Assessing the right fit: Picking a creative partner for your startup

This article is aimed at entrepreneurs looking to hire freelance talent or an agency to help execute a range of creative initiatives.

Startups can struggle when it comes to selecting the right talent to address a range of creative challenges. Being able to determine whether or not an agency or individual is the right fit is never an easy decision—there’s more than just experience and cost to consider.

Why does this matter?

The wrong candidate or company can cost your business time, money and potentially your reputation. These individuals are responsible for communicating your vision, selling your company and shaping how you are perceived by potential customers and investors.

Tips to find the right creative partner

So how do you find and select the right freelancer or agency?

Focus on the right creative criteria

Your priority should be to find someone who delivers great work on time for a fair price. If they’re unreliable, their price doesn’t fit your budget or the quality of work just isn’t there, they’re not the right candidate. These three factors should form the foundation of your selection.

Where’s Waldo? (Creative edition)

Finding and sourcing the right creative company or individual can be a challenge. Above and beyond your own personal network, attending local marketing events like MarketingTO or those through can introduce you to great candidates.

Having the chance to meet them in person gives you an idea of their experience, their costs and whether or not they’re the right fit for your business.

Creative recruitment companies offer the opportunity to find great talent that’s been vetted by industry professionals. They offer a more risk-averse solution that comes at a higher price.

Steer clear of online freelance websites, Kijiji and Craigslist. These sites are littered with inexperienced creatives and pose communication challenges that are less likely to end in a positive result.

How well do you know our industry?

Finding a candidate that knows the ins and outs of your category, product or service is essential. Do they understand the associated terminology and language? Do they have a sense of your audience and their needs? Do they have the right contacts and skills to help you meet your goals?

These are all key factors that will contribute to their overall quality of work and the value they’ll deliver.

Are you available on weekends?

As a startup, you work 24/7. It’s important to be upfront with the candidate about time commitments, deadlines and your overall needs. You need to understand how much time they have available to commit to your business. Being upfront at the start ensures there’s no hard feelings or miscommunication about deliverables down the line.

Talk me through your process

Any creative candidate in the running should be able to provide a clear proposal and plan of attack to reach sign-off. This should outline their overall approach, timelines and budget for the project, as well as relevant case studies. This initial stage will shed light on their process and ideally spark confidence in their ability to deliver.

If you can poke holes in their plan, timelines or budget, they may not be the right candidate for the job.

Personality and culture

It’s important to take personality into account and how the candidate aligns with your business and culture. You and your team will be working with this person or company on an ongoing basis. Do they align with your startup’s overall values and beliefs? Can you envision them being part of your team? Are they collaborative and easy to work with?

Ask for case studies and references

One or two case studies and references can help inform you about the candidate. Dig in to really understand where their strengths and weaknesses lie, what challenges they’ve had in the past, and which areas they may need to improve.

Hiring a creative partner is not an easy decision

Overall, hiring a new partner is never an easy decision. Assessing their quality of work, approach and pricing can help you gauge whether they’re the right candidate. If you find yourself on the fence regarding a potential hire, consider testing the waters with a small project to see if they are good to work with.

A common challenge? Finding candidates with relevant experience

Many startups get stuck finding a candidate with relevant experience. There are plenty of great creatives out there. But finding one with relevant experience who understands your business, category and audience can be a real challenge.

Tactics to overcome this challenge

A number of solutions exist that can help you overcome this challenge:

  • Search by creative skillset and location, such as through, one of the largest online creative portfolio sites.
  • Create a public post on LinkedIn, incorporating relevant hashtags to help attract potential creatives.
  • Work with creative staffing agencies to tap into their networks to unlock creatives with relevant experience.
  • Reach out to friends and associates working in similar fields for recommendations.

Additional reading

by Alex Gould