The life of a freelance designer is rewarding. You make your own hours, choose your clients, and have the kind of autonomy most people dream about.
But it’s not all roses and champagne. The myth of the freelancer working with their brand new MacBook Pro on a beach in peru is…well…a myth. You might have long droughts without work, or a spat of difficult clients.
One of the best ways to balance the freelance lifestyle is to build relationships with design agencies. If they like you, they can provide a steadier stream of projects.
If you like them, you can let their account people deal with the end client, while you develop a relationship with the art director.
What do agencies look for when hiring freelancers?
We talked to design agency Impress Printing and Graphics to find out the 5 things they look for when hiring freelancers.
It’s obvious, but creativity may also be the single most important quality for a freelancers. It’s the one you absolutely have to nail.
For most agencies, creativity means going beyond technical skills and producing wholly original work. It’s taking the tools of the trade and using them in a way that expresses your style and meets with a specific goal.
Start with a creative resume design, and carry the theme through to your portfolio. And of course, put only the best stuff in your portfolio. Don’t fall into the trap of putting every piece you’ve ever made in there. It’s not about showing 20 decent pieces, it’s about showing 5 great pieces
“Agencies want to know they can trust a freelancer” says Wendy, art director of print at Impress. “We want to make sure that your work is good the first time, and that we don’t need to spend valuable time coaching you through the workings of the marketing world.”
And that’s where experience is an asset. If you can show that you’ve worked successfully with a few clients over longer periods of time, it shows you’re reliable. Companies might take a chance on a fresh freelancer, but if it’s an important project, or if they just have exacting standards, they’ll almost always go for the experienced veteran.
The best way to build your experience is to take on enough different jobs to build your portfolio without sacrificing the quality of your work.
Part-time freelancers should be especially wary of overbooking themselves. No matter how skilled you are, you need time to get work done.
Rush jobs show a lack of professionalism, and might force an agency to start to start from scratch, and missing deadlines can be even worse. Be prepared to prove you have the time to do the work, and show your dedication to finishing a project on schedule.
Another no brainer, but maybe not how you think.
Agencies have to be able to afford you – that’s no secret. But an agency is looking for all around value. If you’re dirt cheap and the work is blah, it won’t matter if you do the work for free. The best paid freelancers offer more than good work. They offer good work, on time, and with a positive attitude.
In short charge what you’re worth, and be prepared to tell an agency (politely, of course) why you’re worth the price. And be prepared to negotiate. It’s a skill just like anything else.
This is two-fold. First, agencies expect you to be available. They expect that you’ll pick up the phone, answer emails, and maybe even be available over chat.
Provide lines of communication and assure that you’ll respond to calls and messages quickly. If you’re close to the agency, stop by. A face to face can make a lot of things smoother. Above all, know that employers get very, very frustrated when freelancers are suddenly incommunicado. If you’re busy, let them know, and give them an anticipated time frame for when you can be back in touch.
Second, it’s an added bonus when a freelancer is a skilled communicator. Someone who can resolve conflict, take good direction, and speak up when they have something to say.