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Agency v freelance. Better pay, better work or better life?

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Years back it was said that creative people that chose to go freelance were either too old to be considered for full-time employment or simply not good enough to cut it in a top agency. In those days, I’m going back to the 80’s here, the freelancer was a rather put upon individual whose career was stuck in a creative cul-de-sac.


Phone calls from top agencies would be rare and only occurred during summer holidays or the run up to Christmas. Perhaps he or she would be called in to service the agency’s more mundane accounts and once he or she had kissed the feet of the Creative Director, the freelancer would be given strict instruction to keep his or her lips sealed regarding the uneasy subbing out relationship.

Locked up in a silent back office, fed only bread and water and expected to bang out third-rate work destined for the Lagos Times, the freelancer was treated as an outsider and discouraged from using any of the creative departments resources or indeed making eye-contact with any of its pony-tailed, trophy-laden residents.

Today, things have changed and the stigma of going freelance has all but gone. In fact, the freelancer is becoming increasingly important for today’s creative agencies - providing economies of scale, strength in numbers, and direct access to additional creative muscle and experience.

So the tables have turned. Freelancers have a stronger hand and there are many good reasons why setting up on your own is a sensible career path. But is it right for you? Well, before you make that decision there are three things to consider.

1. Will you earn more in an agency or more as a freelancer?

The odds are that you will earn more working full-time in an agency. Sure, some freelancers are doing very well thank you but there’s plenty of freelancers who are earning the equivalent of their agency salary and there’s a few more who are taking a hit. The reason is that many creative people forget that they are running a business. They don’t market themselves properly, they don’t network, they just sit there waiting for the phone to ring. To increase your salary you will have to work hard at lots of things you may be unfamiliar with - such as selling your freelance service.

2. Will you produce better work?

Some of the worlds most respected creative people work in agencies. Why? Well, the simple answer is that they are able to concentrate their minds fully on what they love doing - and that’s the work. Apart from a bit of office politics and the difficult decision on where to lunch, they have no distractions and very few worries. They can put all their efforts into the job in hand and for that reason the chances are they will end up producing something rather fresh and exciting at the end of it. The freelancer however is working under different constraints. The chances are he or she will have less time on the job, the work will be of a lower profile and the outcome will be less important. Sure, most freelancers will deliver a very acceptable piece of work, but the best work - I’m not so sure.

3. Will you have a better life?

If you are able to market yourself properly and if you can live with the fact that other people will be doing better work than you, then without question ‘freelancing will offer you a better life’. One of the things I love about freelancing - and I love a lot of things about it - is that I pick my own hours. I rarely work in the evenings and the weekends are sacrosanct. I have a family, I have hobbies, and I have a social life. Right now I am planning to take my family away for a month this summer and do some serious travelling. I can do this because I run my own business. And when I’m old and grey and I look back on my life, trust me, it will not be a press ad that I created that I’ll remember.

John Fountain is a freelance copywriter
Follow @fountainjohn

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