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The secret to success in working with any designers, contractors or team members (virtual or otherwise) is the quality and detail of the brief you provide. A good, detailed brief can save you time, money and energy.

Good design services (and so many other business services) are available from experienced professionals from all around the world, making it more accessible and affordable for small business owners. But I know so many people who have been frustrated with using the outsourcing options available.

I believe there is one vital ingredient to achieving great results with any contractor, service provider or (for that matter) team member.

The brief you give!

The quality of the outcome of any project is directly related to the input (i.e. your instructions).  If you don’t take the time to outline your expectations, give adequate background and clearly explain the parameters of your project, you can’t reasonably expect a quality result.

Why is a good brief important?

It helps your supplier(s) give you a more accurate, relevant quote

The biggest enemy of any brief is assumption:

  • assumptions that the service provider understands your expectations;
  • assumptions that they know enough about your business and brand to provide a relevant recommendation;
  • assumptions that they can translate the picture in your head (which you may have failed to explain clearly) into the outcome you desire.
By providing a detailed, specific brief (as outlined below), you can remove the need for assumptions and get a better result. Plus, if there are any gaps in the information, the supplier will have a good enough understanding of your business and the project to be able to ask informed, useful questions.

It helps you compare suppliers more effectively

Sometimes you might approach more than one supplier to provide a proposal for a project, with a view to comparing costs, recommendations and strategies to find the business that suits you best. If you provide a vague or inconsistent brief to each of these suppliers, you probably won’t be comparing apples with apples – or, at best, you’ll have to spend your own time and energy looking up the costs and inclusions to make sure they line up. By preparing a clear brief, and sharing that same brief with each supplier, you’ll be able to compare their submissions more easily (as long as they reply to the brief and address the points clearly).

It reduces the chance of confusion or conflict

When you provide a detailed brief and the supplier responds to that brief, you share the same expectations and understanding of the project. There is less room for misunderstanding or disappointment. If you ask for extra services or expanded the brief, it can be negotiated so that both sides are comfortable.

It can save you time and money in the long run

It is a time investment to create a good brief, but the time spent up-front will save you time, money and potential issues in the long run.

Plus once you create a brief once, you have the framework in place for future project briefs, so they will take less time to create.

So what are the ingredients of a good brief?

What are the ingredients of a good brief?

Let’s look at two different aspects:

  1. Information specific to the current project
  2. General information about your business that can be used across all project briefs

1. Information Specific To The Current Project

This information outlines the project requirements and desired outcomes, and will change (at least to some extent) for every new project.

Purpose of the Brief

Detail the purpose and desired outcome of the project. Be as specific as possible.

So rather than brief by saying “create an invitation for our upcoming event”, clearly outline the purpose and objectives. For example,

We are holding an event to launch our new business to our target market of women in business who feel overwhelmed by their to-do lists. We require an eye-catching, enticing invitation that will capture their interest and drive them to take action and book their seat via the website booking page.

Objectives

Outline clear, measurable objectives for the project. For example,

  • We need an inspiring, appealing invitation that will drive attendance and ticket sales (maximum 100 tickets).
  • The invitation should support our branding and drive awareness of our social media profiles and website.

Be as specific as possible.  Explain the need behind the project – eg not just “we need a new website” but rather the business outcomes you are trying to achieve by developing a new website.  It might seem like too much information, but the more background and context a service provider has, the better chance they have of delivering to your expectations.

Project Details

What are the project deliverables – for example. the number and types of items required (including file types and sizes for digital products).  Specifying these up front means you won’t have to go back and ask for further work down the track.

Functionality and Specifications

Especially when you’re briefing for a new website or technical requirement, specify what you want and need it to do – not just now but in 2 and 5 years’ time. Have a long-term view of your business requirements, so even if you’re not ready to invest in certain functionality now, the foundations can be laid in the best possible way to make future additions and enhancements easier. Also, let your designer know which systems the new website needs to work with. If you have specific email marketing providers, sales systems or other software, if you want it to integrate with your website you should make that clear up front. If you’re not sure about what to include or how to brief this section, speak to your supplier. They can ask the right questions and get the right information from you (information you might not even realise is important).

Timeline

When do you need the project completed? Your version of “as soon as possible’ might be different to that of your service provider. Be specific, especially if it’s linked to a launch date or hard deadline.

Budget

Many people won’t specify a budget as they’d rather hear back from the service provider first. Keep in mind that by doing this, you may be wasting their time, and yours. If you have a specific budget in mind, it’s better to make that clear up front so your provider can tailor a proposal to suit your budget.

Design Inspiration

For a design project, if you already have an idea in your head of the look / feel you’re wanting to create, consider creating a Mood Board or Pinterest Board of pictures that reflect what you’re hoping for.  That’s not to say your designer should copy the images you provide, but rather you give them a clearer idea of exactly what you have in mind – the colours, the composition, the fonts, the “mood”.

2. General Information / Background

This is the information that is often left out of briefs, but provides the crucial context for the project and the design outcome.

The beauty of this section of the brief is that once it’s been created once, you can simply cut and paste it into future briefing documents.

Business & Industry Background

  • What does your business do?
  • What products or services do you offer?
  • What is the background of your business?
  • What sets you apart from your competitors?
  • Description of your industry
  • The industry’s challenges and opportunities
  • Who are your main competitors?

Your Customers

  • Who are your target customers?
  • Describe your ideal customer
  • Why do they need / want your product services.

Your Brand

  • What are your brand values?
  • What is your brand’s personality?
  • What tone does your brand use?
  • What existing visual assets do you have?  (Logo, images, designs, brand style guide i.e. What do you already have in your Marketing Toolbox?)

If you have already created a Brand Style Guide, this section is easier to create.

IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS

  • When you’re dealing with overseas designers or business service providers, remember that language and cultural nuances may be misinterpreted or misunderstood – or simply missed.  Be as clear as you possible can, and re-read your brief through the filter of a person for whom English may be their second language.
  • Collect examples of designs / images / functionality you like.  (I use Evernote to capture these ideas ready to be shared when I’m briefing a project).
  • Don’t expect your service provider to be a mind reader. Good quality information in = better outcomes delivered.
  • Once you have your brief written, keep it as a template for future projects.  It can also assist in instructing new team members.

Want some help to write killer briefs? Click here to download my creative brief template, that can be adapted for any service provider.

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