How to turn your freelance skills into a reputable agency?

Having a freelance career will make you feel exactly as it sounds ‘Free’. With freelance skills, You can wake up at whatever time you want, accept or decline projects when you want, and not need to answer to anyone else’s instructions (other than your client). So why change anything?

This is the question that I had, as a freelance graphic designer in Sydney, working from project to project using Upwork, Fiverr and Instagram to source clients. What I didn’t realise at the time was that I wasn’t as ‘free’ as I thought. After taking the leap of faith, albeit with hard work and lots of research, I found that moving from freelancer to agency owner was far more rewarding than I had imagined. I was able to take on more clients, increase my sales and subsequently increase my overall profit.

This article will address the 4 most common questions below, which will provide some guidance on the requirements needed to move from freelancer to business owner.

What are the perks of owning your own agency vs. freelancing?

I was a graphic design freelancer for 8 years, using social media and other platforms to source clients. Since my services were website and logo design only, I didn’t need many resources other than myself and a working laptop. However, the simplicity of my operation soon became my biggest challenge.

After they had their website designed, clients were asking for additional services such as website development and content writing. Unfortunately, I had to refer these clients to other agencies, even though I also had some background in these skills myself. It was during these moments that I wished I had a team that could help me build a customer’s website from start to finish. Unless I put my prices up, my profits were always going to be solely dependent on how fast I could work as individual designer.

Owning my graphic design agency, BrandVillage, has allowed me to take on higher value and larger projects as a collaborative team. I can become more engrossed in the client’s branding journey and ensure that they are getting quality service at every step of the way.

 What is the first thing you need to do to start your agency?

The most important part of starting any business is to establish a timeline and a budget.

One of the biggest challenges I had was trying to set aside time in my calendar to work on my business plan. Since paying my rent relied heavily on completing freelance projects, I made sure that the time I sacrificed to work on my business was not at the expense of my income.

Once you find time to work on your business plan, its important to clearly map out what services you will be providing, who your target market is going to be and what your brand identity will look like. After this, you will need to write down all the costs of each step towards achieving that goal. For example, you may choose to rent out an office space or work permanently from home. You might also start with hiring just one designer or developer to begin with until you’re able to build your client base.

Now that you have assessed all costs involved and estimated the income you will have available to spend on this venture, you will be able to determine when you can make the next step to put the wheels in motion.

How does owning your own agency give you more time back in your day?

This is a common misconception. A lot of people believe that starting your own business will take time away from your day. When you compare this with the lifestyle of a freelancer, it can be very daunting to make the switch.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of running your own business is the ability to delegate projects that are not within your skillset and focus on the projects that interest you. This means that you will produce better quality work and be able to direct all your attention towards the tasks that you feel passionate about.

The other freedom of owning your own business is the ability to take a holiday and actually switch off all devices. Once you have a steady stream of clients and a dedicated team of professionals, that you have hand-picked, your income won’t be impacted if you need to take a day off sick. Alternatively, in the freelance world, if you took a sick day this would eat into your deadline and potentially impact your client’s experience.

Do you need business management experience to open your own agency?

To put it simply – no.

Although don’t be fooled with the idea that your venture will be an easy path. Without establishing a clear timeline, outlining your services and being realistic about your budget, you will find it difficult. Seeking advice from family or friends that have owned their own business is a great start. There are also a plentiful number of resources online that can help guide you with each decision you make.

My advice would be to use any spare time during your day to research the market you are about to enter. Get to know your competition and try to learn their processes, look at their websites, send them an enquiry as though you are a customer. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel if you can see that other agencies in your location are successfully operating with a particular business model.

It’s important to keep in mind that a freelancer usually finds their clients, whilst an agency relies on clients finding them. I recommend becoming familiar with search engine optimisation (SEO), digital marketing and branding strategies. Having such freelance skills would ease your journey ahead.

Before you get started

To summarise the key points from this article, these are the things you need to consider before starting your own agency:

  • What services will your agency offer?
  • What is your total budget to start your agency?
  • When do you want your agency to go live or open?

Moreover, sharpening freelance skills is equvalently important.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, once you answer each of these questions, map out each of the next steps that you need to complete before you’re officially open for business.

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