Freelancer Coffee Break

Are You a Freelancer or an Agency?

It’s not uncommon for freelancers to experience a bit of an identity crisis as it pertains to their outward-facing persona. On countless occasions, I’ve found myself referring to my one-man show as “we” when communicating with clients. It got me wondering; why am I so compelled to do that? To find the answer, let’s first start with clearly defining the difference between a freelancer and an agency…

What is a Freelancer?

Side hustlers, independent contractors, gig workers, solopreneurs, moonlighters, and makers—no matter how you identify, you’re probably a freelancer. You might snap back, “but I registered an LLC!” Sure, but ask yourself this: are you PART of a company or are YOU the company? You are self employed (either part-time or full-time), work from home, are the sole decision maker, and captain of your destiny. You, my dear reader, are a freelancer and should be proud!

What is an Agency?

There is a lot of debate over the evolutionary threshold between freelancer and agency. This might be an unpopular opinion but allow me to draw the line in the sand for you. If you are an incorporated individual with a handful of regular outsourced (overseas) people on your team, or someone who frequently hires on Upwork and Fiverr to keep up with client demand, you are still a freelancer. Again, NO shame in that! Did I mention I am a freelancer? I believe a web design agency must have:

  • A physical headquarters
  • More than 3 full-time employees
  • An expansive body of work with Fortune 5000 companies
  • Agile systems in place to field any project big or small
  • Awards, notoriety or industry recognition

There is one significant difference that separates these two corporate structures; nature of service. A freelancer is called upon to execute specific creative tasks by the client. An agency, however, is more often in a position of “big picture” collaboration and thought leadership. A client will turn to an agency to help solve problems—not just deliver files.

It’s All About Image

Knowing which of these categories you fall into isn’t always what you put out there for the world to see. Now, I’m not talking about being dishonest for false advertising in any way. Some clients simply need to hear “we” because the visual of a dozen elves obsessing over a single logo design or landing page wireframe gives them peace. In that same breath, many clients have an adverse reaction to working with large faceless companies. They’ve been burned in the past by impersonal communications, constant turnover, and disconnect between departments. For these prospects, we must embrace our smallness and use it to our advantage.

Am I an agency or a freelancer? I’m not even sure I have the answer. I still go back and forth with my own marketing and website language. My best advice is to be transparent yet intune with what each particular client needs in a web design partner. If your goal is to someday evolve into more, it begins with proving yourself in the freelance arena.