I’m good at finding can-do creative types to collaborate or partner with on your projects. It’s one area I’m experienced in and I’m going to talk about it here.  But first, we all have an area of our business where we have trouble gauging the service quality. For example, I’ve been unlucky when purchasing web hosting services. I have been let down over and over again by people who promise to deliver and for no reasonable explanation leave me stranded in an emergency rushing to pick up the pieces.

I know why it happens. I didn’t know what to look for as I shop around and ask questions. I wasn’t experienced enough to ensure I got somebody who could host my websites, but also give me great service when things went wrong.

Odds suggest that at some point I’ll land on a great one (I think I found one. Fingers crossed!) and everything will be hunky-dory when it comes to web hosting.

Of course, with experience, I’ve become better at vetting potential providers, and I have a whole list of annoying things I do before I buy. One of them is calling technical services at weird times of the day asking the lamest technical questions to test how well they help me.

I don’t have a lot of expertise in web hosting, so I’m always a bit tentative when I commit to the purchase. Even after my phone calls and silly conversations. But I’ve learned that anybody can host a website. It’s the promise that they will help me when something goes wrong that counts. That’s what I’m paying for.

Where I’m smart is working with other creatives.

I’ve always been lucky with the people I collaborate with on my projects. I consider myself pretty good at spotting skilled craftspeople who know how to solve problems, and more importantly, ship the project on time and budget.

So I thought I would pass along some insights so you can spot potential problems in who you’re hiring before you commit to purchasing their services.

When interviewing, I’m looking for a confident attitude in the way people answer my questions. I’m going to share them here, and hopefully, they help you to pick better providers in the future.

1) Lack of Interest.

You always want a person who says, “Yes.” “Yes,” not “Yes but”, or “Yes if.” Not “I can do it – IF you give me enough time.” Not “what’s your budget.”

Just “Yes.”

Other great ones include “Yes and…”, or “Yes I’m interested…” or other comments along those lines.

If a person doesn’t say yes right off the bat, you can tell they aren’t customer focused. Something is holding them back, and your project might not be their priority.

Some creatives are on other projects, and they have competing priorities, but it’s not your problem, and you don’t need to hear about it. You’re looking for somebody to be enthused about what you’re working on. Don’t settle for someone who doesn’t say yes when you’re gauging their interest. Otherwise, they won’t go out of their way to hit your deadlines and your budget.

Get an Illustrator who keeps you on the rails and your project moving.

2) Problem avoidance.

Whenever I encounter this during an interview, I wonder why the person became an artist in the first place. Illustration, design, motion graphics, video and art have thousand’s of tiny problems. Some are super painful and annoying, but even those are just part of the process.

To spot this person you should ask a lot of stupid questions. It might be questions about file types, how they make the assets usable to other creatives, or you might ask about your current art assets and how they seem like they’re the wrong file types. Maybe the colours are all wrong in one file.

A good creative will look at all problems as opportunities to create a long-term relationship with you.

If the illustrator you’re considering starts listing all the ways you can make life easier for them, then you should move on. They are only interested in avoiding problems, and when things get difficult, they’re going to send those problems back to you, citing scope creep, or worse, suggest you should have thought of the problem ahead of time. You’ll end up hiring another person to solve the problems this creative left behind and paying a higher fee.

Instead, you want somebody who tries to make you feel at ease. “We’ve seen that before, it’s no problem.” or “That shouldn’t negatively affect the outcomes.”

3) They blame you for missing details.

“Don’t you know that you should have thought of everything? All I do is draw/animate/design.”

In your first interview, always mention you don’t have everything worked out and that you’re going to need them to help you out with this.

You’ll know the project is in trouble when the creative you’ve hired starts telling you about scope creep. For these customer service outcasts, it’s a problem, and it’s the reason they like bad client blogs and meme’s so much. As far as they’re concerned your inability to spot every issue that may come up, even though your job has nothing to do with their expertise, is a part of your failing.

A good creative will tell you it’s not a problem and that they have a process for this. Don’t get me wrong there are limits to how far you should allow accountability to rest on your professional providers, but you’ll be a lot happier renegotiating with a creative who’s tried their darnedest to help you, rather than the one who admonishes you for not being smart enough.

Unbelievably, I’ve had clients tell me that their last artist gave them shit for not being prepared. I consider it our job to make you prepared. At Union that would be a firing offence.

4) New contracts come to you for every little change or update.

Nothing says, ” you’re just another project, and we don’t want to work with you all that much” like a new contract for every change.

Keep in mind, there is a history of clients taking advantage and leveraging their enormous budgets to get creative firms to work for free, but this comes down to a give and takes scenario.

If you’re taking 30 minutes to review and sign a contract that takes the creative 5 minutes to fix you’ve got to wonder why you’re still working with these people. By the time you’ve made the request, gone back and forth on emails for clarification, had the contract made and finally signed it, you’ve probably spent a full day, and this no-brainer has caused you so much stress that you’re late for dinner and three into a six pack.

A five-minute problem should take 5 minutes of your day. If it’s taking more, find a new provider.

5) They don’t tell you their process.

You should be asking how they get the work done. It’s not that you’re looking to understand every detail, but you need to know they have the situation in hand.

Statements like “Don’t worry about it,” and “We don’t need to get into that right now,” are akin to “I don’t know.”

A good creative is proud of their process and will help you to understand it, so you can feel relaxed working together.

6) They have no opinions about other creative work or your ideas.

Don’t be afraid to ask what they think about what you are doing, have done, or intend to do.

Good creatives will fire back with a bunch of questions about what you’re trying to achieve and give you an opinion based on the information you’ve given them.

Either bad creatives will give you an opinion without a review, or even worse they’ll try to be easy to get along with and say they like everything you’re doing. Behind your back, they are complaining about your bad ideas and justifying it with, “Well, they’re the customer.” Who wants to work with that person?

7) They’re hard to get along with.

If at the end of the interview you’ve check marked all of the above, but the conversation didn’t seem easy, like pulling teeth to get answers, or the person on the other end seems flustered or unprepared, it’s a sign of things to come.

You may decide to work with them, but you should know going into it that your people management skills are going to play a lot into whether the project is successful or not. If you’ve got the skills, then go for it.

Warning! If you’re a perfectionist and hard to get along with and you know it – you might want to find somebody who can put up with your demands, many artists just call it quits once they discover you’re not playing around.

8) They don’t give you any requirements moving forward.

Once you tell a creative you’re ready to work with them, they should make a few requests from you. These aren’t taxing or overbearing. They’re just things that help clarify expectations of how you’ll work together. Deadlines, budgets, how to communicate, sign-off dates and more are things you can expect a good creative to ask of you.

Bad creatives will leave all the project management up to you. Again that’s because in their mind it’s up to you to know all the details of your project before you even engaged them. Besides, they’ll just work around your schedule because they’ve got something else going on anyway.

At Union Illustration we have a philosophy – No bad surprises for our clients. Whether or not you’ve read this list, we’ll take you through it on every project, so you know what to expect from us, and you can rest easy knowing you picked a company that can solve your unique problems.

If you’re looking for illustration or artwork for your project and you want to get the process started on the right footing – feel free to contact us. We can chat about it with you and figure out a custom solution that fits your brand and your business.

Michael Grills

Author Michael Grills

Michael Grills is an Illustrator, Artist and Designer working internationally at Union Illustration Co. from Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

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