24 Top project brief tips, so you can source the right independent expert or specialist service provider

24 Top project brief tips, so you can source the right independent expert or specialist service provider

Whether you’re hiring for a specific project or longer-term, sourcing and engaging service providers can be cumbersome processes. But they don’t have to be. If you can find a way to easily source the perfect candidate or service provider for your needs, it becomes a delightful process. The secret is crafting an effective project brief.

Why is writing a good project brief important?

Regardless of whether you’re looking for an independent expert or specialist service provider to help you complete a specific short-term assignment or project, or fulfil a long-term need, it’s vital you’re clear in your own mind about what you’re looking for. And potential experts and service providers need to know what they’re getting into as well. The project brief, serves both purposes.

When done well, your project brief will outline the work you need done, attract the skills you need, and convey your expectations and the benefits of working with you. Good project briefs will help you quickly weed out weak applications and proposals and shortlist the best. And they can also serve as a useful legal document in the event there’s any kind of dispute with an independent expert or service provider down the track.

The consequences of a poor project brief

If you don’t get your project brief right, you risk attracting:

  • Every man and his dog because your requirements are too vague or too broad.
  • No one, because the work doesn’t seem appealing.
  • People and businesses with too little experience.
  • Specialists with the wrong experience and skills.
  • Those who just want free training so they can get a ‘better job’.
  • Irrelevant pitches that waste your time.
  • Vague pitches that take forever to sort out.

You’ll also find yourself having to answer the same questions over and over again, which is just plain annoying.

How to structure your project brief

As with most things in business, always put the most important information first. The exception is application details. Put them last to encourage your audience to read, watch or listen right to the end of your brief.

Headings and dot points are also helpful structural elements if you’re producing a written project brief as they’ll help readers digest and make sense of your description and then address each element when they produce their proposal.

Other than that, you can pretty much structure your brief however you want within any restrictions imposed by the platform on which you’re posting your ad.

What to include in your project brief

While there aren’t too many requirements when it comes to structuring a project brief, there are plenty of things an effective brief will and won’t include. Here are the ideal inclusions:

  • A summary with the most important information, so potential applicants can quickly see if the project or job is of interest to them.
  • Relevant search keywords, so your brief can be found. 
  • Details about the type of work or project (contract, once-off, short-term project, recurring or long-term project), so experts can quickly rule your opportunity in or out.
  • Details about the expertise and skills required (e.g. senior copywriter or junior accountant), so everyone knows how much will be expected of the expert or service provider.
    • This information could also include reporting lines, which is especially helpful for service providers, so they can anticipate how much time they might need to spend on the project approvals process.
  • Details about where the work needs to be done (e.g. in your office in metropolitan Sydney, or work from home), again so experts can quickly rule your opportunity in or out.
  • The key objectives or outcomes you expect to be delivered by the successful expert or chosen service provider, so everyone involved in the decision-making process knows what to look for and so the applicants can determine whether they’ve got the appropriate capabilities (and whether they’re interested in applying) — ideally objectives will be SMART goals.
  • Information about the project’s target audience or the organisation’s clients, if applicable, so specialists can choose whether to apply based on their expertise or preferences.
  • Top-level details about other staff or service providers that the expert will need to work with, which gives them more information about the teamwork skills they’ll need and the topic-related skills that they won’t need (e.g. The successful applicant will work with our in-house graphic designer and sales team).
  • Key deadlines that may impact on an expert’s ability to meet your objectives.
  • A short list of critical skills, so everyone knows what’s expected.
  • A short list of additional desirable skills that you’d like to see in your service provider but which are not dealbreakers if they’re not there
  • Any licences or insurance that are a requirement of the role or project.
  • Information about your business and business culture, so you attract pitches from those who are more likely to be a good fit.
  • Working conditions (e.g. a specific time zone for work hours, the requirement to work weekends or nights, whether the role or project requires someone to be on-call).
  • Job remuneration or project budget, so no one wastes their time going through the selection process only to discover right at the end that the pay on offer is a deal breaker.
  • Any perks available to the successful service provider (e.g. a free onsite gym or free access to professional tools that a freelancer would normally have to pay a monthly fee for), to attract more interest or pitches.
  • Any, entirely necessary, special requirements that might rule out certain providers (e.g. if the successful expert needs to work with flashing lights and no reasonable adjustment can be made to eliminate that work from the role, people with epilepsy may not be able to fulfil the role).
  • Success measures, so everyone knows how the work will be assessed.
  • Instructions for how to pitch for the job or project, including a specific point of contact, so experts know who to address or direct questions to.

In addition, you’ll get the best results if you follow the 4Cs ‘rule’ which suggest your job or project brief should be :

  • Clear (no ambiguous terms or jargon)
  • Concise
  • Complete
  • Credible

And consider matching the sourcing process to the type of job or project. For example, if you’re engaging a videographer, get them to send a video pitch in support of their written brief. If you’re engaging a social media creator, perhaps the process could include writing a tweet (that gets included and referenced in the proposal but not posted to Twitter) that summarises the applicant’s key skills.

What not to include in your project brief

The most important thing to leave out of your project brief is ‘required qualifications’, unless they really are necessary for the job. Don’t just throw in ‘you must have a bachelor degree or higher’ because you think it shows ‘persistence’ or you want someone with a university degree.

In most cases, a person, business or agency’s experience and skills are far more important than a piece of paper that says they passed a test, so their qualifications are generally irrelevant. For example, let’s say you’re looking to engage a journalist to write five news articles about your business activities. Would you prefer someone who’s won a prestigious journalism award but hasn’t got a journalism degree? Or would you choose someone who graduated from a Bachelor of Journalism and has been working for a small, local community newspaper for a couple of years?

The exception is when you do actually need a specific qualification or licence. For example, if you’re engaging an electrician, their electrical safety licence would be a must. Similarly, if your upcoming project will include medical advice, you may only be interested in working with someone who has a medical degree.

The key, in such circumstances, is to clearly state what qualification you need and why, so you don’t get a host of applicants who think the line item isn’t actually a necessity.

How to select the best talent for your next project or long-term skill gap

Using these tips, you’ll be able to create a great project brief that can attract the right kinds of talent. But it’s not just about writing the document. When you’ve crafted that perfect brief, make sure you promote it in places where your ideal expert is likely to hang out, such as:

  • Social media platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter, or niche-specific Facebook groups.
  • Broad or niche-specific job boards.
  • High-quality, broad online service marketplaces (like CircleSource), or niche-specific service marketplaces (like Fabulate for content writers, or MyFonts for typography).