As a designer, I often get asked what is better, freelancing or working at a design agency? To be honest, there is no correct answer but there are certainly perks and pitfalls of both. In this article, I’ll share my honest opinions based on 6 months of working at an agency and 4 years of professional freelancing.
Before I launch into comparing them, I thought it should be known that I still currently do both… I work full time (Mon-Fri, 9 to 6) at Carrot Creative and also do contracting under my own business, Just Creative Design, mostly at night and occasionally on weekends if need be. I love both.
For comparison’s sake, I’ll look at the components that form the foundation of a happy designer: the type of projects they get to work on, the amount of work they have to do, what they get in return, the amount of freedom they get, as well the ‘fun’ factor.
1. The Work / Workload
As a freelancer, you get to choose when you work and what type of projects you want to work on, however this perk comes with much more behind-the-scenes work such as marketing yourself, doing paperwork, emailing etc. Consequently, this means you will be doing less of what you love (designing).
At an agency, the behind-the-scenes work is being done for you, which means you can do more designing but the downfall of this, is that you don’t get as much say on the type of projects you work on… however, if you find the right agency, this shouldn’t be a big problem.
Another bonus of working at an agency is that you get to work for larger brands though this is not always a ‘bonus’ (so I’ve been told). In my short time at Carrot, I’ve luckily enjoyed every project I’ve worked on, especially the ones for Disney & Star Wars.
As long as you work on projects you like, you will be happy either working for yourself or an agency, though personally, I prefer working at an agency as it gives me more time to actually design and on a much wider array of projects… and I just love Disney pixie dust.
2. Rewards / Freedom
Nothing is more satisfying than running your own successful (freelance) business. As a freelancer, you can choose your own clients, set your own rates and most importantly, work when you want to. This allows for much more flexibility, more vacation time and overall, an arguably better way of life. (eg. no daily commutes, more time to yourself, etc.). The monetary rewards are also generally better than working at an agency as well, though this of course depends on your experience / roll as well as how hard (smart) you work.
Agency life also has its perks, the main being job security… the fact that you know you’re going to get paid and when. There are also other fringe benefits of working at an agency such as health insurance, parties, work outings, etc.
Overall, in terms of monetary rewards and freedom I think freelancing is a more rewarding choice, especially if you love traveling as much as me… though you do have to work for it.
3. The ‘Fun’ Factor
Freelancing can get lonely at times, especially if you don’t have anyone else around the house or office, however, you do get more freedom, which essentially means you can go out with your non-work buddies more often… and wake up later.
An agency atmosphere is going to be a lot livelier than if you were freelancing at your own home / office as you can talk, laugh & collaborate with people at the office. You also have outings with your work buddies such as lunch breaks, movies, day trips, sport games, etc.
This may be biased as I am in NYC and working for Carrot, but you’re definitely going to have more fun at an agency.
Whether you are just about to graduate or are considering switching to freelance or agency life, ensure you know what your goals are, have done the appropriate research & have planned out how to get there.
If you’re going the freelance route, I’ve collected many freelancing resources over the past few years, so be sure to check them out. If you have any further questions, please let me know and I’ll happily answer them in the comments.
These opinions are based from my experiences only so I would love to hear what your opinions are re freelance / agency life? If you’ve worked in both, what do you prefer and why?