The Downside to Developing for an Agency…and the Upside As Well

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Most of my clients are medium to large agencies, who have a lot of overflow work and depend on freelancers, like me, to help them out of a bind. Agencies are my favorite clients, because they don’t require much as far as being a client goes; we don’t have to teach them what jQuery is, we don’t have to teach them why XYZ costs $XX because it takes X amount of time to code. Most agencies know all of this, and once you give them a quote, hand you the design and let you do your thing. These reasons were why I decided to scrap designing and only develop; and niche myself to agency clients. However there can be a few downsides.

Many Don’t Care About Validation Standards

It’s very frustrating sometimes to advertise your services as valid strict. You get a project, put your best code into it, and then send it off to the agency. Perfect piece for your portfolio? Not always. Almost all the time, an agency needs to make changes to your code, normally because the client decides to add or change something after you’ve finished. Not all agencies and agencies’ developers care about validation standards, so that pretty code you just made goes out the window.

Some Care About Validation To The Point of Discrediting Your Portfolio

This is the biggest problem I have with agencies not caring about validation. It messes up your portfolio. If you take a look at most of my portfolio pieces, the code snippets are clean, but if you look at the actual site, the code is a mess!

Most people understand that after you hand off the site, you can’t control the code. However most probably don’t understand that your work is for agencies that you hand the site off to. I’ve come across this problem enough times, where potential clients didn’t want to hire me because my pieces didn’t validate. Some understood that they are agency pieces, and that they changed the code. Others didn’t believe me. This lead me to writing a code disclaimer on my portfolio page.

Some Don’t Want To Be In Your Portfolio

There are some agencies out there that have sensitive clients. These may be big name clients, who are trying to keep the project a secret; or it may just be that agencies don’t want their clients to know they outsource some of their work. They may ask you not to put your completed piece in your portfolio, even if you do credit them for the job, and only credit yourself for what you did (which you should do anyways).

If you look at my portfolio, you’ll notice I have a few regular clients, but that the rest is done under one agency. This is because I’ve either signed a non-disclosure, or the site wasn’t fit for my portfolio anyways. While this may dismay you (how are you supposed to build up your portfolio?) this isn’t worth fighting for. Some of my highest paying clients don’t want me to put my work in my portfolio and I’m not going to argue about it because I enjoy the client relationship. You can always find other agencies for your portfolio building (in my case, CLM on my portfolio)

You May Have To Wait…Forever

It seems to be that the larger an agency, the longer it takes to move anywhere. There are times I’ve waited over two weeks for a deposit, before I could even get started on a project. Remember, even though you’re not part of corporate life anymore, you still have to confirm to their schedules if they’re going to be your client. I’ve heard from fellow freelancers that they sometimes had to wait for the client, past the deadline, and the agency tried to pin the lateness on them. The best way to make sure you’re covered in this situation is just add in your contract next to the delivery date “from date of deposit”. This ensures the agency isn’t confused about deadlines and everyone stays happy.

You Have To Charge Less

When I was freelancing for regular clients, I easily charged $100 an hour. However, when you’re freelancing for agencies, they have a larger overhead and most charge $100-$150 an hour themselves, so they obviously can’t pay $100 an hour. I ended up having to reduce my rates to $50 an hour, but I’ve gotten much more and better quality work ever since. Just remember you’re rates HAVE to match your target audience. I could charge regular clients that much because I could keep all of it; with agencies you have to share.

Why Freelance For Agencies?

You may now be asking yourself, “Why would I freelance for an agencies?” Agencies are really, really great clients, especially when you compare regular clients and agencies side by side. Agencies are often a:

  • Constant source of work
  • Great relationship and source for referrals
  • Great source for your first freelance “job”
  • Great source publicity for yourself, “I worked with such and such”
  • Great business contact when looking for new work or even a full-time job. (I freelanced for MMA Creative before I worked there)
  • “Easy” client. While you can never be lax and must always bring your A-game, agencies often take less admin time than regular clients, and they understand about last-minute changes and extra charges, unlike a non-webified client.
  • Relaxing client. they are easier to sell your servies to (I had more of a success cold-emailing agencies than I did quoting regular clients who came to me!) and they are less stressful because the work is more “in and out” and focused.
  • Source to get the work you want. With agencies, most don’t expect you to be that jack-of-all-trades. When I freelance for agencies, I only do my favorite kind of work: HTML/CSS and WordPress.

What have been your experiences working with agencies?