Good Help is Worth Keeping: How to Stay in a Web Agency's Good Books as a Freelancer

Jul 22, 2010

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Drupal Freelancer

In my last post, How to Land a Freelance Gig With a Web Agency, I mentioned the love/hate relationship some agencies have with freelance developers. On one hand, they are an invaluable part of the feast and famine cycle of our industry. But they also bring with them risks, which is why agencies tend to screen freelancers pretty closely.

But once you, the freelancer, have your foot in the door, you’d probably like to keep it there – and get the rest of your body in as well. For many freelancers, nothing beats being sent regular, well-paying work without having to make cold calls, respond to RFPs or hand-hold clients. But to do that, you usually have to impress the socks off the powers that be during your first job or two with them.

So for those of you who have landed your first project with an agency, here are a few tips on how to make a good impression and increase your chances of getting more work down the road:

1. Don’t get in over your head.

Some freelancers, especially beginners, tend to talk big during the interview process, only to stall – or bail – partway through the project because the work is too difficult for them. Agencies can’t compromise when it comes to the quality of their work, and freelancers must be able to meet the same high standards. While there’s always room for improvement and stretching yourself on the job, make sure you only accept jobs you know you can do.

2. Don’t leave the agency in the lurch.

Another unfortunate tendency of some freelancers is to ditch one project if a better-paying or higher-profile one comes along. But this can cause a great deal of hardship for the agency – everything from lost time and money to losing the client completely and suffering a tarnished reputation. Needless to say, if you don’t finish what you started you can pretty much guarantee you won’t be getting a call-back, and your own reputation will be damaged in the process.

3. Be willing to negotiate on price.

Remember that the agency is doing a lot of the work for you, including getting the client in the first place and most – if not all – of the administration and project management. Especially if you want to be sent regular work, you will probably have to lower your usual hourly or project rate. With all the time you’re saving on marketing and admin, it will be worth it.

4. Work within the agency’s structure and procedures.

Although you’re working as a free agent, you are also working within the confines of a (usually) well-oiled machine. Each company has its own rules and procedures, and for the most part you’ll be required to play along. That might involve keeping track of your hours in a certain way or invoicing differently than you normally do, or attending occasional team meetings. Sometimes this might seem annoying or inconvenient to you, but try to put yourself in the agency’s shoes – if they had to change the way they worked for every freelancer they worked with, it would be an administrative nightmare. It’s best for the agency if everyone follows the same procedures, and it’s best for you to be a team player.

5. Communicate.

There is nothing more frustrating for an agency than to have to nag its freelancers. Regular communication about the status of the project you’re working on (including any roadblocks you are experiencing or foresee) is essential to maintaining a good relationship. Don’t wait for them to chase you down – respond to email and phone calls as soon as possible, and try to be proactive by sending in regular reports regarding your progress. In the vast majority of cases, there are other people within the agency whose work is closely tied with yours, and to leave them hanging with no hint of a timeline is not the way to make a good first impression.

6. Work fast.

Agencies often turn to freelancers for emergency or last-minute projects. If you can impress them with the speed of your turn-around time (and the quality of your work, of course), they’ll be more likely to remember you favourably when the next non-emergency project comes along.

7. Be innovative.

Think outside the box and solve your own problems – and ideally some of the agency’s problems, too. The more innovative you can be, the more valuable you will be.

8. Manage your time.

If your goal is to eventually get more than one contract from a particular agency, you’ll need to show that you can manage your time well and can handle more than one project at a time – keeping them all on time and on budget. If you’re not a multi-tasker and regularly miss deadlines, a busy agency might not see you as a good fit.

9. Read the fine print.

Before you post all of the agency work you’ve done on your website or online portfolio, make sure you read the fine print in your contract or clear it with the agency first. They might have an agreement with the client to not publicize the work or require that you specify you did the work on behalf of the agency.

It all boils down to putting yourself in the agency’s shoes, and treating their clients like your own. Don’t take them for granted, and produce your best work every time, and you may find that working for agencies is a regular and lucrative source of income.