How to Build your Agency Virtual Bench of Freelancers

In order to operate at cost and stay agile, a growing number of agencies choose to bolster their creative teams with a roster of freelancers. From small agencies with only a few full-time staff to the largest agencies in North America, many creative teams rely on the knowledge and skills of a “virtual bench” of freelancers and contractors.

What’s a virtual bench, you ask? Your agency virtual bench is a talent pool that you cultivate over time and can pull from when new projects come through your doors. If we liked sports metaphors, we’d probably say something about star quarterbacks and pinch hitters… but we’ll spare you. Simply put, building an agency virtual bench means finding talented creatives and industry experts, building a relationship with them and keeping them on call until they’re needed.

There are two types of virtual benches your agency might need:

Over-Capacity Virtual Bench

Your project managers dread it, but it’s every agency owner’s dream to suddenly have too much work and not enough creatives. Rather than overloading your creative team, relying on agile freelancers who are able to jump in to assist can give your agency the flexibility it needs to ebb and flow as new projects come in.

Specialist Virtual Bench

Depending on the size and structure of your agency, it’s unlikely you’ll have (or need!) employees that can cover every potential aspect of marketing and advertising on staff at all times. This bench of highly specialized freelancers and contractors can lend their expertise to projects and industries that your team isn’t familiar with. The added benefit of these unique specialists is that not only will they bring your projects to the next level, they’ll also provide a unique learning opportunity for your staff. There’s a reason why these freelancers aren’t cheap, but they’re worth it.

Follow These 4 Tips for Building up Your Agency’s Freelance Virtual Bench:

Build Your Virtual Bench When You Don’t Need It

Sit down with your project management team and source out potential gaps in your creative department. Perhaps your web design and development team are rock solid, but you don’t have anyone with significant experience designing apps. Maybe your strategy and copy teams are confident in their B2C knowledge, but you’re lacking in experience if a B2B client comes knocking. Once you’ve identified gaps, you’ll have a better understanding of what kind of freelancers you’re looking for.

Let Freelancers Find You With a Shiny Careers Page

If your agency or company doesn’t have the benefit of being a known brand in your industry, it’s up to you to find ways to make your organization attractive to potential employees or freelancers. Building up a careers page that reflects your corporate culture and what you offer to your staff and freelance roster can begin to attract potential candidates organically. Leave a listing up for potential freelance collaboration positions, even if you aren’t actively hiring for them right now. You never know when you might make the right connection.

Ask Your Existing Virtual Bench to Recommend Someone

If you have a contractor you love working with, don’t hesitate to ask them for recommendations! Chances are, the feeling is mutual, and they’ll jump to connect you with other people they trust.

Remember that the community is often smaller than you think, and freelancers will talk to each other. This can be a benefit if you treat your freelancers well – they’ll often happily recommend a substitute if they’re unavailable or if you’re looking for an area of expertise they can’t fill. This can also be potentially detrimental to agencies who have a bad reputation – every freelancer has their own horror story about not getting paid for a project, and you better believe their fellow contractors have heard it.

Onboard Freelancers the Way You Would Your Staff

When it comes time to pull a freelancer off your agency’s virtual bench, remember to onboard them the same way you would a new staff member. They’ll need background information on your client and project, and a detailed creative brief to understand their contribution. This is one of the easiest ways to impress a freelancer and get them singing your praises to their network.

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