What Do Freelancers Look for in Agencies?

Trends and Tools | Jun 25, 2016

Six weeks ago Living Freelance published a blog on What Agencies look for in Freelancers. We interviewed GMs, Creative and Tech leaders, and Recruitment Managers at several well-known agencies and got some solid insights for freelancers who work in the advertising world.

We then heard from a number of freelancers who wanted to have their say on what THEY look for in an agency. We interviewed people from all fields – designers, writers, developers, analytics specialists and more – both seasoned pros and a few newcomers.  Once again, among the people we interviewed, there were many commonalities as well as some surprising and noteworthy insights.

None of the people we talked to had an axe to grind or a particular beef that they wanted to air. For the most part they were satisfied with their freelance careers – even with the highs and lows that they all experience. They also consistently appreciated their clients and the opportunities that arose from working with them – all of which enables them to pursue what they like doing on their own terms.

When asked to describe their ideal client the list was pretty straightforward. They want to work with a client who

  1. understands and respects freelancers;
  2. communicates openly and is honest, forthright, fair;
  3. has a process in place to bring on new freelancers;
  4. minimizes misunderstandings and confusion;
  5. candid about their budgets – not a game player;
  6. provides a good brief/clear description of the problem the freelancer is being hired to solve;
  7. treats the freelancer as part of the team;
  8. friendly and approachable;
  9. pays on time;
  10. trusts the freelancer to get the work done. No micromanaging;
  11. doesn’t badmouth their clients or other staff to the freelancer (yup – this happens);
  12. provides feedback and… even a thank you!

You wouldn’t think that is a wish list. After all, if an agency makes the time and effort to engage a freelancer, you would assume that they respect the professional they’re employing, are clear about what the work is that they need done and plan to pay them in a timely manner. For the most part our interviewees said this was the case but sadly, not always. When we explored some of the challenges that they’ve faced and the behaviors that drive freelancers nuts, we learned a lot. We’ve organized these responses in a few broader categories to capture the flavour of these issues.


Most freelancers think long and hard about the rates they charge. It’s a competitive environment, and as such, the majority set their fees by taking into account the true costs of freelancing combined with their  “value” in the marketplace (arrived at by comparing themselves to people in their discipline with similar skills and experience).  Freelancers have to buy their own equipment, cover their benefits, pay for their down time including vacations, sick days and time not working. They have to pay for marketing, training and networking, and save for retirement and rainy days.  Many of the freelancers we spoke with felt that some employers ignore this reality and believe they’re just living the high life and pocketing the premiums they seem to be earning relative to full time employees.

A number of people talked about having to justify their rates again and again. They recognized that negotiation is part of the upfront discussion with a client but they noted that continuous haggling can be a real problem and set the working relationship off to a bad start. One person acknowledged that there are a lot of low cost freelancers out there via the growing number of job boards, but they also noted that generally their clients come to them because they are local, trustworthy and produce quality work.

Pay on Time

A related frustration that many people mentioned was not being paid on time and having to chase clients for payments. They hated having to make multiple calls to get the money owed to them. Most noted that they observe a tightening of budgets in the agency world and they are sympathetic. However, as one seasoned freelancer stated, “Why do I have to wait until their client pays them? Do they ask their landlord to wait for the rent on their space or their employees to skip pay cheques when their receivables are delayed?”


This one seems so obvious but apparently it’s not. Lack of respect can take many forms such as calling frantically to book the freelancer but then failing to call back just as the deal is getting sealed. It can consist of ignoring them if they are on-site, leaving them to sit alone, eat alone, work apart from the team. It also can look like asking them for multiple re-works with very little feedback, asking for changes long after the work has been completed or needing them to work all weekend but forgetting to say thanks.

We’re sure there are people out there with other examples, and let’s face it – some people are jerks. The point that was overwhelmingly made was that to get the best work from a freelancer you need to treat them with decency – not necessarily as your best buddy but at least as a trusted professional.

No Rules or Protocols

Everyone we interviewed preferred working with agencies that have their processes for hiring freelancers buttoned up. Wasting a lot of time with a client who is sloppy at identifying the parameters of the engagement, defining the work, signing the contract, etc. can be frustrating and an expensive waste of time.

The people we interviewed also mentioned last minute requests. They recognize these do happen but what they objected to is when such requests become the rule not the exception

To broadly generalize from these interviews, freelancers appreciate and value the majority of their clients just like the majority of people we interviewed for the original article appreciate the freelancers they have hired. Our biggest learning (and it’s not a huge epiphany) is that like so many other things in life, it seems to boil down to a kind of golden rule: Treat Each Other Fairly and Professionally and Don’t Waste Anyone’s Time. This seems to be the recipe for a good working relationship and the highest quality work.

Do you agree? Share your thoughts!