Freelancing For Agencies: Pros and Cons

One of the reasons I started freelancing was because I hated the work I did for my job. I was forced to do work outside of my specialty of web development. I was also forced to work for clients I hated who demanded impossible deadlines and coding feats. When I started freelancing, I decided two things:

  1. I would not have any clients.
  2. I would only do the work I wanted to do.

In this post, I’ll explain how I met both of these goals.

Agencies: A Different Kind of Client

I’m sure right now you’re trying to figure out how I’m surviving without any clients, right? When I say the word “client,” what comes to mind? You’re probably thinking either of these things:

  • A small business owner with little to no web experience
  • A medium to large business or organization
  • Someone looking for a redesign or the next “big” web application

None of my clients are these. In fact — all of my clients are web agencies.

Freelancing for web agencies instead of the typical client has changed my business in multiple ways. While there are ups and downs to every kind of work, working solely for agencies has definitely been a rewarding experience.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of working with agencies.

The Pros

There are many pros to working only with agencies. Here are some of them:

  • You control the type of work you do. You’re no longer expected to carry the website from start to finish. Instead, you can fully niche yourself into only designing, only front-end development or only programming.
  • Agencies won’t haggle you to death. While I still get an agency from time to time who tries to talk down my rates, most agencies already anticipate and understand your rates and what they’re paying for.
  • No hand-holding required. Web agencies are just as knowledgeable about your work as you are; therefore you don’t have to spend time explaining “Where do I buy the PHP?” or other questions that arise from non-web savvy clients.
  • You get paid faster. I require that my clients pay 50% up front and most are required to pay the other 50% before I release the final files. While I may bend these rules and agree to net-15 invoicing terms, I still get paid quicker than freelancers who have regular clients. How is this? Often you have to wait for your client to send you content and files.
  • They don’t throw you in the lion’s den. I’ve never had to pitch to an agency against a million other freelancers like I’ve had to with regular clients. Agencies come to me because they’re specifically looking for someone with my expertise and they can quickly tell if I’m good for them or not. I also don’t have to spend tons of time emailing back and forth, only so the “client” can go work with someone else. Chances are, if the agency is talking to you, they’re going to hire you.
  • They bring in LOTS of work. If you do a great job for the agency and they’re not going out of business, they should be coming to you for multiple jobs. With regular clients, you build them a site, launch it and then never see them again. While you may sell them some maintenance packages, SEO or social media services, most of the time these aren’t as profitable as the original job. Web agencies keep bringing you full job after job!
  • Agencies bring less stress. Agencies work just like you do — so they know if they want to make you change that background 100 times, they’ll have to pay for the revisions. Quite often, regular clients don’t understand that what we do isn’t just “copy and paste” and will argue over revision costs.

Now, that we’ve discussed the pros of working with agencies, it’s time to look at some of the cons.

The Cons

There are also a few cons to working with agencies. Here are a few of those:

  • Paperwork death. Sometimes web agencies come with a lot of nasty paperwork. Some freelancers refuse to sign non-competes and non-disclosures. Just make sure you read what you’re signing. Many of these state that you can’t use the project in your portfolio, or work with those clients in the future.
  • Portfolio bummers. Even if they do let you use the piece, sometimes it can mess up your portfolio, especially if you’re a developer. I like to link to the live websites, so the client can see that I do real work. Often I find that the agencies have changed the code. Unfortunately, many agencies don’t care about semantics or validation and hire developers who also don’t care, so the changes they make to the website after you’ve finished often lead to unvalidated sites — which in turn can make you look bad. After all, your portfolio says your sites are validated and you claimed to code that site, so why isn’t it validating? I’ve had to put a disclaimer on my site because I’ve actually lost work due to this.
  • Bureaucracy. While not much of a con for developer, if you’re a freelance designer or writer this can really stink. Not only do you have to please the client — when freelancing for an agency you have to please a client and the agency itself.
  • You can’t charge as much. When I was freelancing for regular clients, I charged double what I charge now. Unfortunately, with agencies, you have more overhead to deal with. Most can’t afford higher hourly rates. However, it honestly doesn’t feel like I’ve halved my rates, considering I’ve got more work than ever and I’m doing the work I really want to do.
  • Rush Jobs. Agencies are notorious for asking projects to be done by the end of this week, by tomorrow, or even by the end of today. I still can’t figure out why they always wait till the last minute to hire a freelancer…
  • You’re on their schedule. You have to wait on the client to provide your deposit and send you files. This can really mess up your schedule if you’re already booked solid. You have to remember to include a project that you are waiting on in your schedule every week until they actually hand you the files.

While I don’t specifically turn down work from non-agency regular clients, I don’t advertise or apply for those kinds of jobs either. If I find the client’s business interesting, I’ll probably take on the job anyway. If I’m too busy, I’ll refer them to a fellow freelancer.

Freelancing for agencies only has been a lot more rewarding for me and my business. I’m doing the work I enjoy at the rates I want and am finding that I don’t need to advertise as much as I used to. That’s not to say you can be lax in your business, but to me freelancing for agencies is definitely a lot less stressful than dealing with regular clients!

Your Turn

We’ve examined the pros and cons of working for agencies, now it’s time for you to share your perspective.

Do you work for agencies? How has your experience been?

Share your thoughts the comments.

Image by independantman