Understanding the Creative Operations Toolkit
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20 September 2018 / freelance management

Understanding the Creative Operations Toolkit

The average creative spends 35% of their time dealing with admin related to outside talent on a weekly basis. That’s over one-third of their working hours sucked up in managing other people’s work, rather than doing their own.

Working with outside talent, aka freelancers, is great for many reasons, but it can be time-consuming. Freelancers are more affordable and flexible than full-time employees, they allow employers to scale their workforce up and down as needed, and they provide unique access to highly skilled, unique talent pools. It’s no surprise that 60 percent of the content produced by Kalo clients is contributed to by freelancers: photographers, writers, illustrators, designers, animators, and more.

While freelancers can reduce overhead in some respects, most companies aren’t equipped to work smoothly with a freelance workforce. 89% of companies have no formal strategy or system of record for outside talent, and this causes bottlenecks. For example, few companies have defined freelancer onboarding processes in place or a streamlined system for payment. Processes end up being fragmented, cobbled together, and prone to error.

In addition, teams today work with a web of apps and tools—Trello, Slack, Jira, Asana, Box, Dropbox, DocuSign—to create assets. Freelancers need access to these tools to accomplish their tasks, but this can create an administrative headache. Without a formal strategy, how can an IT team be confident they know what systems freelancers are getting access to? Or if there is data leakage? How can team leads track performance? This is key for figuring out who the best freelancers are, which can determine who to hire again or which freelancers are best suited to which tasks. And how can employers manage their reputation with freelancers if they don’t have visibility into what’s going on?

Picking the right systems, tools, and platforms to tackle the challenges of running a creative team can be the difference between success and failure.

The lack of a creative ops technology stack leads to inefficiencies and lowers productivity. It also creates legal liability, causes reputational damage, and may mean freelancers have a negative working experience.

From recruiting, to onboarding to collaborating to payment, a company’s workflow may be as much as 50 percent freelancer. Within collaboration, there’s a separate creative operations workflow: Brief > Resource > Collaborate > Submit > Revise > Approve > Release > Report > Analysis. For each of these areas, there are a variety of tools that vary in efficacy, as well as use case.

When designing an integrated talent services approach to creative operations, there are 6 things that need to happen.

  1. Don’t start with technology‚ you start with definitions and logic—a lexicon, if you will. Make sure everyone is on the same page and able to communicate clearly.
  2. Educate and empower your teams to work with the right partner efficiently and compliantly. I’m a big fan of a decision tree that keeps work moving and above board.
  3. Ensure you are tracking the performance of project-based freelancers and vendors with a standardized CPM framework.
  4. Outline your stack and define permissioning with an access protocol.
  5. Create a system of record to govern and connect. Connectivity between apps is the number one discussed issue with our teams. As they scale, localize, and maintain quality, more sophisticated tools will be required. These tools start to break off parts of the creative ops stack, which means teams need to select tools that are more open and integrable so they don’t exist in silos.
  6. Establish integrated talent services management, especially if you rely heavily on outside talent.

Best Practices to Keep in Mind

Beyond these elements of a creative ops toolkit, there are a number of best practices to keep in mind. Low volume versus high volume production are totally different processes and toolkits. What really works for under 100 assets won’t work well when assets are in the thousands.

The more brands start to localize and personalize more campaigns, the more the need for high volume increases. For high volume, localized asset creation, 80% of our creative teams are made up of at least 60% freelancers augmenting internal team members. This means the tools need to play and integrate well with the entire team, including freelancers. Look into integrating a dedicated freelancer or vendor management system into your stack so you can seamlessly integrate those people and organizations in a way that doesn’t terrify your IT team.

Flexibility and Integrability 

Next, as demand for scale grows, the tech stack is being distributed, so connectivity between apps is vital. When selecting, consider the integrability of that tool with others. Does it have an API built in the last decade? More complex stacks typically have middlemen, like Zapier and Azuqua, which have made real progress in enabling this connectivity layer. You will need to ensure the tools you select play nice with others and are API driven. Although great tech stacks are starting to be built for creative ops, moving away from homegrown and built in-house to purchasing softwares, there is an incredible amount of efficiency savings to be made if they can all be integrated.

More than 15% of our clients have hired for a technical position within their creative operations team in order to drive efficiencies through integrations. This isn’t to continue to build out homegrown systems— it’s to build on top of new technologies and work on the connectivity piece.

Using tools like Kalo to streamline freelance management, finance teams have saved 300 hours a year dealing with freelancer finance and tax admin.

Join Kalo at the Creative Operations Exchange East  

I'm going to be talking more about this topic at the Insight Exchange Network's upcoming conference in New York - Creative Operations Exchange East. If you're going to be attending come find my panel discussion or drop by our booth to chat more.

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Peter Johnston

Peter Johnston

Founder & CEO @ Kalo

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