From Freelancer to Starting Your Own Agency- Tips to Transition

The move from working as a freelancer to setting up your own agency is a huge step. It must be said, however, that while many freelancers choose to take this step at a certain point in their careers, it is by all means optional. If you’re content working as a solo freelancer for the majority of your career then go for it! Projects without passion don’t have much longevity nor pleasure so continue to make the decisions that feel right for you – not for the cookie cutter freelancer. 

Starting your own agency may be the right decision when you find yourself overwhelmed with work and with a very full network of both clients and freelancers. It also enables you to connect with like minded creatives and work with and guide freelancers on all levels. 

As an agency, you are able to work on more projects for more clients – and you’re able to focus on the types of projects you love. You perform less of the “grunt work” yourself, and focus more on sourcing and retaining clients, managing the business and making sure your team is running smoothly. If you enjoy this process, you could find running an agency a great alternative to and jump forward from freelancing. 

Before you open the doors to your new agency, here are a few things to consider while transitioning. 

Where’s your mind(set) at? 

By pulling together a team of creative people, you’re able to capitalise on their strengths and experiences – and tackle projects that were once well outside your own capabilities. It’s an exciting prospect, but one that might not be right for all freelancers. 

However, taking on an agency requires a lot of responsibility and juggling many projects at once. As you’ll be working with a team, you’ll no longer be carrying each project through from conception to sign-off – instead, you’ll be tackling only a small part of that process. For some freelancers, this can seem boring and repetitive – for others, it’s a whole new type of creative challenge. 

As the director of an agency, you’ll have to learn many new skills. Your focus will shift from the execution of briefs to strategy and management. You will often be prioritising administration over the more creative work. If you prefer to sit in the background, you will probably not enjoy running an agency.

How will you brand yourself? 

During your freelance experience you found yourself. You established yourself with a particular reputation, logo, website, blog, and marketing materials that appeal to your ideal clients. Now it’s time to put that thing down, flip it and reverse it. 

An agency’s branding will be very different from a freelancer’s. The types of jobs handled by an agency will be very different to the clients you’re used to as a freelancer. Instead of branding a person (you), you are branding a business.

When creating the branding for your agency, it’s vital you have a clear idea of the type of client you want to acquire, as well as the future direction of the agency. What are your long-term goals? Remember that the brand doesn’t just only have to fit the company you’re creating now, but also the company you will expand into in coming years.

Organisation is everything

As a freelancer, you’re able to shuffle along as a sole trader using a few folders and Excel spreadsheets. As an agency dealing with numerous jobs, this system is no longer going to cut it.

First you’ll need to talk to an accountant about your record-keeping and tax obligations. You’ll need to register as a company and figure out your business structure. You’ll also need to figure out how you’re going to package your services, what your rates will be and how you will quote and charge for work.

Then, you’ll need to suss out an accounting and bookkeeping system. You basically have two options – a cloud-based system, or a software package. For this, I recommend Xero Accounting, as the system is in the cloud, you pay a small subscription fee each month, and it offers a range of features that can easily grow and adapt with your business.

Next, you’ll need to establish systems for managing workflow and timesheets. How will you break up a project into various stages and divvy out the stages to members of your team? What policies and processes do you need to create to help things run smoothly? What information does each team member need in order to carry out their jobs?

Accurate time tracking is always an issue for agencies. Many creative are resistant to time tracking, as it breaks their creative flow. It’s often left up to each team member to track their time, and the variety of different methods means that data is both inaccurate and difficult to obtain.

Hire great people 

First things first, figure out which roles you need filling. Here are some examples; 

  • HR and administration.
  • Marketing.
  • Creative Director
  • Finance and Payroll
  • Creative Team: designers, developers, copywriters, pre-and-post-production.

Once you know who you need, look for the potential people on platforms like Wishu and the Dots. Choose people with a strong portfolio, skills in areas that compliment your own, and whose work ethic and reputation command respect. It’s best not to work with people who are your friends in real life, as you can quickly run into problems that spill over into your personal life.

Once you’ve sourced your team, you’ll need to establish a formal relationship with them through a contract or working agreement. You’ll also need to decide how you’re going to pay your team, and how you’re going to structure their work. Are you going to have them work as contractors, or will you take them on as employees? 

Can you find an advisor ?

There’s no rule book when it comes to setting up an agency and it’s still not a universally understood pathway. The work that goes into establishing your agency can seem overwhelming – there are so many decisions you need to make and it can be difficult to decide what will be right for your company. It is an exciting time, but can also be terrifying – one mistake can destroy your agency before you’ve even opened the doors. 

Advisor or no advisor, self education is always super important. Check out books on business management and establishing an agency. Learn from the experts in your field what worked for them, and what didn’t.

Use your built network to find advisors- someone who has a few years of experience under their belt and can offer vital advice and inspiration. Being able to sit down with your mentor and pick their brain about what works and why will offer invaluable insights.

Bring over the right clients 

During your years as a freelancer, naturally, you would have built an extensive or at least well rounded and reliable network of clients. Now it’s time to bring the right people over. 

Nevertheless, clients have many reasons for approaching a freelancer, and they might not be comfortable working with an agency. You should be prepared to meet resistance to your new model, even from your most loyal clients. If this happens, you need to be ready with a list of advantages of using your agency over a solo freelancer.

Larger companies with bigger budgets are more likely to respond to the agency model. They’re also more likely to accept a higher hourly rate – which you’ll need to cover your overheads. Look at the portfolios of similar sized agencies in your area – figure out the types of clients they’re landing. How can you find similar clients?

You may have to employ new marketing techniques you’ve never used before, such as tendering for work or joining professional networking organisations. Your mentor should be able to advise you on other strategies and techniques they have found useful.

Best of luck from Wishu! Don’t forget that many on our platform have transitioned from freelancer to agency founders. There are so many friendly creatives, feel free to reach out to any number of them for advice. 

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