work.

If you’re short of time, scheduling regular check-ins can be a good way to make sure that the brief is fully understood – especially at the start of the project. This way, any communication issues can be caught sooner rather than later.

What to do when you’re let down by a freelancer

Despite all of the planning you’ve done, some things will inevitably go wrong. If the problem is fixable, such as a misunderstanding of the brief, your best bet is to work through it with your freelancer and allow them to sort it out.

However, there are times when the problem might not be fixed as easily. Maybe the freelancer is unable to deliver to the agreed deadlines, or their skills are a poor match for the project. This is another moment where being able to fall back on a network of freelancers will be useful. Tapping into a community of trusted creatives for their expertise can help to get your project back on track, with no damage done to your company reputation.

Building a network will take time, and requires you to keep an eye out for new freelancers to work with.

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Why having a “side project” is far more important than you think

Here’s how clients and creatives can benefit from creative pursuits outside of work.

You may not feel like it after a long slog in the day job, but that time you have to yourself in the evening – whether it’s hours or just a few minutes – can lead to some of your most inspired and creative work. But working on a side project can produce wide-reaching benefits that you might not expect when you start out.

If you’ve seen your fair share of daily grind style content on social media (and it’s everywhere) then you might be wondering why I’m talking about a “side project” and not a “side hustle,” as the latter term is certainly more popular today. There is a significant amount of crossover between the two, but a side hustle is predominantly focused on making money outside of your day job (think building your own business or even working a second part-time job) while a side project encompasses a greater variety of interests and hobbies, with a range of motivations behind them.

Ultimately, however, the term “side project” fails to convey the importance of working on your own creative pursuits. We decided to reach out to a group of creatives throughout our network to see how their own projects have helped to shape their lives.

“Framing the day job as the thing that supports my lifestyle”

Rob, Senior Copywriter

From the outside, a project that someone works on outside of the day job might be viewed as the “side hustle”, but this doesn’t mean that you have to see it the same way. Rob, a senior copywriter and content strategist, had this to say:

“Working as a copywriter isn't always creative. That's not necessarily a bad thing. There's satisfaction to be found in any job well done. And besides, we can't all be working on award-winning brand campaigns all the time.

That said, I’m happiest when creating something that holds emotional value for me. So making music, which I've been doing for more than 20 years, is key to my mental wellbeing.

Writing and playing songs outside of work allows me to frame my day job as the thing that supports my lifestyle, rather than a creative endeavour contiguous with my self-esteem. As a result, I’m happier and I do better work. Win-win.”

“More confidence in my creativity”

Charley, Creative Designer

Following a passion project outside of work can lead to a confidence boost that you can apply to your work and other areas of your life.

Charley, our creative designer, has been involved in film production since she got involved in creating a short thriller film and a music video for her A-Level in Media Studies. After leaving school, she also worked on multiple event wrap-ups, promo videos, and local music videos. On her film projects since then, she said:

“In 2020 I did my own short film in a dolmen with a couple of friends. It ended up being super successful, winning some awards and even being shown at Pinewood studios. After that my projects got much bigger, and I was chief editor for a feature length film that won more awards, and secured an international distribution deal.

These experiences have given me more confidence in my creativity, and the courage to just go out there and do what I enjoy.”

“A lark that I thoroughly enjoy”

Tom, Digital Marketing Consultant

A side project can be as simple as a hobby that you enjoy in your downtime. Tom, an experienced digital marketing consultant, shared his interest in photography, which started as a child on family holidays.

“Though my parents were sceptical and often concerned that I was about to ‘waste film’, I always had a hunch that I could take a better photo than either of them.

As technology evolved and digital cameras became more prevalent, I caught the *ahem* shutterbug and haven’t looked back.

Discovering the work of street photographers like Joel Meyerowitz and Matt Stuart has changed how I think about taking pictures. There’s real humour to their work.

Nowadays, my idea of a perfect day is to wander around a foreign city, looking for funny or unusual scenes to capture. That said, I’ve hamstrung myself a bit by vowing to only post an image to my Instagram account if I can think of a suitably bad pun for the accompanying caption.

