Image shows the redesigned Pearson Insight website.

I’m still not sure how I managed to pull it off, but I won IPSE’s New to Freelancing award in June 2019.

Along with the accolade (and hangover) came £3k in prize money, and I knew from the off I’d use it to reposition Pearson Insight.

I’d been in business for 12 months at this point and I’d learnt a lot (although mostly from making mistakes - let’s be honest).

Through everything, the highs and the lows, it’s been the kindness and generosity of other freelancers that’s kept me going.

And it’s that - the strong sense of community and goodwill - that has become such a key part of how I run my business.

Repositioning

I began my self-employed journey as Adam, freelance researcher. Now, I see Pearson Insight as a freelance research agency.

That means I bring together teams of freelance research specialists to deliver agency-scale projects to clients in the public, cultural and not-for-profit sectors.

This model gives clients the benefit of a hand-picked team, and it brings freelancers together in a way that means we’re in a better position to compete with traditional agencies.

If we were to be going up against those agencies, I knew Pearson Insight would need to look and sound the part. I had a sense of what that meant, but I needed help to fully realise the vision and bring it to life.

Building a freelance branding team

There was never any doubt that I’d work with freelancers on this rebrand. It might have been easier to outsource the whole job to an agency, but I felt confident that I’d get a better result by pulling together my own freelance branding team.

Luckily enough, I’d got to know and trust a few.

First, I’d need help planning the rebrand. From there, there’d be fresh website copy, a new logo and visual identity, and a new website design.

I wanted to work with people whose style suited the vision I had, and there were a few freelancers in my network who stood out.

On top of the £3k prize money from IPSE, I also invested a decent chunk of my own cash (enough to put new carpets on hold for a while). If I was going to do this, it was important to me that I do it properly, and that meant investing in the right people.

Web designer: Dave Smyth

Websmyth

I get loads of direct sales emails from web designers I’ve never heard of, but Dave is someone who clearly knows what he’s talking about. Dave adds loads of value online with helpful, informative content, and he’s developed a simple, sleek style that felt like a natural fit. 

Copywriter: Gareth Hancock

That. Content. Shed.

I had a big list of copywriters to choose from, but it was Gareth’s distinct tone of voice that drew me in. It fits with my own writing style and it’s perfect for communicating complex ideas in a simple, easy-to-understand way.

Graphic designer: Frankie Tortora

Francesca Tortora

Again, my pool of graphic designers wasn’t small, but Frankie’s strong with type-based branding and I thought she would give me a much needed push to introduce some colour, too. I could see her style complimenting Dave’s nicely.

Strategy and planning: Sophie Livingston

Kickstart Content

Sophie specialises in working with freelancers, so I knew she’d get what this rebrand was all about. She’s organised and she explains things clearly - just what I needed to help me get everything out of my head and onto paper.

Writing a brief

To kick off this project, I spent a day going through my plans and ideas with Sophie. We took a walk around Skipton woods to talk everything through, and then went back to my co-working space to start making plans.

I came away from the day with an outline for my 4-year plan (I know!), as well as a brand overview that detailed things like the vision, USP and values of Pearson Insight. With all of this down in writing, I was then ready to brief the rest of the team.

Sophie said:

"Adam had a head full of ideas and plans, and it was my job to help him unravel them. He knew where he wanted to take Pearson Insight, but he hadn’t broken down his goal into smaller steps. Once we’d done that, it got a lot easier to see what needed to happen next. 

With a clearer idea of Adam’s strengths, the opportunities he had in front of him, and the values he felt strongly about, we were able to pull together a couple of documents that communicated his vision clearly."

Writing the copy 

Research projects can be complicated, and a big part of my work involves simplifying things for my clients.

I’m careful to explain approaches or outcomes in an easy-to-understand manner, and I wanted this to be evident from the very beginning of the client’s experience with Pearson Insight.

The website copy needed to be clear, concise, and straight-to-the-point.

