I’ve spent 7 months working at a digital marketing agency whilst ‘keeping my foot in the door’ of freelancing – something that many people have not had or got the privilege to do. I’ve learnt a lot about myself, about the sports industry that I work in, about marketing from both opportunities, and the differences between working in an agency and freelancing.
Like anything, they both have their pros and their cons, so I drew up the 7 differences I’ve found between working in an agency and freelancing. So if you're looking to become a freelancer, or you've been thinking about which career path might be best for you, give this blog a read!
“I think that my personal growth whilst Freelancing comes at a deeper level, partly because you’re really forced to think about what you can most improve on.”
1. Picking and finding your clients
Picking the clients you work with can mean you do more work you enjoy - or at least work in the industries you enjoy.
Working for an agency means you work with whichever client gets thrown your way, which can certainly remove the difficulty and stress of pitching and trying to find clients left right and centre! However, it can take the enjoyment out of building relationships with clients. That is not saying that client relationships can’t be built in an agency, because clients undoubtedly work with you (as an agency) because of you (as a person).
For me, many of my interactions with clients is, at best, small talk about the lack of change of the Oxford Street Christmas lights or our weekend plans. With my freelance clients, we go for bagels and coffee at a cosy coffee shop.
I suppose the difference really occurs because when freelancing you are the boss, so you can take time out to build relationships, go for a drink with a client. In an agency, the bosses certainly do this, the juniors less so.
2. The clients themselves are different
My freelance clients are much smaller businesses, which has a number of implications.
For one, they appreciate that I wear a lot of hats for my business. Although I’ve come to learn that good clients, whether agency or freelance, appreciate they are paying you for your skills and experience, rather than purely your time in saving them a job. A good client will always understand that no matter what/
Secondly, my smaller business clients often have a very detailed interest in what I can do for them and are invested in their progress with me. Whilst this can go one of two ways in terms of project flexibility, scope and creativity, most of the time this creates a very positive working relationship.
On the other hand, agency clients often have a larger budget, which means that they have more to spend on your creative allowance, so you have more freedom to pull off exciting PR stunts. I will note that larger companies also often have more strict and unified guidelines – whether they are design guidelines or process guidelines – which can restrict creativity.
As I say, swings and roundabouts.
3. The extent of teamwork – that one’s personal preference really!
If you’ve worked freelance before you’ve worked agency, you’ll probably thrive in your own company most of the time and are more than capable of being independent.
In an agency, management becomes part of the job, which means either sending out or receiving delegated tasks. Whilst this as a concept is graspable for the majority, working out the best way to communicate and work with different managers is something you have to deal with more so in an agency than when working freelance.
Working in an agency means that you really do have a team behind you, working towards the common goal. This is a great feeling… as is the team beers after work!
4. Places you work
As I’ve mentioned before, freelancing means pretty much anywhere. For me, that once included on the sofa with my parents’ two dogs, the bagel cafe or my own homey study with cacti and plants than you can imagine!
That being said, in the Covid-forced work from home environment we’re slowly creeping out of, you can almost work anywhere working from an agency too! This week I went to the London office, worked in a cafe both alone, quietly alongside a freelance friend, at my mum's and also in my home office. My prediction is that this flexible working we know now, will stick around for some time, if not forever.
As long as you’ve got your earphones, a charging port, and a clear background for zoom calls, you’ve got everything you need really! So in this sense, there aren’t too many differences in where you can work, but perhaps more restrictions on how much time you can work in the office vs at home etc.
I definitely have a different perspective when I think about my freelance hours and my agency work hours. When you have a job contract with set hours you probably don’t want to work outside those hours.
With freelancing hours, on the other hand, I’m far more flexible and willing and able to work on evenings and weekends (partially because this is the only time I have outside my 9-5, partially because I’m more personally invested in my freelance projects).
When I did far more freelancing, I had the freedom to move my day around a bit more. If it got to 3 pm and I wasn’t really concentrating, I could go for a run, or tidy the house. Working for an agency makes those random runs (or naps!) not really fair on your dependant clients and colleagues.
It’s that classic balance between freedom and productivity.
6. Coffee breaks
Perhaps this one show’s my junior position, but when working for an agency, if I’m working from home and want to make a cup of tea, I’ll take my laptop downstairs too - on the off chance that someone rings me with a disaster or an urgent matter.
Nobody has ever told me I can’t go and make coffee or that I only have 4 and a half minutes to do it in. At the end of the day, I’m part of a team and I want to be there to help!
7. Personal growth
The only way I can describe it is that with freelancing my personal growth comes at a deeper but refined level, whereas my first (proper) adult job in an agency enhanced my personal growth far wider.
If you have the opportunity to think about what you can most improve on, otherwise, you won’t progress. Yet when you’re freelancing, you really have to instigate that process – there is no appraisal process prompting you.
In an agency, almost all the training is included – they invest their time into training you up – whereas as a freelancer you often have to pick from the 100s of courses out there, and fork out for it too!
Majorly, you get to practice your pitching, somewhat unlike you would when working for an agency. This skill of self-promotion and that is what you’re doing because you're selling your skills and your expertise, is something that I don’t think people, and especially women, do enough.
Check out my recent blog on how to self-promote (you can do it without it feeling cheesy I promise!) here.
Coinciding with that would have to be your personal growth in terms of being confident and comfortable with your pricing. I know that I’m not there yet! But every time I send a proposal to a prospective client or get asked about my availability to do a project, I’m practising getting comfortable with my self-worth and what I'm charging for my services. Please excuse the pun, but that IS priceless personal growth.
So as you can see, there are pros to both career directions, to both lifestyles and choices! Freelancing gave me freedom and independence, although I’ll admit any day that agency work has undoubtedly given me more experience in the adult world, and most importantly, in the industry that I’m working in.
Taking the jump? Let me know how it goes on! My DMs are always open for questions or just for you to let me know when you’re smashing it out of the park!