Getting regular work through a firm or agency is an appealing prospect for many freelance web developers. One of the greatest benefits of working for an agency is having a team to work with instead of being solo on a project. It can be a good means of personal growth and development to have others working alongside you. Another perk is that you usually don’t have to deal with the client directly, which often involves educating them a lot and some occasional hand-holding. You can stick to what you love and what you’re good at and let the agency deal with administrative things like proposals, project scope, billing and customer communication. The agency does the work of looking for and securing the job, often spending many unbillable hours responding to RFPs and competing against other agencies for the work. And if the agency likes your work, you might end up in the enviable position of being sent regular, hassle-free work without needing to spend too much time and money marketing yourself.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? For many freelancers, it is – which is why agencies like ours get regular queries from independent contractors who want to work for them. This is a good thing – freelancers are very important to how we do business. Our industry operates like a wave, with some times much busier than others. Freelancers step into the gap during the swell, when we have more work than our regular team members can handle.
To help you, the freelancer, beat out your competitors and land those coveted agency contracts, here are few simple tips.
1. Go where the agencies are
Network, network, network. Go to conferences, events, meetups, and anywhere else the agency brass is hanging out. For agencies, events such as these are not only a good place to meet potential clients, but also potential hires. Freelancers who make an effort to know and be known usually float to the top of the list when someone’s looking for some extra help. Wherever you go, make sure you have sharp looking business cards on hand. It won’t cost you much and says “I’m a professional.”
2. Be social
Most web agencies are heavily involved with social media, so you might want to be too. Being active on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and any niche networks (i.e. Drupal.org, Drupalsn.com) can help you can begin to brand yourself and get in front of the right people. By using these social networks well, you can get to know potential clients and – perhaps more importantly – let them get to know you. Chances are your potential client will check you out on social networks before bringing you on board, so be mindful of what you post and what kind of impression you’re giving.
3. Get a portfolio
No one is going to take your word for it that you’re a great developer if they can’t see samples of your work. Your portfolio needs to include your best work, as well as descriptions of the role you played in producing the final product. And make it look good – a shoddy-looking portfolio communicates that quality work isn’t that important to you. (If you’re not graphically inclined, why not strike a deal with a freelance graphic artist and have them them create a custom theme for your site and in return offer to add some sweet functionality back on theirs).
4. Be an expert
If you have a niche, find an agency that shares it, and a partnership might be in the making. Don’t waste your time or an agency’s by applying for roles or positions you aren’t qualified for. Instead, work on honing your skills and target companies that are doing things right in your sweet spot.
5. Go through the proper channels
Granted, what these channels are might take some research on your part. If you’ve taken the time to get to know a prospective client through social media, conferences and meetups, then a personal call or even visit might be the way to go. People who run agencies are usually crazy busy and are fielding a lot of requests from people just like you. If you do have the gonads to make a cold call over the phone, keep it short. “Hi, my name is Sue, I’m a freelance graphic designer and have done work for Billy Graham, Justin Bieber and Slipknot and really admire the work you’re doing. Loved your workshop at DrupalCon. Can I send you my portfolio?” Done.
6. Present yourself well
If you’re sending a resume or have written a cover letter, make sure there are no typos. Find out who the hiring manager is and address him or her in person. If you’re responding to a posted position, read the job description carefully and refer to key details (don’t submit a generic letter). Make sure you cover everything the job description or application asks for. And if you get an interview, be prepared with a list of good questions – it shows you’re sharp and on the ball and that you’ll probably put the same effort and quality into your work.
7. Jump through the hoops
Some agencies, like ourselves, have a fairly intensive interview process, even for a single freelance contract. Occasionally one of the subjects of this process will comment, “I have to jump through a lot of hoops to work with you guys!” But the truth is that we have been burned too many times by freelancers who promise one thing and deliver another. So try to not take it personally when you are asked screening questions over email, go through a couple of interviews, do a coding test and are asked to provide references. Hiring freelancers can be risky business for an agency, so don’t expect expect them to be salivating just because you have a pulse and can write a line or two of code.
8. Get your foot in the door
Offer to do a short contract to show what you can do. Another approach you can take is to let them know you’ll be available to take on any direct referrals they may have as a way to prove your worth. Let them know you’ll send them a report on how everything went. Make sure you communicate when you get the job and when you finished it and also show the results of a client survey you took at the end of the project. Communications like this will definitely impress.
All this being said, before you start putting all of these jewels of wisdom into practice, decide whether or not working with an agency is for you. Despite the perks, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes working with an agency can be more like having a “traditional” job, depending on how demanding the agency is and how tight the timelines are. Think about why you love freelancing. If you really value the flex and freedom, you may not want to commit to agency work. If you like the challenge of being an entrepreneur and bootstrapping your own business, maybe working with an agency will seem like the easy way out. But If working with an agency is going to challenge you in ways you want to be challenged, and allow you to focus on skills you want to focus on, and allow you to meet the professional goals you’ve set for yourself, then go for it, and good luck.
Stay tuned for my next post: How to retain a job once you get one.