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6 Tips for Outsourcing Creative Work for Your Church

Over the Christmas break this year I was caught in a pinch. We had a new series to get ready and we didn’t have any of the graphics done for it. Our practice has been to give our staff team the last week of the year off and so I couldn’t get one of our designers to help me with it. We knew we wanted the core imagery of the series to look like it was hand drawn … but I can draw worth beans! I needed to find an illustrator on the day after Christmas to help us get ready for a strong launch in January.

I turned to an outsourcing website called Elance to help me find a illustrator that could help us out. Elance allows businesses to post jobs, search for freelance professionals, and solicit proposals. You can evaluate the outsourcers applying for the job and, once a provider is selected, communications and files are exchanged through Elance. I posted the work that I needed done [click here to see the listing] and people from China, Croatia, Guatemala and a bunch of other places from all over the world bid on the work.

In the end I connected with Martina Galjan from Croatia who did a great job with the illustrations. In fact, we expanded our used of the illustrations once we saw the quality of her work! She was a pleasure to work with, she turned around the art we needed quickly and we ended up paying just $3 per illustration! I’m so thankful that Martina was able to help us through this tight spot and got us launch off into this year with new series … we literally couldn’t have done it without her and Elance! Check out this video we made that features her illustrations to communicate what our series was all about:

I’ve enlisted a number of freelance outsourcers over the years to help add capacity to our church through seasons where we needed a little extra help to get stuff done. Mostly I’ve used Elance to find these people but there are many services that do this including ODesk, Guru & GetACoder. Here are a few things I’ve learned from working with outsourcers:

  • Include all the instructions directly in the task posting // I’ve been burned by not being super clear up front for exactly what I was looking for in the work. I assumed that people would understood a 30,000 foot view description of the task I needed to be completed. You cannot over communicate what you are looking for. Go out of your way in the job posting to describe exactly what you are looking for.
  • Past performance is the best indicator of future reality // Look carefully at the portfolio of work they provide online. Would you be happy with that level of work on this project? As a rule I only use providers with high ratings from past clients … it’s not worth the hassle to mess around with someone who has struggled in the past. Because I’m looking for providers with high past ratings it means I generally steer clear of new providers because they have very few ratings. Typically I turned to outsourcers when we’re in a time crunch and so I can’t risk that the project won’t get done right the first time. 
  • Don’t base your choice just on price // You will be able to find people in developing countries that will do your task for pennies on the dollar what it would cost you to hire someone in your home town. Low prices is one the advantages of working with foreign outsourcers but don’t let price be your only driver.  Look at their past work … communicate with them a few times before you settle on them to explore their use of the English language … ensure they fully understand what you are looking for and can deliver on the timeline you need.
  • Walk before your run // Try a few small tasks when you first get into oursourcing. Experiment with stuff that isn’t mission critical and with discretionary budget money. Just learning how a platform  like Elance works can take a few completed projects to understand. This principle is true for any given task as well … structure it in such a way that if the initial work is good you could continue to add more work with the same provider. Sometimes you might want to get two or more providers working on the same task for an initial phase to figure out which one will do a better job and then narrow down to a single provider to complete the task once you’ve vetted them.
  • Ask for samples in the posting // Don’t be shy to ask the provider to give you a free sample of their work in their bid. For the task I talked about above I asked the providers to do a few illustrations from a list so we could see their work on our task. If the provider isn’t willing to give you a sample they are most likely not customer-oriented enough and won’t be flexible when you actually start working with them. Seeing  their work in an “online portfolio” is helpful … but having them do a little bit of work on your task is even more powerful!
  • Remember … Outsourcers are people too // These freelance workers have chosen to use these online platforms as their livelihood. Typically as a customer you are just looking to complete a task quickly … but don’t forget those are real people on the other end of the online tool! They have feelings and needs too! Make sure to thank them for the work done. Pay your invoices quickly. Let them know if there is something that isn’t right … give them a chance to make it right. Provide lots of feedback. Be nice. 🙂

Here is a list of some tasks that I’ve outsourced over the years that might inspire you with the sorts of tasks you could outsource:



  1. Rich,

    Great post exposing some of the tactics we have available at our fingertips these days.

    One note of ____ (can’t articulate what category it is in right now), is that while you note the price per illustration, but THAT typically is not the point of outsourcing (for me at least).

    The main benefit isn’t paying lower rates for talent and work than what would be found locally. I believe the main benefit is being able to have flexible workflows where contractors help fill in the gaps almost on-demand in a very fluid manner.

    The fact that people now have access to a global marketplace of talent also helps be hyper productive even “while you sleep” because you can communicate with work with people in various time zones with ease. I personally have a contractor who works on projects for me in Texas. Another in Pakistan. Another in the Philippines. etc.

    I guess what I’m saying is that we need to be careful in representing what our motives are to outsource. It’s tempting to quote the price tag when sharing the story since that can be a side benefit in many cases, especially when done cross border. I have experienced however, that when people who have yet to tap this resource hear the process and details of some of of my outsourced projects, they can jump to conclusions unnecessarily. Any thoughts on this?

    1. Good call Kenny … I agree that price shouldn’t be a driver for doing outsourcing. I hope the article didn’t come off that way. It’s a factor in the process … but shouldn’t be a driver.

      The talent pool that your church could access is global. These illustrations for this series are an example … using Elance we were able to access a whole different look for us that we don’t have local.

      Thanks Kenny … what are some of the tasks that you’ve found super helpful in your work?


  2. Hey Rich, I LOVE the 24/6 series artwork, and was actually asking myself on Sunday who drew all those pictures, and I was amazed at the awesome talent we have on our creative teams.

    As the wife of an artist, this post actually made me kind of sad, and pointed out a part of the artist culture that few people realize exists. Artists are taken advantage of and essentially short changed at every turn. For example, my husband’s creative genius is not his property. In order to have a steady income and health care, he forfeits the right to own his work, or receive royalties for it, even when his company profits exponentially.

    On the other hand, there are situations like you described, and like how Liquid recently put out a ‘contest’ for our new t-shirt design. Essentially, many artists worked for liquid in an attempt to make a few dollars, and only one of them got paid. I know it’s a risk they knowingly took, but this is at least in part because as bidding and contest based websites grow, the ability to outsource work is tempting to companies and more and more talented artists are being laid off. The necessity of talented people to essentially knowingly work for FREE shows their desperate need for income.

    Most people in the design industry find this type of hiring unfortunate to put it mildly, but also find themselves participants due to the necessity to hopefully build report with a company and work with them in the future, possibly for more than $3 a drawing.

    It’s hopefully a gateway to regular work, not something they have chosen as a lifestyle.

    Just something to think about, as I watch so many of my families incredibly talented friends and family members struggle to pay the bills 🙂

  3. I should add that I KNOW your intentions are awesome… it’s a topic that is relevant in my home, and I’m sharing a different side if the coin.

    1. Of course, Amy! Not a problem at all. I really appreciate you shedding a different light on this topic!


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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.