Freelance vs. Agency – Job Security, Added Hours and Other Considerations

September 18, 2013
[rt_reading_time label="" postfix="min read"]

One of the most immediate decisions facing newly graduated designers is whether to work freelance or whether to apply to an agency – a problem that a lot will wrestle with throughout their career. Each time you jump from job to job, the niggling knowledge of working for yourself can eat away at your desire to take orders and work long hours. Each situation has its own ups and downs and it’s a case of taking stock of your priorities and capabilities to decide on which suits you best.


The basic attraction for freelancers is the inherent prerogative to be able to choose what they work on, who they work with and when they work. But this does come at the cost of having to do a lot of the other work which wouldn’t be in your remit as an agency worker. Marketing, e-mailing, paperwork and even account management will be under your charge – meaning you’re taking on a multitude of jobs and you’ll have far less time to spend on the actual design. Being responsible for your finances and accounts can be a thorn in the side too, particularly if you’re new and inexperienced. You only file your taxes wrong once.

Agency work tends to remove most of the administrative duties from the graphic designer, allowing the designer to focus on the job at hand. Designers who draw their motivation from the passion and enjoyment of their artwork might struggle to keep on top of things if they have to jump through the admin hoops of freelancing. Agencies will restrict you in your flexibility – tying you to individual assignments of which you (normally) have no capability to refuse or delegate, or to choose when you work on the project. Graphic design is a comparatively modern and progressive industry, meaning that a lot of agencies will write some flexibility into your working day – but it will never match the happy-go-lucky schedule of a freelancer.

The Social Factor

It seems affectionate and obvious to state – but freelance work can be a very social and isolated role to assume. Working alone in your chosen workspace, whether that be in your home office whilst the house is empty, or in the local library – you’ll really be on your own professionally. Agency and office workers are immersed in a much more social situation – which will result in far more psychological enjoyment throughout the working day, but can also have a professional advantage with peer reviews of your work.

The opportunity for collaboration will offer a faster way to improve your skills and the natural social life in the office can work wonders in reducing the stress of an intensive workload. On the flip side, the vicious politics of an office can be distracting and debilitating to the worker without 100% focus.

Rewards and Wellbeing

The satisfaction on delivering for a large project at your agency can feel great – but you can’t match the feeling of a freelance client’s satisfaction when you’ve brokered and commanded the assignment from the ground up. With your freelance cap on – you can choose your own clients, set your own rates and work your own hours. The canny freelancer will select clients with projects they can always smash expectations on – and collect glowing testimonials by the dozen. Don’t forget that working from home can save you the time and money you’d spend on the commute – which you can instantly convert into productivity. But be aware that holidays or vacations can be unheard of – your home becomes your office and you’ll find that any time spent watching TV can quickly make you feel guilty. Add to the fact that freelancers are often hired during ‘crunch’ times and you might find that the stress and intensity of individual projects can be much higher than the steady pace of an agency with long term contracts.

At an agency – most days the graphic designer will come in, work steady hours and go home, relatively stress free. The regularity of pay cheques can help you budget for life’s little mishaps too, something freelancers bemoan. One of the main disadvantages of agency work is that whilst the workload and lifestyle might seem more stable, the market can result in unpredictable hiring and firing practices.


If you can handle the uncertainty and extreme self-motivation needed to go fully freelance, you can be in for a great life without rules and anybody to answer to. If you’d rather make the concession and live a more social, involved life with an agency guaranteeing your job – perhaps this is the path for you. The challenge and freedom of freelance is appealing, but it comes down to your personal preferences to make the decision. Take a frank assessment of yourself and ask whether you can really pull yourself out of bed on the cold winter mornings to shuffle over to another room and sit there for 8 hours. Psychologically, it can be difficult.

But you can watch TV while you work…

Photo Credit to *spo0ky*

Paul Kilminster has worked on both sides of the fence over his career, jumping onto the freelance ship as a fresh-faced graduate and coming around to agency work as commitments and age grew. Paul is currently the Technical Services Manager for Print and Digital Associates and is relishing being his own boss – but having the security of a real business.