Freelancing for an agency can, in many ways, be better than finding your own clients.
- You’ll enjoy a high day rate — higher than you’d get working with most small business clients
- You’ll be on a contract for a guaranteed period of time — no such guarantees exist when working with clients
- Your tasks will be focused on a specific area of the project (i.e. front-end web development or copywriting)
- You won’t have to manage any clients as the agency will have account managers to do that
- If you work from the agency’s office, you’ll get to feel part of a team.
There are plenty of benefits to freelancing for agencies, and I’ve done this many times on and off over the years.
But finding the work can be a challenge. It’s flexible and well-paid, and lots of freelancers understandably want in on it. You can’t rely on recruitment firms, as they seek to employ on a permanent basis, and large creative agencies often already have a number of freelancers on their books.
So how do you reach out for freelance work? How can you get on their radar and stand out from the crowd? In this article I’m going to share with you a proven strategy that has worked for me, time and again.
It’s all in the approach
It’s temping to simply Google a few agencies and then email asking for freelance work, but in my experience, this alone doesn’t cut it. The freelance world is competitive, and as I just mentioned: creative agencies already have a list of contacts. And those who don’t, probably receive email asking for freelance work on a weekly basis.
How you approach agencies for freelance work requires a bit of thought, and a process to go through. I have done this successfully in the past, and these are the steps I’ve taken:
- Find the agencies you know you’d like to work for
- Find the staff who hold a position of influence within the agency
- Make yourself known to them
- Formally approach them
- Get rejected
- Repeat process until success!
Let’s run through these step by step.
#1 Find agencies to freelance for
Before you head over to Google, stop.
Think about who you’d like to work with.
Remember: you’re a professional freelancer with lots to offer. Any decent agency would be lucky to have you. It’s important to really internalise this mindset before firing off an email asking for freelance work to anyone and everyone. Just as you should have an ideal business client, so too should you have an ideal agency client. What do they look like?
- Are they a large agency working with hundreds of customers, or are they a boutique outfit servicing a select few high value clients?
- Are they multidiscipline and full-service, or do they specialise in a handful of services?
- Where do they sit on the corporate-to-fun scale? (Hint: foosball tables mean nothing!)
- Are they traditional or progressive?
- Would they offer a flexible work from home opportunity, or do they want you on-site?
Spend some time reflecting on this and visualise what your ideal agency client looks like.
With this criteria in mind, create a list of prospects, and as you do…
#2 Capture the names of key decision-makers
As a web designer or a copywriter, you will sense a greater affinity with those on the team who do what you do.
But in most cases, these people won’t have much hiring influence.
Therefore, it makes more sense to get to know those in decision-making roles: the CEO, CTO, in-house recruiter or anyone else in a senior role.
When looking for agencies to freelance for, be sure to note down the basic details of these people so that you can…
#3 Make yourself known to them 👋
If you want to freelance for an agency, your position as a freelancer is strengthened by your network.
Making yourself known to those in your industry is how you get outsourced freelance projects on a regular basis. And the more you get, the more you get… it’s a snowballing effect!
Important: at this point, we’re not asking for freelance work. We’re simply making ourselves known to the right people. This could involve:
- Following them on social media, or commenting on their posts
- Sharing their work or videos on social media, and tagging them
- Messaging them if you spot an error on their website (this is a great way to not only get in touch, but also demonstrate your competence!)
- Introducing them to a relevant person (i.e. Hi Jess, we’ve not met but I saw your post asking for xyz, I know somebody who…)
- Introducing yourself to them at an industry event (Hint: have something to say other than “I’m a freelancer”)
Basically, your task is to do whatever it takes (within reason) for people who work at agencies, in an influential position, to become aware of your existence.
It might sound a little sad, but this is just networking. Every successful businessperson is constantly looking to expand their network. It’s business development, and freelancing is no different.
#4 How to ask for freelance work
Let’s recap: by now you’ve identified agencies you’d like to freelance for and made casual efforts to get to know the key people in these companies. So when you approach them, you shouldn’t be a stranger.
Knowing how to approach agencies for freelance work takes skill and experience. Here are my top tips:
- Always personalise (never, ever, ever open without addressing the person by name)
- Remind them how they know you (we met at this event last year or, I commented on your article… etc)
- Flatter, if appropriate (I saw your feature in this local magazine, well done!)
- Clearly and quickly state the point of your email
- Include a call to action.
Those last two are crucial. People can quickly spot when you’re asking for freelance work, and that’s fine, as long as you get to the point and clearly articulate your potential usefulness to them. Don’t dance around the subject — you’re here, in their inbox, for a reason. Here’s a sample email format that you can tailor to your needs:
You might not recall but I introduced you to Joe a few months ago (you said you were looking for customised greeting cards). Hope that was a useful recommendation for you!
You might have seen on LinkedIn that I went freelance earlier in the year and am currently looking for agencies to support. I’m all about analytics and conversion optimisation, and as you guys work with a lot of e-commerce companies I thought I’d reach out to see if there was scope to help add some extra value to your clients?
It would be great if you could let me know and I’d be glad to send over some project samples to demonstrate past successes.
Notice how the tone of this email is not salesy. It focuses on the needs of the agency and their clients, not mine. In fact, I don’t even include portfolio links in here. Why? Because if Jess is interested, she’ll ask for reference work.
The underlying message here: be somebody who wants to help.
Too many freelancers frame their approach from a “me, me, me” place and it’s a real turn-off. Be useful.
#5 And still get rejected 😔
“Hi Matt, thanks for your email! Unfortunately…”
It happens often.
But the secret to getting work as a freelancer is knowing that:
- You’ll be top of mind if and when Jess identifies an opportunity in her agency
- Jess might move to another agency, one that has loads of opportunities
- Jess might refer you on to one of her friends in another agency that’s currently hiring.
Yes, successful agency freelancing happens when you…
#6 Repeat the process with other prospects
Imagine that you’ve approached a dozen others like Jess in the same way. You’re planting seeds.
And trust me, from experience I can tell you that some of those seeds will grow into good opportunities.
You don’t need to send begging letters to prospects. You don’t have to email hundreds of agencies. You simply need to approach a handful of the right people, in the right way.
Calm, respectful, professional.
Do this, multiple times, and your freelance career will begin to seriously take off 🛫