I’ve been working for myself eight out of my ten plus professional years. I dove directly from college into freelance copywriting and have been doing it on my own almost constantly ever since (with a brief stint at a New York agency).
Today I run a comprehensive digital marketing agency that focuses on persona development and content strategy for B2B businesses. It’s a long way from freelance articles stuffed with keywords about male pattern baldness products.
So, I understand the urge of many freelancers to get out of their current situation and into a much better one as soon as possible.
Bigger contracts, long term revenue, stability in their work.
The stuff you don’t get when any single contract will barely pay the electric bill.
But before you dive into the deep end of upending your freelance efforts and launching an agency, there are some things you should know.
1. Agencies Are Teams, Not Individuals
Right now, you are your business. You are the brand and the product, the deliverable and the follow up. The transition to agency will change all that. Suddenly, your brand will be a team – one you are responsible for hiring, training, and managing.
A team that will work differently together than you might expect or hope, and ultimately will be in contact with your clients. This can be both freeing and terrifying for someone used to being the one and only in the business structure.
2. Your Clients Will Come First
That’s not to say they don’t now, but things change when you ramp up your efforts from providing a single service as a freelancer to the whole enchilada as an agency.
As a freelancer, if something came up and I couldn’t get a blog post or email copy done by a certain day, I’d do some juggling. As an agency owner, juggling is constant, but not because I have a cold or ran out of time. If a webinar takes place on a Tuesday, the emails had better be ready before then.
Clients will need things on time and in the format they’ve requested. It’s a different dynamic – one that can be at times shocking for freelancers used to a bit more freedom in their schedule.
3. It’s About Results, Not Deliverables
There are plenty of agencies that work on a deliverable basis, but even the ones that meter out a set number of hours for a set fee are being judged on the results of their efforts.
As a freelancer, you provide a single piece in a much larger puzzle. A blog post or infographic could be amazing and still not perform if not published and promoted properly. As an agency in charge of the whole process, you will be directly judged on what works and what doesn’t. Clients want to see results, and you’d better be ready for the questions that come with those needs.
4. Your Responsibility Grows Exponentially
As a freelancer, you are responsible for a sliver of a much greater whole. You provide components that go into larger campaigns, often hatched, run, and reported on by someone else.
As an agency, you are responsible for much more. You have logins to several important accounts, oversee generating traffic and funneling leads, and ensuring the client benefits from your efforts. That means greater responsibility if something goes wrong.
5. Carefree Scheduling Can Disappear
I’ll be honest – I feel I have more freedom in my schedule now than I did as a freelancer, but only because of the years I spent building a system to manage my schedule. I look ahead 2-3 weeks at a time now, ensuring I know exactly what needs to be done and when. Taking a day or two off (or a full week) is therefore easy because I can get ahead of things.
As a freelancer, that freedom is inherently present all the time, even if you’re busy. You can work anywhere at any time. As an agency, you need to be available for calls, ready for emergencies, and managing campaigns in real time. If you don’t have the systems in place I’ve spent most of a decade building, you’ll have less flexibility in your schedule.
6. Trough and Peak is Lower, but Albatross Is Higher
One of the biggest issues with freelancing is trough and peak syndrome. You know the feeling. The surge of new work (and the elation that goes with it), followed by the sudden bottoming out of cashflow as you realize you stopped looking for new projects for 3 weeks while fulfilling your current workload.
That tends to go away as an agency, especially those that operate on retainer. On the flipside, however, is the risk of the albatross client – that one massive contract that is too good to say no to. Lose an albatross, and your cashflow craters, putting your whole business at risk. It’s why diversification and only taking on clients you can afford to lose is so important in all business types, especially as an agency.
7. It’s Incredibly Fulfilling
Running an agency is a definite step up, meaning more stress, more responsibility, and more actions in general.
But here’s the thing. It’s so much more fulfilling at the same time. Freelancing was perfect for me as a 22-year-old recent college grad who wanted the freedom to do what I wanted, when I wanted and who wanted to write for a living. But, at a certain point, I grew tired of writing content and seeing it disappear into the ether.
Did it work? Did it generate revenue? Is it being well received? Some pieces I could track; most I could not. It was frustrating. More so when I would see a good piece of content go to waste in a poorly executed campaign.
Agency work is more fulfilling because you have the power to drive success. The tools are at your disposal and the client’s trust is in your corner to do new things and creatively build a plan that will drive results. It’s one of the best feelings in the world to see the fruit of your efforts after weeks or even months of planning, and to know you helped someone realize their own dream as a result.
If your goal is to turn your part time freelancing efforts into a full-blown business, be ready for what comes next. It can be incredibly fulfilling and a heck of a lot of fun to grow with your clients over time, but it can also be overwhelming if you aren’t ready for what an agency means.
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Also published on Medium.