The future is freelance, but Lakewood-based Impel Creative already knew that.

Ten years from now, employment industry experts estimate that 50 percent of Millennials will be earning their livings as freelancers. That's no surprise to Impel Creative founders Stacie Ross and Doug Crouch—who've been helping to set the trend by hiring freelancers for the past 10 years.

The husband-and-wife team­—Ross with the creative background and Crouch with the marketing experience—run Impel Creative out of their Lakewood home. The virtual studio utilizes one full-time on-site employee and a roster of 10 virtual freelance team members.

Together they've built an impressive virtual business through both determination and hard work. “We didn’t have any clients when we started,” recalls Ross. “It was really built from the ground up.” Adds Crouch, “We made it through the early days.”

Stacie Ross of Impel Creative
Impel’s clients range from Cleveland Botanical Garden’s and Holden Arboretum’s event graphics, reports, and Forests and Gardens magazine to various print and video materials for West Point Association of Graduates. Other clients of note include the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and Centers for Dialysis Care.

“We’re a soup-to-nuts sort of agency,” says Crouch. Such variety bodes well for a virtual agency, he says, allowing Impel to hire additional talent as necessary. “It gives us the flexibility to go after different projects, but also helps us keep our costs down. The nice thing about this setup is we can gear up or gear down, depending on the scope of the project.”

Ross adds that working with freelancers often gives them the chance to hire the best people for each job Impel takes on. “The people we work with all have 10 to 20 years of experience—they’re not fresh out of school,” she says. “Everybody we work with is top-notch talent.”

Both Ross and Crouch made most of their connections through previous employers. Ross was working for Nesnadny + Schwartz in 2008 at the height of the financial crisis, while Crouch was with Kichler Lighting. Ross was ready to start her own business. “I was ready for the next step when I was at the agency,” she recalls. Crouch joined in the endeavor, but kept his full-time employment until four years ago.

“It was 2008, and the financial meltdown was full-fraught when Stacie called me,” Crouch recalls. “We spent a lot of that night planning it out—whom we would target.”
 

Doug Crouch of Impel CreativeOf course, starting a new creative firm wasn’t an overnight process, Crouch says. “We did all the legwork. [After six years], we got traction and finally got to the point Stacie needed help and I needed to jump ship.”

Through past work connections and a lot of networking, Crouch and Ross were able to grow Impel. “We always try to make connections and the fit comes, but networking is the answer,” says Crouch. “We’ve known most of these people a long time and we know their strengths. Most of our clients have been with us the full 10 years.”

Ross points to both West Point (nine years) and Cleveland Botanical Garden (six years) as long-term clients. “It doesn’t get any better than that,” Ross says of the ongoing relationships.

In Ross’ and Crouch’s home office, there are five work stations, but most of the group works remotely. Ross estimates that it’s just herself and Crouch in the office 80 percent of the week, with the remainder of the week being a fully occupied office.

But having a virtual team doesn’t mean the staff isn’t in constant communication. “We’re definitely in contact pretty constantly,” says Ross. “We have Monday morning calls, we touch base on the phone, and we IM constantly.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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