How-to: recruiting the best staff for your design studio

how to recruit the best staff for a design studio - your own design studio – now that is a nice thought, isn’t it? You’re the boss, and your creative knowledge and skills are steering your career and popularity within the industry.

There comes a time though when the work-load is too much, or where you and your partners want to get more hands on deck to help with the creative process or managing the projects or even manage your bank account. It is difficult to decide when and how to grow your own business. There are many factors to consider, client relationships, economic climate, location or size of the office, costs for staff and hardware,…. the list can go on! Getting the balance between “running at or over capacity” and “part-time idle staff” right can be daunting, so let’s have a look at what you could do.

Project / people management – delivering on time and on budget

a good project manager is worth his weight in gold - whatwasithinking
a good project manager is worth his weight in gold

A very important role to consider in any growing business is the project manager. You want your creative resources concentrate on delivering great websites or artwork, rather than planning out meetings, time scales or discussing budgets. A project manager will manage client expectations and facilitate ceative work being completed. Furthermore, they can take care of the project plans and costs. I have worked as a project manager and also come to appreciate other project manager’s work – it does take a load off your shoulder and keeps everything running well. If you find a good one then they are worth their weight in gold!


How to hire?

Be it a project manager, an accountant or a new designer you are after, the next steps are the same: it is time to write a job spec. It should contain a description of the role, the key challenges that person will be facing on a day-to-day basis, what key technical and practical knowledge and what skills are required, followed by the key responsibilities.

Once you have a job spec you are happy with and that defines the character you are after you are ready to search for staff. There are two ways to go about with this: through agencies, or not. I would recommend to first off all take your address book and call your contacts and friends to see if there is anyone available, or if they know someone.

Another way that does not involve agencies is looking around at graduate shows or final degree shows (or even through universities itself!). The Business Design Centre near Angel Station in London is a very good resource, have a look around when there is a graduate fair or university degrees show is on – there is always some brilliant talent around!

If you do go through an agency, be aware that they will be taking a commission, after all they will be doing all the leg work for you. It is worth looking at a number of agents to find the one you want to work with, who fits into the personality and the character of your studio. Brief them well as to what you are doing and what you are after, and give them honest feedback about their candidates, so that they can tailor their search for your requirements even better.


Freelance vs permanent

One of the most important questions is: freelance or permanent staff? Which one is better for you?

If you go for the freelance option then obviously you have a less strong financial strain if business is slow. But keep in mind, freelancers come in, do a good job, but once they are done, all the knowledge goes with them. It is also worth keeping in mind that freelancers should be used as a supportive role (e.g. for their knowledge in Flash for a certain piece of a project) and not as a leading role (i.e. the main designer / developer / head of the project), as this can lead to a lot more work for them (and you) in the future, as you will have to call that freelancer back in whenever something goes wrong or requires amendments, potentially costing you more than hiring a person permanently to keep every project and creative decision under one roof.

If your business is becoming more known and work is coming in relatively regularly, then I would recommend permanent staff to rely on and build the team up, as it shows the client that your team is growing and becoming stronger, and it shows your own team that you are caring for the company and wanting to improve the relationships between the team and the clients.


How to choose the right personnel?

Choosing the right personnel can be a bit difficult, especially if the skillset you require is not your forte. After all, they could tell you whatever you wanted to hear but no be able to deliver. When hiring staff, this is what I used to do to find out if the candidate was right for me:

  1. Read up on similar roles, their requirements and / or read up on people who are working in the role you are recruiting for: what do they do? What are their roles? What knowledge do they have?
  2. Ask the candidate to talk you through how they have completed similar roles before. How did they interact with clients, the team, freelancers, etc?
  3. Let them ask questions: when it comes to leading or management roles, the best way to find out if a candidate is suited is by looking at what questions they are asking. If they are performing well in those situations then they will be doing well with clients as well.

The key is to know what you are after and how your studio can benefit from them. Let them know whay you want to get out of them and how you expect them to help shape the business, or how they might be able to solve problems.



ensuring paperwork is filed is an important factor when hiring new staff
ensuring paperwork is filed is an important factor when hiring new staff

Hiring staff is always involved with paperwork, from contracts to insurance and pensions. Taking on a new team member will have legal implications. One of the first obligations you will have will be to take out employer’s liability insurance: this will protect you in the event of your new employee becoming sick or sustaining an injury on the job and is making a claim against you.

You will also be required to fill in form OSR1 from the Health and Safety Executive and have to take a risk assessment of your offices.

It is also very important to remember that you have to ensure your employee has the right to work in your country (in my case, the UK). Keep copies of their passport or proof of EU citizenship on file. If they are non-EU residents then it is important you have a copy of their entitlement papers and make notes of every date, conditions or limits outlined in those documents.

As the employer you are also responsible for taking out employee’s taxes and National Insurance with each salary payment, and ensuring that the government gets its share, which is done through registering with the Revenue and Customs (HMRC), and you will be required to fill in an annual return (form P35).

HMRC is also a good place to check if your employee constitutes as one, using their employee status checker, which outlines factors such as employee relationship to the company, level of control, equipment provision and use, etc.


Useful resources

Still unsure about certain items? Here is a list of resources you might find useful:

  • Weblaw: – a very useful resource for all things legal
  • Revenue and Customs: – useful resouce for all things tax, also has a very good “employee or freelancer” status checker
  • Health and Safety Executive: – tips and information about safety at work, risk assessments and more
  • Department of Work and Pensions: – information on sick pay, maternity leave and more
  • Association of British Insurers: – information on all types of (business) insurance

I hope this quick outline was useful to some of you wondering whether or not to take a new resource on. 🙂

One Comments

  • Jonathan

    July 31, 2009

    Alex, again another detailed and important article and I hope you were using me as inspiration as your good project manager! Well researched and clearly written – good guides and seemingly obvious but frequently ignored by employers!

    Worth adding an induction article, makes a huge difference to performance and employee job satisfaction?

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