Marketing yourself as a freelancer vs a studio/agency
Here’s a question: how did you decide whether to run things as a freelancer or a design studio?
This is something I’ve often pondered, and the subject was raised again recently by a friend of mine, where we discussed the pros and cons of both options. Perhaps you’re reading this because you are trying to make the decision yourself or thinking about changing your growing business. For what it’s worth, here are some of the thoughts and ideas that emerged from that conversation.
How building a studio is different to freelancing
&Something Studio, and its previous incarnation as Severn Agency, were born due to a breakdown in partnership of an earlier business I owned with a friend. When we went our separate ways, I decided that I wanted to protect my ‘agency’ status – partly because it felt safer and more familiar, but also because I believe that it gives me more freedom in many ways.
But I’m skipping ahead – let me explain what the differences I see are between the two.
As a freelancer, you’re pitching yourself as an independent consultant. This means that when people hire you, they hire an individual designer and know they are getting a bespoke and personal service from one person who can get under the skin of their brand. If a designer operates as a freelancer, generally, they can have more freedom to pick and choose the kind of work they take on, be a specialist in a niche role or that safe pair of hands who can deliver, handle clients, understand how things work and help relieve the pressure in someone else’s busy studio.
However, while the studio set-up can be operated (like in my own case) by an individual designer, it also allows you the freedom to create an entity. I suppose it’s more a case of consumer perception, but marketing yourself as a studio, or an agency, gets more kudos from some people. When I introduce myself as &Something Studio, the initial perception is that I’m part of a bigger team, which gives the impression that I’m a ‘proper’ business and not just one person who designs websites and stuff.
Is a studio better than working as a freelancer?
I don’t mean to downplay the freelance option by any means – and I’ll openly admit that I have pitched myself as a freelancer, even under my current guise on occasion, if the brand I’m pitching to determines it. I never pretend to my clients that I’m anything more than an individual designer. My decision to brand as a studio is more about how I wish to market my business, work directly with the type of client I seek, and the opportunity to grow and bring in additional help when the need – or the scope of my business – arises.
If I’d chosen to work as a freelancer, my feeling is that my growth would be (perhaps) a little more stunted, as if in my future I wish to expand and bring in more people, then having a studio name makes that process much more straightforward. They’d become employees of &Something – and I wouldn’t have to completely reinvent myself or start from scratch under a different name.
I’m also an introvert by nature, so the ability to shelter myself behind the wall of my studio feels much safer.
All that being said, though, I enjoy the flexibility of the protection from my studio name while connecting with my clients on such an individual and personal level. Despite my brand status, in the day-to-day, I often think of myself as a freelancer, and I like the additional opportunities my situation affords me.
How does marketing as a studio differ from freelancing?
It’s all about perception. A studio or agency can operate under a protective umbrella, using ‘we’ in its branding. ‘We’ sounds like you’re part of a bigger team, giving clients the impression of an established, bricks-and-mortar business.
Like it or not, freelancers are sometimes seen as less knowledgeable, less professional, or jack-of-all-trades and often work much harder to establish themselves and build trust. The confidence and ability to build a solid personal brand is essential; they must be the face of the business and be able to show themselves as an individual personality.
What are your thoughts on the freelance vs studio debate?