There is an oft-told story in the design-freelancing circuit about clients from hell, and all the nonsense that surrounds contracts, rates, and not being able to create a sustainable income from freelancing. This post concerns itself with lone-wolf freelancers, and explains why agencies are much better and why people should either set-up an agency or work for one.
I am tired of the worry about getting paid - because it assumes there is a plausible recovery from freelancing hell, and with enough hackery, and business acumen - we can overcome it. It also shouldn't be the case that designers go through 'feast or famine' phases each year.
Are you an agency?
90% of Twitter biographies are agency wannabes with a biography that reads like "web designer & maker, coder of @someapp". Most of these people are not working in an agency, so worry about not getting paid, and worry about not having a salary-like income is rife.
If you are any way serious about design - you need to become an agency or join one. If you are sick of being temporarily poor in times when it seems like the demand is high for your design skills - your only safe exit is an agency.
Stop thinking like a freelancer and become an agency. Think like a business. The freelancing industry is by nature a service industry in desperate need of its own product. This is why agencies exist ― because agencies masquerade as services, when in fact they are cunningly disguised products. Agencies retain clients better than a lone wolf freelancer because emails are replied to quicker, and the red tape is offloaded to admin, or human resources. In other words - designers can focus on design, and the business grunt work is in better hands. This makes a lot of sense.
Friends with benefits
If an employee is sick - another designer can step in. And because you're an agency - worry about payment can disappear - again - this is about freedom, and the ability for designers to do what they do best: designing. I hate to see an industry - an industry which I am part of; suffer the anxiety of not getting paid, or suffer drought periods of no work when the demand is so high for your skills and talent.
You're doing it wrong
Invariably you will get freelancers telling us how to do it right, and suggest we simply buy our way out of payment worries (an oxymoron). They will suggest we invest in expensive invoicing software, and warn us of the dangers of not getting a lawyer. Mike Monteiro makes the case for getting a lawyer - and whilst I understand the need for a lawyer to step in - I also understand the built-in arrogance of lone-freelancers to do everything themselves and not have the time & resources for a lawyer in the first place. If indeed you go the lawyer route - you are another person away from calling yourself an agency, so why not become an agency, or join an existing one?
Comments? Feel free to give feedback on the Designer News thread.