4 ways to becoming a better creative leader

The content I’m getting from my freelancers is TERRIBLE. I’ve run through 5 different people for this project and NONE of them are nailing it. I’m never going to find the right one and I’ll be stuck doing all of the work myself.

many a creative leader

Here’s a little secret you might not have considered: Your freelancers are producing bad content becuase you’re not a good creative leader.

🚩 Bad creative leadership = bad content 

Your freelancers take their cues and direction from you. If you’re not giving them what they need to succeed, you’re going to get crappy content.

That’s not to say all freelancers are amazing, but 90% of them will produce the right content for you if you’re a good creative leader.

Here are 5 things to consider when leading a creative team of in-house people and outside freelancers.

Why good leaders are good for business

Illustration of a three-person team.

Leaders shape teams, business, communities, and the world. Grandiose notion, I know, but it’s true. Good leaders help guide people and make all the essential decisions that keep things moving forward.

Leading a team, whether they’re in-house, remote, or freelance, comes down to the same qualities. It takes a combination of all of this to be a great creative leader and get the best out of your team.

Many leadership experts will say you need self-awareness, respect, collaboration, communication, influence, integrity, courage, and resilience. All true.

You also need the right set of workflows and actions to support those qualities, otherwise you won’t get the right results out of your team.

Here are 4 ways you can become a better creative leader for your team. 🏆

1. Protect their time

It takes time to create content. People, especially non-creatives, underestimate how long that takes. ⏱️

As a creative leader, you absolutely must protect their time. That means proactively planning content projects so creatives can plan out their work. You must minimize the number of last-minute requests that come through and filter the ones that aren’t relevant. Advocate for your creatives to have enough time to properly turn around any requests that do come through.

Be your team’s time champion.

2. Get friendly with cross-functional teams

Another task for creative leaders is to know what cross-functional work items will impact your team. Get to know these teams, the stakeholders, and how they work. Take’em for coffee, ask them for a quick “get to know you” meeting. You’ll be happy you did.

illustation of three people having coffee together.

Only then will you know how to support their workflow with content, how the content fits into their overall plans, what their project timelines are, and when you’ll need to get your creatives started on their portion.

3. Plan for content ops

It’s your job as a creative leader to ensure your creative has all the info, assets, and resources they need. To be clear, that’s all the info they need to create, and complete, their projects, especially if it’s for a cross-functional team project. You must make sure they have everything to create and complete the projects ahead of time, not at the last minute, and certainly not late.

Here are a few questions to ask your collaborators if you’re not sure where to start:

  • Who’s the audience for the content? (To get leads or prospects, or to sell more to existing customers? Or something else?)
  • What’s the goal of the content? (More sign ups, registrations, sales calls, brand awareness, etc.)
  • What’s the distribution plan? What channel will this be published on? (This is relevant because different formats require different skills, knowledge, and tools.)
  • What supporting docs, content, assets do you have for this? (sales sheets, old marketing docs, competitior info, keywords, etc.)

4. Advocate for creativity

Content teams and other creative teams often feel pressured by cross-functional partners because everyone can write. Or shoot a video with their smartphone or post an update on social media. Non-creatives often don’t understand what’s involved in producing creative content. 🎨

Creatives are good at what they do becuase of the years of practice and experience. They know how to get the right things done the right way, but it’s not usually fast (or at least not as fast as non-creatives want it.)

Your job as a creative leader is to advocate for your creatives and to champion the value they bring to the business. Fight for their timelines and inputs by building a system where cross-functional teams and non-creative partners buy in right away with the creativity. Give them a checklist of inputs and info your team needs in the planning stages. Explain and re-explain why your team needs the timelines they need.

Advocate loudly, and nicely, so your creative teams get the time and space to do their thing.

Be a better creative leader, get better creative output

As leader, you’re your creative team’s support, cheerleader, and bulldozer. Help them meet deadlines, be fully engaged, and communicate their value to everyone in your organization.

Think of yourself as the conductor of the creative team. You need to know the score, who’s involved, who can help, what’s the end goal, and what your team members need to be successful.

It’s not just a matter of tossing out a creative brief and expecting the team to produce what you need. Or being disappointed when you’re always getting bad output.

Remember, if you’re not getting the results you want out of your projects and you’re the common denominator, it’s time to take a hard look at yourself.

It’s hard to hear but you might be the problem, not your creatives.