Maybe I’ll start taking the pursuit more seriously at some point. For now it’s a bit of a lark that I thoroughly enjoy.”

“I find a lot of peace when I’m doing it”

Lorna, Content Lead

Working on a creative task outside of work can also be a great way to look after your mental health. Lorna, our content lead, shared her ceramics hobby that she started with a friend six years ago.

“I find a lot of peace when I’m doing it. It’s a space where I can stop thinking about the usual things that clog up my brain and just focus on the clay and what I’m making. I enjoy the process, it can get quite scientific and requires some relaxed problem-solving when things go wrong.

At the moment I’m really into making lamp bases as I love how they’re functional but also decorative. I keep meaning to get more into creating standard ware – plates, cups etc., but every time I go to the studio I get distracted by making another weird lamp.

My studio is at my parents’ house which is great because it means I get to see them and play with clay all at the same time. I’m not very good at marketing it, but if you want to check out the very minimal selection I’ve posted online my Instagram is @lornafrankeramik.”

“The community aspect is great”

Adrian, Founder and Director

Your side project could unlock a community of friends that you might not have discovered otherwise. For Adrian, the founder and director of Ah Um, that came through playing music.

“I studied it at uni and have been involved in some way or another since. Teaching guitar, organising live shows and tours, occasionally playing in a band when time permits, and of course going to concerts.

The community aspect of playing in a band is great, and I've made lifelong friends doing it - if I'm ever lacking inspiration, a show at the Southbank or Barbican completely transforms my outlook. I think music for me (and art generally) helps bring a better perspective to work.”

“It’s fun to create something from scratch that’s entirely my own”

Sam, Copywriter

Having complete creative freedom is something that won’t always come from a day job, but a side project can offer the opportunity to explore your own ideas. Sam, our copywriter, does just that through his fiction writing.

“I’ve always had a passion for reading fiction – particularly fantasy, the more swords and dragons involved the better – and it felt right to try to create my own world, and the stories that could come from it.

It’s an up and down process for sure, there have been times where I’ve stopped altogether for weeks or months, but it’s also incredibly rewarding at points, like when I finish a chapter and send it over to friends for feedback. I’ve also just recently started posting some of my more finished chapters on a blog, which I’ve found helpful to self-actualise as a writer, and break a large project into smaller, more manageable chunks.

It’s fun to create something that’s entirely my own, and I’ve become a better writer because of it.”

“Just the act of switching gears is all that any of my side projects need to achieve”

Josh, Designer and Art Director

You might find that starting a side project serves as a full reset and refresh from day-to-day work, which is what Josh, a designer and art director, had to say when we asked him about his myriad of creative pursuits.

"Over my career as a creative, I’ve had endless side projects, and most never make it much further than a thought prefaced with “wouldn’t it be cool if…” and some will find momentum, gather steam and become fully fledged projects that involve other people, actual cash money and a final outcome.

In my early years, I used to beat myself up relentlessly if one of my many side projects didn’t take off in some massive way and make the front page of every design blog I read.

What I’ve come to understand nowadays is that (as cliché as it is) it’s the doing that matters – not where the side project ends up. It’s the freedom to create without any limitations, briefs, budgets or clients where the real value lies. I can try out that new 3D type technique from Instagram or get my oil paints out and remember in 10 minutes flat why I put them away in the first place. It doesn’t matter, just the act of switching gears and turning off the “business-creative” mode in my brain is all that any of my side projects needs to achieve."

“For me, it’s a form of self-care”

Maddie, UX Lead

A side project can also be a form of relaxation when you have those precious moments to yourself. For Maddie, our UX lead, that comes from creating her own nail art.

“It’s a bit like doing art on a micro canvas, so you have to really tone down your ideas to fit the limited space, but at the same time you can experiment with different combinations of colours, patterns, and shapes while still maintaining a consistent theme.

