s a creative freelancer, identifying the right time to get an agency on board can be tricky. To help you make the most educated decision, let’s look at the pros and cons of taking on an agent.
Many, especially newer freelancers, may fall into the easy naivety which puts an agent on a pedestal; “an agent would tell me what to do, would pull me up by the boot-straps and push me out there into the world of work, all the while ensuring that I was safely sheltered by their caring, professional embrace. An agent would talk me through the business of being an illustrator and introduce me to a network of clients that I just didn’t yet know existed. An agent would do all the things I didn’t have the skills to do and make my dream of being an illustrator a bona fide reality.”
The reality is that most agents won’t come looking for you and promote you before you have already built a secure network for yourself. They need to know that if they invest in you, you’ll commit to them and meet deadlines, deliver your best work and get things done professionally. It’s a business relationship after all. If you’ve done it all on your own, you’ll see the value that they bring to the table.
The pro is that you are handing over the hard work you’ve been doing for yourself all these years – the client chasing, invoice raising, fee negotiating, expenses paying – to focus on your beautiful art. Sounds like an easy choice, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve come to enjoy doing my own paperwork. Raising an invoice for a job well done can provide just the jolt of serotonin I need at the end of a tiring month. Then again, you may detest admin with every fibre of your being.
Making the decision sort of depends on how you like to balance artistry and admin/business. you might not need an agent to have a flourishing freelance career, but you might need one if you’d like to be super successful. If you like numbers, negotiating, and navigating difficult conversations with people, and you have a tolerance for the administrative aspects in addition to doing the work, then hire an in-house producer and work as a team. If you hate everything I just described and want the support of an established team, get an agent.
Overall, you might not need an agent to have a flourishing freelance career, but you might need one if you’d like to be super successful. Even then, when you do decide to hire an agent, finding the right one is like dating and this dating stage (like romantic dating) is important to ensure you “marry” into the right contract minimising the chance for divorce.
It’s also worth remembering that when it comes to signing the contract, it’s you that can call the shots to an extent. Agents don’t follow a one-size-fits-all model. They produce work for different types of clients and keep a wide range of artists on their books. They can demand exclusivity in your contract, or you can be a free agent a lot of the time.
Furthermore, all agents are looking for something different. Maintaining a viable agency means ensuring that the needs of clients are catered for by the artists on the books and ensuring that the artists are satisfied with the creative work they get to produce.
In terms of the cut, the typical split is 70/30 in the artist’s favour, although that varies agent to agent, and plenty of agents aren’t too transparent about what percentage they take. Of course you’ll get to see everything in writing before you sign a contract, but if an agent is asking for more than a 30% take of your earnings, then be sure to work out what you’ll get from them in return.
All in all you don’t need an agent but if you’re swarmed with work and/or want a clear career direction, they sure could make your life a lot easier.