Why there’s never been a better time to freelance

Phil Young, a freelance graphic designer based in Manchester blogs on why North West freelancers and small independent design studios are thriving.

The freelance graphic designer; unprofessional, unreliable, awkward and ignores deadlines!!

If that’s your impression then you couldn’t be more wrong. OK, I can’t speak for everyone but on the whole independent freelancers have usually spent many years working for agencies, and have not only developed their design skills to a high level, but understand the commercial aspects of business and marketing.

At one time the big agency was the only way.

Let’s go back to the 80’s, there wasn’t a computer in sight, only drawing boards and grant enlargers, dark rooms and stacks of magic markers. A large team of people were required to design, write, visualize, spec, lick & stick and that was just the studio. You then had repro departments and type bureaus to contend with, and that seemed like a dark art. In fact the whole process was very technical and required a whole host of specialist skills.

During the 90’s agencies emerged into a new era with the arrival of the Mac. Over the next decade or so, this dull grey plastic box of tricks completely changed the way in which studios operated. It was a revelation, for the first time designers were able to conceive and produce their ideas, without having to rely on the skills of say a camera operator or a paste up artist. It spawned a new breed of agencies and enabled creatives to go where no creative had gone before.

Fundamentally the agency infrastructure hasn’t changed, just the processes involved. Agencies still have to hire a team of creatives, artworkers, copy writers, marketing professionals, developers and account handlers, as well as paying for the studio and all the latest equipment and software needed. Setting up a studio was and still is a costly exercise and all that expense has to be accounted for.

There used to be many advantages in employing large agencies – economies of scale, strength in numbers, experience and access to in-house resources were benefits the monster agency had over the small independents.

Nowadays, this isn’t so true. All a freelancer needs is a Mac, the software and an a good internet connection, as well as talent and experience of course. Now large files can be moved around quickly, and stored online for security. You can upload or download files from a designers FTP or dropbox. And there’s no need to worry about virus’s because unlike the PC, Macs don’t catch colds.

Times really have changed, more and more freelancers are providing an excellent service to their clients from their humble studios. Collaborative working has a lot do with that, a network of professionals and like minded people working together. Freelance copy writers, web developers, App developers, designers, art directors and photographers can be called upon to assist when needed.

A freelancer will be more committed to providing you with an excellent service than if they were working for a large agency, because your project means so much more to them as an individual.

To a large creative agency your big branding project is often just a drop in the ocean, and although it will be a big deal to you, unless the figures stack up, they will often give it to the junior to work on. Trust me this happens all the time.

When you hire a freelancer you enter into a personal relationship with a professional. You have one to one communication and the ability to brief them with your exact requirements. In most cases a good designer will have already started to formulate an impression in their mind of what you want by the time you come off the phone. A freelancer can do this because you can communicate directly to them without having to speak to a sales person or an account handler.

My advice is don’t be afraid of approaching a freelancer, the key is do some research and find a good one. The more agency experience they have the better. Meet with them, have a chat over a coffee and look at their portfolio to see if they are the right candidate or not. Discuss budgets, and rates at the beginning so either party is clear about the financial arrangements.

Don’t get me wrong, large agencies still and always will have a place, I’m not saying that this is not the right direction for you. I’m just pointing out that if you have a specific requirement, and want to achieve the best possible results, a large integrated agency isn’t always the best option.

The way we do business is changing at a rapid rate, and businesses of all shapes and sizes can benefit from working with a freelancer or small studio, who can provide levels of creativity and service that were once only accessible from larger agencies. The best thing is, it can save you a lot of money. And that means your marketing budget can go a lot further.

Many thanks to Phil for the piece which originally featured on his blog.

Fellow freelancers, do you agree with Phil? Or do you think agencies are beginning to embrace freelance talent, hence boosting their businesses? Lets us know below or via Twitter or LinkedIn

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Written by Alistair Beech on March 2, 2011 and filed in Freelancers, News, Opinion

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