I tend to use display wheels (a ring of fake nails) because I’m too impatient to sit and let my nails dry without wanting to get up and do something in between layers. But using display wheels also means that I can dedicate a wheel to a specific theme like a set of colours or a type of pattern, and experiment with more ideas.

For me, it’s a form of self-care as I can relax and unwind while spending time painting. I tend to focus on one idea at a time, so when I zoom out again at the end and see everything come together it makes me feel good about what I’ve accomplished.”

Our key takeaways

Your “side project” can in fact be the goal that you structure the rest of your life around and derive the most meaning from, or simply be a way to rest and recharge.

One thing in particular stands out from the conversations we’ve had: the process of creating something that you find valuable is the most important thing, aside from any success that may come from your endeavour. The process itself can be an act of catharsis, of creating not because you think you should, but because you’d be missing something internally if you didn’t.

You may also find that undertaking your own side project helps you to perform better in your work. In your free time, you can learn and practise new skills without the pressure of a client looking over your shoulder, and bring a fresh perspective to the projects that pay the bills. As Iroh says in Avatar: The Last Airbender:

“It’s important to draw wisdom from different places. If you draw it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale.”

Whether you do it for the social reward, the creative freedom, or your mental health, your life could well be better from working on your own side projects.

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Some businesses use agencies, some freelancers, others their own in-house agencies to get their content done. While they can all be great ways to ensure your creative content is delivered – we reckon we’ve developed a better one.

The great resignation, quiet quitting, skills shortages, in-housing nightmares… all phrases that have become increasingly common when talking about the workplace. There’s no denying that hybrid ways of working have changed the business landscape – and now, more than ever, businesses are looking at ways to optimise how they create content. But what is the best way to get great content?

The traditional options


External agencies bring an outside perspective, and the potential to see creative and marketing opportunities that may have otherwise been missed. However, they’re also known for working in pretty rigid models and working in silo to your internal teams with account managers blocking access – missing possibilities for collaboration.

In-house teams

With your delivery team in-house you can realise the benefits of having your content created by a team who are already experts in your company and its culture, as well as having more creative and financial control over outputs. However, sometimes being part of the furniture can mean resource is not put to good use, creativity can get stale and the breadth of experience within the team can be limited.


Using freelance resource can be ideal for plugging some skills gaps, but they don’t come with out their own issues. Freelancers often don’t tend to, or want to, work as a part of a collaborative team, which can make managing wider projects where freelancers are involved more difficult. Plus there are added admin implications such as IR35 compliance and general management of disparate freelancers.


Recruiters can be a good option to help you find the resource you need for a particular project – but that’s kind of all they do. They aren’t content specialists, they focus on individuals rather than teams and don’t manage the people they put in your teams – so if it doesn’t work out you’re back to square one.

The Ah Um option

We’ve taken the best bits of in-house teams, freelancers, external agencies and recruiters and designed a way of creating content that delivers everything you need, in the most flexible, efficient way possible.

How do we do this? We build, embed and run the creative teams you need for your projects directly within your business, for the time you need them. So you can…

  • Get flexibility – onboard and stand down teams on a project-by-project basis, a bit like how an in-house team would work

  • Access top talent – get the benefits of an external agency in terms of having the best, most enthusiastic writers, strategists and creatives making content for you

  • Keep costs on track – our model means you can actually resource your teams efficiently without the overheads of recruiters, full-time staff or using freelancers

  • Realise top-level outputs – embedding a creative team for a particular project means you can achieve the outputs you need without letting other internal projects slip, and without increasing headcount, and long-term costs

  • Mitigate risk – increase the creative capabilities of your existing teams without taking on additional risk or admin – we’ll deal with any personnel absence/changes/issues so you don’t have to

So, you could say we’re like an external agency in structure and experience, but we deliver more like an integrated, in-house team. Our teams take the time to get really involved in your project, understanding the nitty gritty of your product and business, no matter how technical and work with you to get it right, while bringing the fresh eyes and outside perspective needed to make your comms and content strategy fresh, accessible and exciting for your audience.

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