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The Collaboration Software You’ll Want to Use

You might not be using ConceptShare, but your dream clients are — and they’ll expect you to know it.

When the creatives in Mad Men need to present their designs, they pin them on a board and let the client point to the bits that are wrong. That’s not so easy when you’re a freelancer working in a different office, in a different time zone, perhaps in a different country. Instead of standing by a desk while the client tells you what he or she thinks, you’ll email across your work and the client then has to figure out how to make his or her changes understood. A lot will be lost in the transmission.

“Email is never the right tool for collaborating on creative work,” says Nish Patel, CEO of collaboration software firm ConceptShare. “Whether it’s for one project or a hundred or if you are collaborating between two people or 20 people, email just was not designed for effective collaboration on creative work.”

Trying to use email, Patel argues, won’t just make the workflow clumsy and inefficient. It will translate into more mistakes, more change requests and more revisions before the freelancer receives client approval.

That, at least, was the experience of ConceptShare’s founders. A designer, a developer, and a business developer working at different companies, Bernie Aho, Chris D’Aoust, and Scott Brooks  were brainstorming ideas for a new technology venture and became frustrated at the difficulties they experienced whenever they tried to discuss interface designs through email. Their service launched in 2006 and has since been used by thousands of people including freelancers, boutique agencies and some of the world’s biggest brands.

Only for Creatives

Collaboration software isn’t unique, of course. Google has a range of free online tools and there’s no shortage of competitors trying to provide a virtual workspace shared by multiple users. But ConceptShare stands out by focusing entirely on the needs of creative professionals. Clients are able to draw on mock-ups and even video footage, highlighting elements that need to be changed and placing common markup shapes on top of the assets. Discussions take place through threaded strings designed to keep debate focused on a single point. Documents can be imported in a range of formats and displayed as storyboards so that sections can reviewed, discussed and approved separately.

“ConceptShare is not a general, all-purpose collaboration tool,” explains Nish Patel. “We address the needs of a very specific user and a very specific workflow. Everything that you see in our product is shaped by our focus on delivering a tool that makes it easy to share, communicate and collaborate on creative work.”

The tool comes in four editions. The Project edition is aimed at freelancers and small teams working on print projects, images and the Web. The Group edition targets small agencies, studios and teams, and includes video collaboration tools. The Professional edition is for “multi-office organizations,” while the Enterprise edition of ConceptShare serves “global organizations” in part by adding regulatory collaboration to its suite of tools.

Pricing for the smallest edition starts at just $5 per user per month, a level low enough to be affordable to just about any creative freelancer. But although ConceptShare says that freelancers represent “a healthy portion” of its user base, it’s the big companies using the system that are the most impressive. Listed as customers are Disney Interactive Studios, which uses ConceptShare to annotate game art produced by in-house and outside artists; HBO CE (Central Europe) which uses ConceptShare to review on-air promotions across local offices and with HBO USA; and Gamemaker Timbuk2 Studios which found the platform essential in allowing the company to supply artwork to gamemaker Big Fish Games.

“ConceptShare gives us the ability to work with outsourcers — and even more importantly, work with outsourcers in an efficient way,” Big Fish Games’s art director Jeff Haynie says in a case study on ConceptShare’s website.

How different companies use ConceptShare varies from industry to industry. According to Nish Patel, in House Agencies use ConceptShare to review and approve company marketing assets, from brochures and websites to online video; digital Agencies capture feedback and track change requests from clients; game studios like Big Fish Games and Disney Interactive review and approve game art assets being developed by third party studios and freelancers; and internet Retailers use the site’s collaboration tools to review and approve online marketing campaign assets, from banner ads and email marketing campaigns to landing pages and online video.

ConceptShare Will Make You a Better Freelancer

That makes for a remarkably broad range of industries and usages, and a variety of different projects that ConceptShare’s users could send for review on the platform. The question for individual freelancers though is whether they need to use it.

Clearly, if all you’re doing is sending across the odd logo, then ConceptShare’s on-image mark-up features are going to feel like overkill. But if you’re hoping one day to do more than create logos, to perhaps create video game art for Disney or edit ads for HBO, then it’s worth getting to know ConceptShare if only so that you’ll be ready as you move up your career ladder.

And even if you don’t plan to work for a giant client, ConceptShare can still help creative professionals to reach their goals.

“I know it sounds simple,” says Nish Patel, “but the more you use it the more value you end up getting out of it. Freelancers really succeed with tools like ConceptShare when they incorporate it into how they work with other project team members and with their clients. Using it on a day-to-day basis, across all of their projects, we see that these freelancers start to operate with a higher level of efficiency than their peers.”

Now all you have to do is persuade your clients to use ConceptShare — and persuade them that your concepts and mock-ups don’t need any changes at all.

Correction: Scott Brooks has been added as ConceptShare’s third founder

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