The value of professionalism

[ This post is in context to part-time freelancers ]

We are gearing up to launch our flagship collaboration product – www.unirow.com . While the design and development of the product happened in-house, we thought it would be a good idea to get the marketing material developed by a professional. Our first requirement was to get some product videos made that would demonstrate the capabilities and simplicity of our product. We engaged with a freelancer, whom I knew from before. He runs a neat production house, but mostly in freelancing mode as their primary job commitments are different.

We had agreed on a set of requirements before beginning on this project. I spent a few hours going over what we wanted in the script, to the extent of giving the sequencing for shots. He was pretty excited and said he would be able to deliver the three videos within our budget. We bought all the iStock materials he wanted and ensured nothing stops him from moving forward. What followed from that point was a chain of disasters, ending up with him freaking out and not beeing able to meet expectations.

Here are some email exchanges I have had with this person.

Me: Please find attached the feedback (This was a spreadsheet with a frame by frame review) for the video. I tried to give a priority to the items, but by the time I ended, I saw everything was ranked “highest”. So the priority column has been removed. I have tried my best to be precise in terms of time of frame where I have noticed something unsatisfactory. The larger problems are around the following:

  1. Voice Over is a must. Take a look at the introduction video at <some website>. I had also mentioned about this link earlier when we started. This video has a combination of text and video. It also explains very similar features like ours. This is the kind of quality (both content and design) I was expecting.
  2. A major portion of this video appears to have been made in rush. For example, the lines drawn on the whiteboard are not straight and crudely overlaps. We have never forced a time frame during this engagement. So, we cannot accept a product made in rush hour. I will be happy to extend the deadline by as long as you wish to (within reasonable limits), but we cannot accept something which is far from what we wanted.
  3. The choice of text is poor and lack of symmetry in shots is apparent. For example, there are many places where a large chunk of area on the right is blank, while the left is full. Empty space, if at all, must be symmetrically placed.
  4. I was expecting a bit more creative flair to the video. I am aware that lot of hard work has gone into making of this video. However, we need to finish this last mile together to make sure this hard work sees the light of day.

X: From your review looks like everything is $#!^ and if that’s the case we should not be spending time on this unnecessarily.
Me: Calling it “$#!^” is not right. But it sure needs tons of improvement. If you are willing to put in the last mile effort, we can make it through. If you think my feedback is not something you can work on and sounds unreasonable, we can call it off. It will be a problem for us, but we should be able to find someone else to get the videos done. We have a lot of similar work in the pipeline, so it is important for us that whoever works with us on this understands and resonates with our design and ideas.
X: Yeah I think you should find someone with whom it resonates better. And don’t worry about the script, you can keep it. <This was funny, because we gave him the script>

The most interesting part was, he expected us to accept whatever he was giving, irrespective of whether it matched our agreed requirements. While, this is a particular problem, it highlights some larger issues with professionalism in freelancers (in India). I am going to summarize them below:

  1. The value of time: Part-time freelancers take projects only because of a financial incentive. This sometimes clouds their ability to understand the time committment required to deliver the project. In our particular case, the person grossly underestimated the effort and freaked out when we did not agree to his unreasonable demands. Some of these demands included removing our requirements, because he thought these were not adding value to the work. In reality he was trying to wriggle past the situation by easing his life and he thought we were dumb enough to agree to that. Sadly for him, it did not work that way.
  2. Financial agreements cannot be re-negotiated without a reason: This person tried to re-negotiate the price several times in the middle of the work, with unprofessional reasons. We would have been happy to do so, if we had added to our requirements. Infact, we were very welcoming to accept suggestions in simplifying our requirments for his benefit.
  3. The customer’s feedback is important: The email exchange mentioned above happened after my first feedback when he shared the first version of the video. When we spoke on phone his reaction was “we cannot keep doing changes endlessly”. I found that amusing, because this was the first review process. Probably he was under stress because of another reason and his reactions were therefore misplaced. I would normally give people a marging on their responses, but he was just not willing to understand.
  4. Not working with the customer: The main reason we decided to hire a professional for this work was because they would have more creative inputs. However, it was important that he worked with me on getting the right screencast because I understood my product much better and knew what should be shot. He constantly refused my request to sit with him during the time he captures the screencast. I could see that he was suffering from the part-timer’s fear of loss of his trade secret. The was ridiculous. We would have done a far better job and probably I wouldn’t have to give such a detailed feedback if we had worked together.

We are now working with a professional organization to get all our marketing videos made. We are very satisfied with their approach and are looking forward to get all our work done by them. We will be spending more than what we would have spend on this freelancer, but money was never the issue. It was the quality we wanted, which he miserably failed to deliver and was unprofessional throughout the engagement.

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