#Design agency and #Freelance, What's the difference? Interview
We asked Warwickshire Graphic Agency and Freelancer Jake Wetton his thoughts
Apologies for profanity.
What skills/ qualities are needed to be a good/successful graphic designer in the design industry when working freelance or for a design agency/company?
Photoshop, illustrator, indesign and pretty much any Adobe programme are often put under the category of skills, every CV we go through has 'Programme skills: excellent' but i feel these are things anyone can learn, with enough effort and time you can get to know the programmes and how the tools operate, something a monkey can do and honestly this doesn't take any skill, just a certain amount of time added to persistence to learn something new. The only skill or qualities i think are needed in the graphic design world are ideas and logical thinking, being able to solve a clients problem rather than make a pretty logo takes skill. Convincing a potential customer to choose a particular brand emotionally is a skill, there's a thousand ways you can make a circle in illustrator but if you're trying to sell squares, your circle is pretty obsolete. In short, creative ideas, logical thinking and not being afraid is the key.
Did you work for a design agency before setting up your own business or do you still work in one as well as freelancing? If so what are the main differences and similarities to working freelance compared to working for a design agency?
Main difference is within the Freelance world whatever i decide, sticks. I have the final say with every project that gets pushed to the client whereas in an agency there's always someone above and whether you think you nailed the brief on the head or not doesn't always matter, sometimes the director will just do what they feel is right, regardless of other ideas and this is absolutely fair enough as it's their head on the line. I started freelancing before working in an agency and i'm so glad i was shit and had no work to start as it pushed me to go to an agency and learn, adapt and steal ideas of how they operate. There's things i do freelancing that i learned or picked up in the office, there's things i've learned here in a month that a university degree couldn't do in 3 years. I think having your fingers in each pie really works but be careful of burnout, it's a real thing and you could be out for months
What are the benefits to each? Do you feel one provides more (work) opportunities as a designer over the other? (chance to work on more varied projects?)
Working in an agency takes the worries and stress from freelancing, think of an agency as a Beta version of the final product, you work out the niggles, what works, what doesn't and you learn from the mistakes so you don't fall into the pitfalls when going freelance, you set yourself up for the best possible start constantly. Working freelance doesn't always mean you can pick your clients, you can push for them but ultimately if a sheep breeders association comes through the door and you have to photoshop shit off a rams arse for £500, you take the £500, don't be stupid, it's money. You can however tailor your portfolio to cater for more things you want to do, just show projects on your website that you want to do more of. I have a number of luxury brand identities on my site because i want more! potential clients will search luxury brand re brand designer and i should pop up because that's what i've published, you don't, however, see the numerous Pig & Poultry pop up banners i created...fml
What are your working hours like? (for freelancing, design studio or both) Which requires more working time?
I think i have a well balanced hourly schedule within working full time 9am-5:30pm at an agency then 6pm -9pm on freelance work, granted sometimes you will have to wake up early to finish a brief or stay late like the world stereotypes us to but honestly i have about 17 live clients on and i still get a full 8 hours sleep, it's crucial. I'll often use my lunch to work but that's managing time well. People will often complain about not having enough hours in the day, bollox, use your time more efficiently, grab a couple chrome extensions for pinterest and have your projects in mind at all times, see something that might influence or help a project? take a picture, save it to pinterest, email yourself then when you get home you're ready to put pen to paper for 30mins sketching, 2 hours logo design then leave it, your best work comes out in the first hour, the second is to tweak, anything after that can be wasted time, sit on it and come back to it later if you need.
How do clients approach you or how do you approach clients? compared to a design agency? Is it more difficult?
I haven't had to approach anyone yet, if an opportunity arises then yes you'd be stupid not to put your name in the mix for future relations but i feel the whole grovel begging technique they use at network events offends the design culture, there is a difference to shoving and showing your work and you need to learn it, fast. Clients at present have all come through my website or friends of friends, i started out doing free work for immediate pals then word spread but i wish i hadn't as now everyones after a freebie, only do work for people who can benefit you with something in return. Luckily i have quite good SEO on the site so normally get an interest through there, then it's just quoting on a piece and waiting for them to come back. At our design agency, it's exactly the same, we normally have a sufficient amount of work for all 6 of us to be getting on with, including the director but when it comes to a well known company or something that interests us, then we would always put in a pitch, using software to checkout who has come to your website and not engaged is always good as it means they're looking, you hit them back with a "You're website could do with a refresh" and they're interest.
How long have you been freelancing?
I started when i failed my second year of university ( lack of attendance, 4% in 9 months, oops) in 2010 i went straight back home to Warwickshire, got a bar job, started doing there menu's, and A boards, first job 2012 then agency in 2014.
How do you get yourself recognised as a freelancer?
