Tendering needs to reflect a changing marketplace

The fact that there are more freelancers* in the creative industry means that tendering will have to change.

January is always that month when those things we have put off come back to bite us in the behind. A chunk of work, touching base with an old contact, a website refresh, a brand overhaul; chances are many of us have been the recipient of tender requests covering these exact projects over the past two weeks.

Right out of the trap let’s just say how great it is that the increasing number of freelancers in the jobs market are being included in the tendering process. The big agencies of the nineties and 2000s still dominate the majority of the industry but one-man-bands are growing in profile and influence. Collaboration, flexible working and the resultant reduced rates make it much more attractive to extend your invite to freelancers if you’re a company looking to outsource work, especially if they are in the private sector.

The increase of freelancers invited to take part in the tendering process should flag up positive developments. Increasingly there are talented individuals setting up on their own. Whatever the reasons for becoming self-employed more and more workers are using their own skills and experience and making them pay. It isn’t just that they are often cheaper than agencies but freelancers tend to work with a more diverse mix of clients every year than agencies, largely because they have to. That means a wider experience, a faster learning curve and a wider skills base. Working, or running, an agency is fantastic if that’s what you want to do but the truth is for many of your staff it is just a job. It isn’t a livelihood or an extension of their personality the way work often is for a freelancer.

This is win win for the client launching the tender. Who wouldn’t want creative, inspired and inspiring people to work with them? Having freelancers competing with agencies might be like comparing chocolate mousse and a big fat steak but they are competing for the same work in the current market and are increasingly going to do so; the differences we might see as people in the creative industry are probably not as apparent to prospective clients.

The tendering process is not without its problems though and if the playing field is going to be levelled for freelancers then we should start talking about how it needs to change. It is much easier to drop everything and complete a tender when you’re working in an agency. You’re still going to get paid at the end of the month. As a freelancer it means working much longer hours. That isn’t a bad thing but a longer deadline might make it a little easier to maintain the elusive work/life balance.

It’s one thing to use a tendering process to take the temperature and gather creative ideas from a range of agencies. Yes it’s frustrating, bordering on immoral and is the fastest route to get your name blackened amongst creative professionals but as an agency you can shrug and move on. It’s much harder to do this when you’re a one man band. It doesn’t feel as easy to imitate a gallic look of nonchalance and muse that it’s a good thing, really, because it means your ideas were pretty good. Instead it makes you feel like all that time you spent was wasted, that you were entirely manipulated. It is, quite frankly, incredibly poor form.

As freelancers will tend to have cheaper rates doesn’t mean they should always be picked because they are “value for money”. Agencies might feel they run the risk of being priced out when they begin to compete with an individual with the same contacts book, same set of skills but much lower overheads. Freelancers are a significant emerging part of the creative landscape, that doesn’t make agencies any less important even if they do need to diversify their skills and offer in the changing market.

There needs to be a degree of flexibility. Collaboration, the blurring of lines and the sharing of ideas are increasingly become part and parcel of daily working life for many of us. If a tender receives a mixture of good ideas then assembling different professionals together which may turn out to be the best fit could be the best way of delivering the project. This could have cost implications and it won’t fit everyone but it’s about putting everything on the table. The strict “code of conduct” for the tender needs to change as the way we work – along with who’s doing the work – continues to shift.

*I’m not totally sold on the word freelancers. This is a good discussion and forum but alas it is each to their own, really.

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