If you have the budget to hire a quality designer, developer, or creative agency, a creative brief is something they would be putting together for their team. But if you’re in the birthing phase of your business and are hiring out design work to freelance marketplace sites like Fivrr, Upwork, or Airtasker, you take on the role of project manager. This means you’ll be the one driving the design progress. If you want your project to go smoothly and stay on time and on budget, putting together a creative brief for your freelancer will be absolutely necessary.
What is a creative brief?
A creative brief is a short document that includes a background on your business, details of the project, your expected outcome, and the assets you expect to have in hand at the end of the project. They’re created by most designers and creative agencies before they even start the design process so that everyone is on the same page with the intended objectives. The key thing to remember is that it’s a brief, so it’s meant to be short and sweet.
Why do you need a creative brief?
If this is the first time you’re working with the freelancer you’ve hired, they won’t know anything about you or your business. A creative brief will help them understand what you do, your brand, your style, and your expectations. And even if you’ve been working with your freelancer for years, they still need to understand the goals of the project. It’s unrealistic to expect anyone to hit the bullseye with your vision if you don’t communicate what it is.
Without a creative brief, you run the risk of getting stuck in the ‘ole “this isn’t what I was hoping for, can you try again?” loop. And often, more revisions equals additional costs, so you could blow through your budget pretty quickly. If your designer understands your business and the objectives of your project at the get-go, they won’t need to spend time decoding this through your feedback during the design process. You’ll save yourself a substantial amount of time AND money in the long run.
On a deeper note, regardless of what phase your business is in, you want to take it seriously. You’ve worked hard on building your dream, and it’s worth putting in the extra time to make things go a little more smoothly. It’s ok to be scared and intimidated. Just take it one step at a time and be patient with yourself.
What to include in your creative brief
As a rule of thumb, it’s best to keep it short but be detailed with the important bits. People tend to be repetitive when trying to get a point across, so you’ll want to do a couple revisions to make sure you’re not being unnecessarily verbose. Every project you do will be different, so the length of each section will vary. For example, if you’re hiring out a banner for a blog post, writing up an entire page on your audience would probably be overkill. But if you’re redoing your website, you might want to provide a little more information here.
So without further ado, here’s an overview of what you should include.
Background on your business
Start with your elevator pitch and if more explanation is necessary, include it but keep it concise. Remember this isn’t a sales document. It’s for internal use only. All that flair you normally add to your content isn’t applicable here. I know, it’s boring and it’s technical and it’s dry, but you’re not selling your services to your designer. You’re introducing them to your business and you want them to understand what you do and why.
Include a detailed description of your project and what assets you expect to have in hand when the project is completed. It’s really important to give yourself the time to put some thought into this. If you need a banner, where will it be used? What sizes do you need? If you need a logo, where will it be used? What variations do you need? Black and white, color, gradients?
Here are a few questions to help get you started:
- What do you need?
- Why do you need this?
- Where will it be used?
- Is there content (text) involved? If so, who is providing it?
- Do you want an image or images? If so, who is providing it (them)?
- What do you want the final design to look like?
We should take a breather here. I know this can be fairly overwhelming, especially if you’re not the creative type. Be patient with yourself. This doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. You’ll learn what to add and what not to add as you go. And really, anything you provide will probably be more than what your freelancer is used to getting, so you’re already a leg up.
Your Target Audience
This section details information about who will be viewing this project when it’s finished. Do you want to reach your current target market or a segment of it? Or are you trying to court new clients that you haven’t marketed to before? Be as specific as you can here. Remember that your freelancer doesn’t know anything about your business, and that includes your target market. The worst thing you can do is be vague.
Bad example: My current clients
Good example: Women between the ages of 24-40 who want to become more empowered in their career.
Your Desired Outcome
This is the section where you make your expectations clear. What are you hoping to accomplish with this project? Do you want to entice people to download an ebook? Or enroll in your workshop? Be specific here like you were with the target audience. Again, “increasing sales” would be too vague. I mean, that’s what everyone wants, right? Explain how you would like this project to help your sales increase. Let your designer know what’s expected of this project when it’s completed. Plus you can use this as a metric in the future. Did your sales actually increase when this project was used? Great! Then you know that you can use it as a basis for other projects in the future.
Your branding info
This is huge since it gives your freelancer your brand guidelines. Don’t expect them to do the footwork of tracking down your color palette, fonts, and logo. You already have this information, so it’s up to you to share it with the people who need it. If you just had a slight panic attack because everything I just said is new to you, don’t worry. A lot of people put off their branding or don’t realize it’s important. It’s never too late to get your brand guidelines hammered out. (And you should, because your business is DEFINITELY worth it.) If you don’t have brand guidelines yet, at the very least, provide the following info in your brief:
- Color palette
- Voice and tone
Read more about brand guidelines in my post “Branding Package Bonanza”.
The good news is that this section is probably the easiest and shortest of your creative brief. But don’t underestimate the necessity of setting a time frame. It’s just as important for you as it is for your freelancer. It’ll keep you on track if you’re responsible for providing any content, assets or feedback, and it’ll keep your freelancer accountable for their deadlines as well.
If you have a hard deadline (for example, are launching a new workshop on May 18 and need assets for that), I would recommend giving it a 1-2 week buffer. You never know what issues or roadblocks may arise along the way, so it’s best to account for extra time and not need it rather than pushing it right to the edge. If you’re more flexible in your timing, it’s good practice to add in a time frame so that the project doesn’t fall through any cracks.
You can also be a little extra and break your projects into milestones and add dates or time frames for those as well, but it’s not necessary to do this.
A note about timing: Sometimes, life gets in the way and you may get a few days behind on providing feedback or content to your freelancer. Keep in mind that this will push your project completion date back by just as many days. Please don’t be disrespectful to your freelancer by expecting them to make up the time because you got behind.
I’m hesitant to say that including a budget is optional, but I will say it’s not absolutely necessary that you include it. If you’re using your creative brief to get quotes from freelancers, you may choose to keep your budget internal until you see what numbers people come back with. If you’ve already hired a freelancer and agreed to their quote, it doesn’t hurt to include it just as a reminder. Definitely add it to your internal copy of your brief though, because you want a record of your budget somewhere. And after the project is completed, make a note of the final cost so you know what to expect the next time you do something similar.
A quick note about budgets: Be realistic with what you have to work with, and be open to more than one way of accomplishing your goal. You may not get everything you desire for what you can afford, but you can certainly get something on the path to that destination.
Like I mentioned earlier, be patient with yourself in this process. If you’ve never written a creative brief before, it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to produce something perfect the first time. You’ll learn as you go.
The biggest takeaway here is the importance of this step in the design process. And if you’re using marketplace designers then it’s a step that really can’t be overlooked. I mean, unless you’re totally cool with wasting time and money on things.