The secret to success in working with any designers, contractors or team members (virtual or otherwise) is the quality and detail of the brief you provide.

I was chatting to an old uni friend today about creating a flyer for her business, and as she said “it’s a whole different world out there.” Whereas once upon a time you would source a local graphic designer, probably meet with them in person and wait to see the concepts they created, now it’s a world of outsourcing, overseas suppliers, $5 projects and virtual teams.

Good design services (and so many other business services) are available from experienced professionals from all around the world, making it more accessible and affordable for small business owners. But I know so many people who have been frustrated with using the outsourcing options available.

I believe there is one vital ingredient to achieving great results with any contractor, service provider or (for that matter) team member.

The brief you give!

Garbage In Garbage Out

It’s the ultimate example of “Garbage In, Garbage Out”.

The quality of the outcome of any outsourced project is directly related to the input (i.e. your brief).  If you don’t take the time to outline your expectations, give adequate background and clearly explain the parameters of your project, you can’t reasonably expect a quality result.

The biggest enemy of any brief is assumption:

  • assumption that the person understands your expectations;
  • assumption that they know about your business and brand;
  • assumption that they can translate the picture in your head (which you may have failed to explain clearly) into the outcome you desire.

Investing the time to create a detailed, clear brief pays dividends: 

  • It saves you time and money. 
  • It delivers better outcomes by allowing your provider to identify information gaps and ask the right questions.
  • It sets the scene for effective communications throughout the project.
  • Both sides understand the expectations and there is little room for misunderstanding.

Plus once you create a detailed brief once, you have the framework in place for future project briefs, so they will take less time to create.

Click To Tweet: The Biggest Enemy of Any Brief is Assumption.

So what are the ingredients of a good brief?

The Ingredients Of A Good Brief

Let’s look at two different aspects:

  1. Information specific to the current project
  2. General information that can be used across all project briefs

1. Information Specific To The Current Project

Purpose of the Brief

Detail the purpose and desired outcome of the project. Be as specific as possible.

So rather than brief by saying “create an invitation for our upcoming event”, clearly outline the purpose and objectives. For example,

We are holding an event to launch our new business to our target market of women in business who feel overwhelmed by their to-do lists. We require an eye-catching, enticing invitation that will capture their interest and drive them to take action and book their seat via the website booking page.


Outline clear, measurable objectives for the project. For example,

  • We need an inspiring, appealing invitation that will drive attendance and ticket sales (maximum 100 tickets).
  • The invitation should support our branding and drive awareness of our social media profiles and website.

Be as specific as possible.  Explain the need behind the project – eg not just “we need a new website” but rather the business outcomes you are trying to achieve by developing a new website.  It might seem like too much information, but the more background and context a service provider has, the better chance they have of delivering to your expectations.

Project Details

What are the project deliverables – i.e. the number and types of items required (including file types and sizes for digital products).  Specifying these up front means you won’t have to go back and ask for further work down the track.

Functionality and Specifications

Especially when you’re briefing for a new website or technical requirement, specify what you want and need it to do – not just now but in 2 and 5 years’ time. Have a long-term view of your business requirements, so even if you’re not ready to invest in certain functionality now, the foundations can be laid in the best possible way to make future additions and enhancements easier.

Also, let your designer know which systems the new website needs to work with. If you have specific email marketing providers, sales systems or other software, if you want it to integrate with your website you should make that clear up front.


When do you need the project completed? Your version of “as soon as possible’ might be different to that of your service provider. Be specific.


Many people won’t specify a budget as they’d rather hear back from the service provider first. Keep in mind that by doing this, you may be wasting their time, and yours. If you have a specific budget in mind, it’s better to make that clear up front so your provider can tailor a proposal to suit your budget.

Design Inspiration

For a design project, if you already have an idea in your head of the look / feel you’re wanting to create, consider creating a Mood Board of pictures that reflect what you’re hoping for.  That’s not to say your designer should copy the images you provide, but rather you give them a clearer idea of exactly what you have in mind – the colours, the composition, the fonts, the “mood”.

2. General Information / Background

This is the information that is often left out of briefs, but provides the crucial context for the project and the design outcome.

The beauty of this section of the brief is that once it’s been created, you can simply cut and paste it into future briefing documents.

Business & Industry Background

  • What does your business do?
  • What products or services do you offer?
  • What is the background of your business?
  • What sets you apart from your competitors?
  • Description of your industry
  • The industry’s challenges and opportunities
  • Who are your main competitors?

Your Customers

  • Who are your target customers?
  • Describe your ideal customer
  • Why do they need / want your product services.

Your Brand

  • What are your brand values?
  • What is your brand’s personality?
  • What tone does your brand use?
  • What existing visual assets do you have?  (Logo, images, designs, brand style guide i.e. What do you already have in your Marketing Toolbox?)

If you have already created a Brand Style Guide, this section is easier to create.


  • When you’re dealing with overseas designers or business service providers, remember that language and cultural nuances may be misinterpreted or misunderstood – or simply missed.  Be as clear as you possible can, and re-read your brief through the filter of a person for whom English may be their second language.
  • Collect examples of designs / images / functionality you like.  (I use Evernote to capture these ideas ready to be shared when I’m briefing a project).
  • Don’t expect your service provider to be a mind reader. Good quality information in = better outcomes delivered.
  • Once you have your brief written, keep it as a template for future projects.  It can also assist in instructing new team members.

ACTION:  Download the Creative Brief Template and use it for your next project brief. Try completing the Business and Industry Information so it’s ready to go when you next need to deliver a brief.

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