We hear from Lisa Parenti, CEO and Founder of Parenti Design, the agency behind The Business Harbour’s perfect company name, beautiful logo and corporate identity, on how she has been able to grow her business and retain skilled freelancers in a win-win situation by working with a salary hosting company.
How did Parenti Design start up?
After a period working for the ITU in communications and getting acquainted with Geneva, the culture and the language, I started working with local Swiss agencies. What really lit up my career was a fantastic year spent in New York. I loved it there as I got to work with a couple of agencies, and I was able to better understand an anglophone vision of marketing and communications.
I eventually came back to Geneva and was one of the few people who had a home office, a computer, a mobile phone and, unheard of at the time, a scanner! I founded Parenti Design in 1995 – I knew I wanted to work for myself! With commissions coming in from prestigious clients such as the University of Geneva and the Centre d’art contemporain, I needed more resources and I opened an office in Carouge. We were 5 people then. Fascinating and challenging work continued to come in, clients such as the Transports Publiques Genevois (TPG), the Journal de Genève, banks and financial institutions, museums, and private enterprise. Then, disaster: the internet bubble burst, 9/11 happened and the stock market crashed. We lost most of our clients and I had to downsize the team and rethink my business strategy. It was soul seeking, hard work, but we have come back bigger and stronger, and have some 10 employees now. The agency has won numerous awards, most recently: 5 WOLDA prizes (Worldwide Logo Design Award) 2021; Le Meilleur de la pub 2020; Les Challenges de la journée du transport public, Paris 2019.
How has work evolved and are we already experiencing the future of work?
In my industry, technology leads the way. We’ve evolved from hiring exclusively designers to digital natives who have combined skills. Our work used to be almost entirely in print and now we also work in digital, from social media campaigns to videos and motion design. Another big and positive evolution is that by working in teams and in a collaborative manner rather than alone, we bring better results for our clients.
The pandemic has allowed us to rethink our working practices and we have adopted a more flexible, hybrid model. Today all employees work 80% and can do so one day a week from home, making sure that we all “breathe the agency air” regularly. This part-time model is invaluable to us as colleagues either rest or engage in other professional or educational activities, to develop new skills and bring in creative stimulation to the team.
What kind of employees make up your team?
I employ a mix of full-time and freelance employees. Of the freelancers, some are “regulars”, meaning that we hire them on a constant basis as they bring the skills we need for the projects we have coming in. For example: illustrators, photographers, copywriters, and strategists. I also have some full-time employees who chose to become freelancers as they wanted to work independently, and it was a way for me to retain their skill sets. Their contribution is very valuable, they bring in ideas and insights that they have seen working on other external projects, and this challenges everyone to do their best work.
What are the benefits of using a Salary Hosting company to your business?
I had personally never heard of salary hosting as an employment model! In fact, I found out about it when Gina Empson mandated my agency to develop a new corporate name and logo: “The Business Harbour” was born! A full-time employee was assigned to the mandate who had been thinking about going solo but was hesitant. Anyone who is allergic to official administration, taxes and legal obligations will be nervous to take the plunge and become a freelancer. A company such as The Business Harbour (TBH) gives the freelancer the peace of mind to develop their independent career, even when they are in between jobs or if they have multiple small to medium-sized mandates. The process for us as the hiring company is easy: we have a contract with TBH who then pays the freelancer and takes care of all the admin for them. TBH has played a part in helping me to retain skilled workers whom I may have lost in the long run.
Lisa’s tips for successfully employing freelancers
I think making this kind of worker feel he or she “belongs” is a key factor to a successful working relationship, so our freelancers are part of our teams and are treated accordingly. For example, we include them in weekly team briefings, brainstorming sessions and final client presentations and we always celebrate success together. We also use a Whatsapp group to share everything from work to social news. I make sure that some of our freelancers get regular projects from us throughout the year so that they are more likely to give the agency a priority status when deciding on mandates. Any industry which requires specific skills to cover unique projects and to add value to an existing team should consider hiring freelancers. Using a company like The Business Harbour is a win-win for both the employee and the hiring company.
Interview by Antonina Marenco