Is it a good time to be a freelancer working at creative agencies at the moment? It's a question that seems to get very varied responses as everyone's situation is different, and the availability of work is spread unevenly across the disciplines this year.
It's worth bearing in mind though that most people in the creative industry are finding it tougher this year. That said, there is still a reasonable amount of work out there for freelancers, but I think they are generally having to up their game to keep busy. Also, agencies are being choosier about which freelancers they use by trying to do more with less, they need to get their money's worth and ensure a quality return from the expense.
Fortunately, there are plenty of tools and resources you can use to improve your chances in freelancing now. In today's web 2.0 world we are very lucky to have a growing collection of resources that simply didn't exist a few years ago. Here are a few of the best ones you should look at:
There is a big selection of online jobsites now and new ones seem to pop up all the time. These sites enable you to search through the latest job ads in your field, get specific email alerts or get an RSS feed of jobs. CreativePool are one of the largest of these in the UK and have a good amount of freelance job ads. If you aren't already subscribing to their email alerts and RSS feeds I recommend you do.
Tax setup and rules
The tax laws and regulations can be confusing with freelancing, but you can get help with this through a number of ways. Your accountant (if you have one) or recruitment agent can help, but there are a number of websites that can too. The contractors organisation PCG, Business Link and Freelance Supermarket are all very useful.
Online portfolios and profiles
Whether you are a creative or not, it's important to have some sort of online presence now. This can be done very easily and for free these days. You can choose from a selection of free portfolio websites, such as Creative Pool or Behance, allowing you to be directly approached by anyone looking through their directories of profiles. Note that employers will look more favorably on portfolios that are updated regularly.
If you don't need a portfolio you could set up an online profile on LinkedIn. Here you can network with other freelancers and employers, display recommendations from other members, ask questions and find answers. There are also groups to join, bringing more opportunities and exposure.
Not only does having an online presence make you easier to find by employers but it also makes a statement that you are willing to get actively involved in the creative community, and that you're not just waiting for freelance work to come to you. Believe me, this is a good impression to give when you are competing for work.
If you are just starting out in freelancing it can be a little difficult to find advice about it. Recruitment agents may give you some advice when you register with them, or there are useful articles on sites such as Creative Pool and Xchangeteam that can help. I know I struggled to find much information when I started a few years ago, which is one reason why I set up Creative Agency Freelancing.
Even though business cards seem to be out of fashion a bit these days, I still think it's worth having a small pack at the ready for people who do want them. Traditionally the problem with this has been the cost and large minimum print runs. However, there are now digital printing companies specialising in just that and it is both easy and cheap to get cards. Moo offer one of the most cost effective packages in my opinion, plus they allow you to print different images of your work on the backs of the cards.
Improving your creative or Mac skills is another good way to become more employable and effective in your work. Some of the best sites I use are the Tuts+ network a huge collection of quality tutorials covering Photoshop, Vector, Flash, Web programming, CGI, Audio, and After Effects and The Learn List a website listing links to the best tutorials around the web on all the major creative software packages.
Hopefully this small selection will help you keep busy and find the right work as a freelancer. If you are interested in more, I publish similar information on Creative Agency Freelancing.
Mark Bowley is a freelance designer specialising in corporate identity and branding, along with print and web design. He has worked in the design industry for the last 14 years at many London design and branding agencies, both freelance and full time. Earlier this year he started a resource website for freelancers called Creative Agency Freelancing to make information and resources available in one place and share knowledge he has gained first hand in 5 years of freelancing.