Gareth said:

"Because I wasn’t clued up on what’s involved in Adam’s work, he had to explain everything to me in layman’s terms. 

He did this first in a brief I sent him, then in answering my questions over email, over the phone and at a ridiculously swanky restaurant that I’d picked for breakfast. 

This all helped me get his services, and the benefits of what he does, down to a few sentences. 

In other words, my stupidity helped massively in writing the copy.

Once I’d drafted the copy, we went back and forth (one of the great benefits of Google Docs) tweaking and changing bits until we were both happy. Adam consulted me before making changes and always trusted my judgement on what was right. A good quality in a client, that."

Image shows an example of Gareth Hancock’s copy on the new website.

Some of Gareth's clever copy.

Creating a visual identity

Frankie sent me a branding questionnaire and I tried to give her plenty of insight into me and my business.

She also asked me to set up a Pinterest board, where I could pull together some examples of brands and styles I like.

I wanted a type-based logo because of the nature of my work - there can be a lot of writing and reports.

Beyond that, I needed a push with colour. In the past I’ve used colours that felt safe to me. I was ready to try something different, but I didn’t know where to start.

Image shows the new Pearson Insight logo, designed by Frankie Tortora.

My new logo in a colour inspired by my cocker spaniels.

Frankie said:

"We’ve never met in real life, but I’ve been following and chatting to Adam via social media for a couple of years now and I genuinely feel like I ‘know’ him. 

Adam is all about clarity, simplicity and honesty; what you see is what you get — I knew reflecting those qualities in the new logo was key. I also knew that his branding needed to feel fresh and forward-thinking, and worthy of an agency-size business, without feeling out of reach to some of his smaller or more ‘traditional’ clients. 

The logo itself is very clean and simple, so I wanted to inject a bit of Adam’s personality and interests through colour. The palette I’ve chosen is (I hope!) warm, approachable and representative of his outdoorsy life in the countryside and those gorgeous dogs!"

Image shows Adam’s dogs:  Fred and George.

The main men. Fred and George.

Building a website

The website design came last because it was the copy and brand assets that would help us decide on layout and style.

I’d designed my website myself originally, using Divi for WordPress. I’d never been happy with it and found myself constantly tweaking it.

Quality matters to me, and I wanted that to be evident from the second a potential client lands on the site.

It was also important that the site be simple and understated - again, to reflect the type of person I am and the way I work.

Dave said:

“Working with a branding designer is always good because it means there’s an overall feel for the brand in place that gives me something to work with. Chatting to Frankie gave me a good sense of why key decisions had been made.

Beyond this, Adam and I spent time looking at the site structure to make sure that priority content would be visible without overloading users.

Adam also made the decision to move away from WordPress. We rebuilt his existing site using the flat-file CMS Statamic.

With Statamic there’s no database, making the site more secure and faster than a WordPress alternative. It also gave me the option to build a control panel that makes content management easier.”

Screenshot of the redesigned website.

I love Dave's style. And those buttons...

Reflecting on the whole process

Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees when you’re trying to do everything yourself. The value of getting a fresh perspective - or 4, in this case - meant the end results are better than I could have imagined.

I gave everyone a brief and I think they appreciated the detail I’d put into it, but I was open and I tried to give them room to use their own expertise.

I learnt from each of them in other ways, too. Each freelancer has their own processes, and it was interesting to experience the different workflows and systems they use. We might all be in different industries, but they’ve each given me ideas for how I can adapt the way I work with clients.

I’d like to think this collaboration - between freelancers in Lancashire, Teesside, Hull, and North London - reflects the future of Pearson Insight. And the future of business.

While we can deliver quality work on the same scale as an agency, there aren’t the same associated overheads that can drive prices up.

Clients get a tailor-made team of independent, resourceful professionals who have a real passion for what they do.

In short, that means better value and better results. What’s not to like?


To follow the story from here, sign up for my monthly newsletter, where I share stories and thoughts on what it’s like to run a freelance business.