Sometimes a project would benefit from a UX team, so I’m faced with the option of either bringing on more people to work with me or passing on the project. When you’re working solo, making such strategic decisions can be a challenge. Turning down work is never fun, but you definitely don’t want to get yourself into a situation you can’t handle.
For the sake of clarity, I’ll use the term consultant throughout this article to mean a solo practitioner and agency to describe an organization with multiple UX professionals on staff.
So, how do you determine what a prospective client needs? What are the key questions to ask? What should you do when you realize you alone are not enough? On the other hand, what do you do if you’re at an agency and a client’s project seems too small—a better fit for a single consultant?
Based on my own experience, plus that of other consultants, as well as the perspectives of some agency heads, I’ve established three factors for determining whether a gig is more appropriate for a soloist or a team:
- time commitment
- budget constraints
- services required
Let these be a rubric for you to use whenever you encounter this question.
After your initial conversation with a prospective client, you should have a sense of how much time a project is going to require. Perhaps they have a specific deadline they need to hit or the project might require a long-term process over a significant period of time. They may either already have a timeline in mind or want to use your expertise in helping to craft one. In either case, you need to examine the project objectives to establish both the project’s probable duration and the likely weekly allocation of hours necessary to accomplish the work.
While the timing for the project will become more exact as your conversations with the prospective client continue, it’s important to estimate the necessary time commitment early. As a solo consultant, you are limited by a 24-hour day and need to ensure you can accommodate both day-to-day and long-term commitments. Determining whether you can commit to a project is often a matter of whether you can make room in your schedule.
On the other hand, consultants tend to have much more flexibility in their schedules than agencies do. Kevin Hoffman, Director of User Experience at Happy Cog, in Philadelphia, told me, “Timing is a big factor for us. We aren’t as likely to be available as quickly as a freelancer.”
Consultants are often best for clients who want a lot of face-to-face time. Amy Cueva, Founder and Chief Experience Officer of Mad*Pow, still tries to capture such projects by operating her agency as a band of consultants. “Recently I staffed two independent consultants to jobs that required a great deal of on-site time initially,” Amy said. “But now that those consultants have built a rapport with the companies, they are doing most of the work remotely.”
However, there are some companies that need on-site help for longer periods of time, and Mad*Pow or other agencies aren’t able to serve their needs. They need independent consultants. Amy told me, “We frequently help clients find these folks—helping them write the job description, advising them about what sites to post the job on, marketing the job ourselves, and helping them review resumes.” In doing so, Mad*Pow provides an invaluable service to their clients and creates good will with these companies, building a bridge for future collaborations.