Are you tossing up whether to join a creative agency or to strike out on your own right now? If you’ve got the personality for agency work, it can be a rewarding environment, but then again, there’s nothing quite like being your own boss.
Whether you’re a developer, copywriter, designer or marketer, there is a possible role in an agency for you; so what’s a creative to do?
There are perks and pitfalls for working in a creative agency, just like any other job. Let’s take a look and you decide; is it worth taking that agency job?
The Pros of Agency Work
One of the stand-out benefits of working for an agency (especially if you’ve been freelancing), is that you’re not the one in charge of finding clients. Hey, it’s not easy juggling marketing, networking and maintaining your business with doing the actual work!
This is an obvious agency benefit, but let’s look at a few others:
Access to Tools and Strategies
If you’re looking at joining a bigger, more established agency, the chances are they have tools available that you may not have as asolo enterprise. Want access to better project management or design software? An agency often has that covered.
As far as tools and the latest strategies, established agencies are often in a better position to be able to experiment, pay to try out things and generally move with the latest developments. They can provide employees with the opportunity to be at the cutting edge of practices.
Access to Seasoned Talent
It’s always good to learn from those with experience and the chances are you will find, at least with the agency founders, that they usually have experience to draw from. This can have the added benefit of opening you up to bigger, more interesting projects that perhaps you wouldn’t have been able to take on your own.
You can develop strong concepts from seasoned professionals, which you will be able to take with you when you move on. You may even have the opportunity to learn more about how they sell ideas and operate a business in general.
Sure, agencies can go through rough patches, but overall a benefit to consider is that you will potentially have reliable work and a steady paycheck. You’re no longer the person chasing a client’s payment or having to plan out a pipeline of work.
From a similar perspective, there is a chance that you may get to work with a higher calibre of clients via an agency. When you’re on your own, you need to develop your own strategies and standards to ensure you’re getting quality clients – you’ll probably have to turn away a lot of “looky-lous.” In an agency, someone else takes on that job, plus top clients will naturally be attracted to experienced agencies with proven results.
If you work on your own, you quite often find you’ve gone an entire day without speaking to another soul. While this may suit some people just fine, others miss the social aspect of being part of a team.
An agency gives you the chance to work with others and develop camaraderie with them. If you work in a physical office rather than online, these agencies are often known for their “work hard, play hard” mentality and fun office events.
More Limited Responsibilities
Accounts payable, accounts receivable, taxes, bookkeeping, marketing, sourcing suppliers … these are all things that potentially fall under the “not my job” title if you work for an agency. You’re not worrying about the functional side of a business, your job is simply to deliver a high standard of work for clients.
Even if any of these do come under your agency job title, you’re still only wearing the hat of the job you were hired to do. Freelancers need to cover a bit of everything and often find that the things they aren’t good at fall through the cracks. It’s a definite bonus if you’re able to focus on things you love and are good at!
Agencies tend to be well-connected and tap into a vast web of creative professionals and important business contacts. By default, this often means that you have the chance to get to know these people too – you never know who could turn out to be a lead toward landing your dream job or contract!
The Cons of Agency Work
Of course there’s always a flipside, if not, no one would strike out on their own! Here are some of the cons to be aware of when looking at working for a creative agency:
When you’re a business of one, you get to call all the shots. Surfing in the mornings? No worries. Work in PJs all day? Absolutely! Generally speaking, the only thing you must meet are the deadlines and work quality you’ve agreed with your clients.
Working for an agency often puts you under stricter limits on your time and other freedoms. You may be required to be available for certain hours and you usually don’t get a choice about what you will be working on. As a freelancer, you can simply say “no” if the project doesn’t suit you; however with an agency, you’re obliged to take on what they ask you to.
If you’re the kind of person who prefers to work a certain way, you may have less freedom to do that in an agency as they’ll have their own procedures. While many will try to accommodate some kind of flexibility, they still have the systems they prefer.
Distance From The Client
Often in an agency, you’re taking direction from someone higher in the organization than you are and are simply a producer, required to do as you’re told. You may have projects for multiple clients at once and have to jump between them.
As a solo agent, you will have to get to know all of your customers well and work closely in order to successfully finish the job. Sometimes that distance from the client in an agency can create a barrier in terms of communication and really understanding what needs to be done. Communication from client, to client manager, to creative output can get lost in translation.
Some Agencies Over-work Employees
This is directly related to no longer having the choice about what work you do and when; you’re an employee now and some agencies have been known to work employees so hard that “life” doesn’t really come into the picture.
Agency employees have reported early starts and late finishes. They’ve reported getting requests for “urgent” work at weekends or even when they thought they were able to go on vacation. Working nights to meet tight deadlines is common and often employees have felt obliged to say “yes” to work requests, even when those will push them outside of contracted work hours or agreed responsibilities. Burnout has become a common occurrence among agency employees.
Earning Potential More Limited
You may be able to earn a promotion or pay raises as an employee, but in the end, you’re usually still trading time for a fixed rate of compensation, which limits your earning potential.
As a free agent you will work hard just to bring in business, but you also have the opportunity to negotiate higher rates per project, or find ways of making more money that aren’t limited by your time.
It’s not uncommon for agency employees to end up feeling like a small cog in a large machine. You might do some awesome creative work for the client, sacrificing nights and pouring in all kinds of amazing effort, but you’ll often find it is managers who get the credit for the work.
This may not be a big deal to you, but for some people it is sufficiently off-putting. It’s human nature to want credit where it is due!
Agency or Not?
We’ve highlighted just a few of the pros and cons you many come up against working in an agency. Anyone who has gone solo will probably enjoy not having to sort out administrative tasks or spend time marketing and hunting for customers.
On the other hand, there is a lot to be said for the potential freedoms that being a one-man-band can afford you.
What’s your favorite choice? To agency, or not?