Again probably just word of mouth and website SEO at the moment, Guest blogs, dribbble, behance, collaborating always works slowly but when you start out, it's going to be slow, cheap and to the best of your work, try and get your name/website out there as much as possible, blogging, selling items, talking to people about what you do, funny how not a lot of people know what you do, you say you're a graphic designer, they think a number of things from typography, road signs, letter-typist, printers pal, you say you do Logo Design or social media layouts and websites, suddenly they're interested but don't forget everyone is after something for themselves, just as you are, when you speak to potential clients, talk about things you can do for them, they love it. For example if you rock up to a bagel cafe and you see they could really do with loyalty cards then you could ask if they're thinking of getting them in soon as you will for sure be back, they chat about yeah but not at the moment, you chirp up with how you could do them, judge whether or not they're keen then throw in your "I'll do them for free" and bam, foot in the bagel store, from here the worst you can get is a friendly face, you do a good job, you could get their rebrand when they have over 100 different stores and your invoice has 5 figures in it.
Do you feel less constrained working by yourself rather than working with others within a design agency? Or do you find it easier to work as a freelancer and get jobs done quicker to meet deadlines?
I really like the blend i have as during the day in the office we can bounce ideas off each other and really get under the skin of a project as 6 minds are ultimately better than 1. Everyone will have different preferences in an agency so collaborating is awesome as i will be great at conceptual thinking and creating a logo with meaning, whereas my colleague would be an awesome photoshop nut and create stunning images from 4 Shutterstock pics, working freelance you can get a bit bogged down with having to do it all yourself but it doesn't mean you can't outsource the work. I'm awful at freehand drawing and calligraphy but i have a mate who is incredible, i'll get a quote from him, add 40%, tweak it myself and bobs your uncle.
What skills do you need for your business to be successful? And is there any advice you’d give to a designer wanting to start their own freelance business and designers entering the design industry?
Only skills you need is the love for what you do, it really shows through your work, persistence to keep at something even when you think it's shit, and time, keep working at it, learn new things, watch a tutorial on youtube and get to know different styles and find what works for you and ultimately your clients. My advice would be to not waste a minute, granted spouses and other halves won't enjoy it but there's a difference between neglect and passion, make your job your hobby and you'll never have to work another day in your life. Be on it, constantly, walking to town on a Sunday going through the local market you could spot something that suddenly jogs your creative juices and you suddenly crack the idea for that logo you've been thinking of. Saying that, have time off, like i said, i get 8 hours at least, you need it. Have faith that your mind will get there, have fun with the journey and never regret a decision.
What pressures do you face as a freelancer (vs working for a design agency)?
TAX, fml... tax is a ball-ache, i've got an accountant now but even still, having to work out what you've earned, expenses, payouts, what's taxable and such is definitely my weakness. The standard pressure of deadlines are a little different as i thrive under pressure but that's only when i know i can produce the final product on time, you miss a print delivery, you won't be popular and might have to fund the print yourself, might as well throw money at them.
How long have you worked for a design agency (if you have or do) before feeling ready to start your freelance business? Do you feel it’s necessary to work at an agency before going freelance?
I wouldn't say it's everyones cup of tea but for me it's been essential, the amount you learn from an agency that will help your freelance career is crazy, hints, tips, programmes, skills, ideas, and most of all sanity.. it's not nice working on your own laughing at the radio with a cat looking at you like a peasant. I've worked in an agency for 2 years and i think i need at least 6 years experience, saying that i've always thought as soon as the freelance client scale tips more than agency work and i start neglecting my clients, i'll go part time and concentrate on making it on my own, this gives me a safety net of a solid income, anything freelancer is money in the bank after.
Have you been affected by any issues/threats within the design industry? E.g competition, updates in software, late payments from clients, short deadlines
Short deadlines are hilarious, " i want it yesterday, great and cheap" yeah sure... ignore them, if they're a long lasting client then they can be great as they 'owe' you one, make sure you get it back. Late payments are not great especially towards the end of a tax year or month where it effects you more but that's where email automation comes in, use an online software to do this for you and send reminders to clients, set up automation to add late fees onto the bill and always get bigger clients to sign a contract of agreement at the start. Updates in software are standard, you don't change or adapt, you will be left behind. The only threat i got was from a club owner who said as soon as he got out of prison he would come and do me in. i laughed, put the phone down, ramped up his bill and sent him an automation every day, petty i know but when he comes out of prison he should have around 784 emails from me, just what he wants to see!
Does freelancing provide you with an adequate income? Or do you have additional employment income?
I'm lucky where someone thinks what i do is an asset and have hired me so my rent, bills and food all comes out of my monthly employment from my agency job. Anything i do freelancer is an added bonus, yes i have to pay tax but not until the end of January, everything i get can be spent now whether it's into saving, on a holiday or on phillips hue lighting system for the house. Enjoy the little things and stop filling someone else's pockets with your ideas.