by Claudia Elliott, head of content creation at internet marketing consulting agency Deep End
The life of a creative freelancer is challenging. You have no choice but to do everything yourself. And unfortunately, this can often have a negative impact on your business. When you are a one-man show, you are responsible for doing administrative work, sales, design, development and so much more. Doing all of this on your own can take a toll on your mind, body, and business. Worst of all, it can even keep you stagnant and limit your growth potential. But fortunately, things don’t have to be this way.
You’ve probably daydreamed at times about how to start your own creative agency. If you’ve ever had more work than you can handle, this concept sounds like a dream come true. And it’s natural for you to feel this way. That’s because the next logical step from being a design freelancer is to become an entrepreneur. If your current projects are limited to what you can execute upon, it’s time to dream a little bit bigger and start your own web design business.
While it’s not easy, this transition can be fulfilling. This is an opportunity for you to focus on what you do best (or the most) and hire other people to do what they excel at. This is what will allow you to increase your productivity, work with bigger companies, and offer your services to a wider audience.
It’s comfortable to stay small. You can easily control your own projects, and keep working with the clients you’re used to. But let’s face it: there’s no growth in that.
A design agency model offers many advantages over being a freelancer:
- You can concentrate on what you like to do. Do you like to design landing pages, but hate the boredom of building a corporate website? Then you can hire (or sub-contract) someone else to do it for you. Hate selling? Hire a superstar salesman. Starting a business will allow you to focus on your strengths and outsource your weaknesses to industry experts.
- There is tremendous growth potential. When you’re a freelancer, you don’t even have time to think about expanding. But when you hire other people, you will have more free time to come up with growth strategies for your business.
- You can increase your billable hours. As a solopreneur, your time is limited. There are only so many hours you can work in a week. So when you start hiring salespeople, assistants, designers, and developers, you can bill their work hours too and increase your income.
- The increase in productivity will allow you to get your work done faster, which will then leave room for more projects and billable hours.
- You’ll learn something new. Being close to experts in other areas will open up your mind to aspects of your project that you never thought were possible. Over time, you’ll start to acquire some new skills..
Should you specialize or generalize?
The creative marketplace is extremely crowded. That’s why, we are often advised to niche-down. As a freelancer you may already cater to a specific field (or maybe not). If you do, it would be best if you continued within your area of expertise at your new agency. After all, you already have the work to showcase to your new and potential clients.
If not, that’s fine. It’s not mandatory to narrow your focus. But, ideally, you’ll want to choose a niche over time.
Generally, there are two ways this can happen:
- You can research and pick a niche you’d like.
- You’ll gradually move towards a niche, and this will start attracting more work within that specific field.
There are generally several types of niches you can go into:
- Industry (i.e. construction, medical, restaurant)
- Type of project (i.e. specializing only in web design, specifically, conversion rate optimized landing pages)
No matter which niche you get into, start marketing to that niche as soon as possible.
Developing a Creative Team.
When you start your own agency, you can either hire employees right away or you can hire contractors as needed. For those that are just starting out and have low capital, I recommend contracting. This will allow you to grow at a slower pace, and will allow you to test waters with different people until you’ve assembled your very own dream team.
There are many contractors you may want to bring on board, including:
- Sales/marketing person
- Project manager
- Web developer
- Other designers
Remember: don’t limit yourself. You may choose to work with local folks, however, you can also find great talent in other parts of the country or the world, thanks to the internet.
Once you have your team in place, you need to develop a process in order to manage people and their workflow. Although you may not have a physical work environment where everybody can come together and collaborate, you can recreate this experience through the right software.
There are many online apps that can help you keep track of what needs to be done. They allow you to share files, make lists, and delegate work to your team (the same way you would in a physical location.) Although most of these programs aren’t free, it’s way cheaper than renting out office-space, so the cost is well worth it.
Having the Price Conversation With Current Clients.
Once you have decided to start your own creative agency, you’ll want to break this news to your current clients and advise them on any changes that will come into effect here-on-out (especially in prices). Agencies usually charge more than freelancers. And frankly, they should. They have higher overhead costs.
Initially, you’ll need all the extra money to pay your employees (or contractors). And although you may lose some of your clients due to an increase in price, be sure to look on the bright side. Now is your chance to go after bigger clients, with bigger projects, and bigger budgets.
We know that switching from freelancing to agency owner may sound scary, but if you want to grow, there’s no way around it. I guarantee that you will be in awe after seeing the things you can accomplish with the right people and systems in place.
Claudia Elliott is the head of content creation at internet marketing consulting agency Deep End. When she is not helping businesses succeed online, Claudia can be found blogging about all the latest trends in internet marketing, usability and interface design.