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From Design Freelancer to Agency Owner: The Ultimate Guide

Ready to make the switch from being a design freelancer to your own business? Discover common mistakes, how to avoid them, and feel confident with our guide.

Did you know that 92% of freelancers say that it is impossible for them to take work-free vacations? 

Being a freelancer certainly comes with a long list of its own challenges, but it also leaves you feeling part of the 'I'm in control of my own work life' realm. That's not to say that being an agency owner won't give you the exact same work freedom that most freelancers get to enjoy, except maybe that you can take time off when you're on vacation. 

So you think you're ready to make the transition from design freelancer to agency owner? Well, keep reading because you've officially found the ultimate guide!

Signs That You're Ready 

So, you've been a design freelancer for a while now, you've been busy and more than managing to make ends meet. But, at this point, perhaps you're still questioning whether you're truly ready to make the transition from freelancer to agency owner? 

Here are some signs that you're ready to be more:

  1. Your working day consistently lasts longer than 8 hours. 
  2. You've turned down the last three invitations for a vacation or weekend away with family and friends. 
  3. You've been consistently working on the same client work for a few months and haven't really had time to focus on getting new clients on board. 
  4. You find you're feeling a little bored with performing repetitive tasks, perhaps you're a web designer, and you're just feeling like there's more to this than just websites. 
  5. You are starting to realize that business admin and financial tasks are taking more and more time of your day than the actual work itself. 
  6. Some of your clients have inquired whether you can expand the work you do for them by offering more services but you find you may be lacking the skills or time to even go there. 

It goes without saying that this list isn't the be-all and end-all of the signs that you're ready to move forward. There may be other reasons, perhaps you've found another freelancer that you work so well alongside with and you've been exploring the thought of how you can work more together. 

Truly, the biggest sign is that you feel ready and the thought doesn't make you shake in your boots. If the thought of the challenge ahead puts a smile on your face, then you're ready to become an agency owner

Laying The Right Foundation as a Design Freelancer

Now, you've made the decision. You're ready to kickstart that agency and wave goodbye to the good ol' days of being a design freelancer. But where to start? 

What do you do first? Should you start looking for clients? Do you tell your current clients? What services should you offer? 

1. Give Yourself A Pep Talk 

Changing from design freelancer to agency owner means you're going to need a change in the way you think and the way that you currently do things. 

By opening an agency and putting together the right team, you're going to be able to take own projects that are outside of your comfort zone, which means you need to be able to let go of the reins slightly and trust in the team you've assembled, that's not easy for everyone. 

It's going to be a very exciting journey, one that not everybody will make it through, but give yourself that pep talk, know that you'll no longer be involved with projects all the way from concept to creation and that you'll be overseeing more and signing off more. 

2. Set Yourself A Test Period 

Sometimes it isn't easy for design freelancers to give away some of their creative control, it may not even be something that is easy for you to do. By giving yourself a test run, you can see how you handle the situation when giving away creative and design decisions to someone else. 

Try hiring one or two other freelancers to assist on some of your bigger projects while you make the transition. Be objective when looking at how you deal with the delegation of tasks and the giving of constructive criticism. 

After one or two test runs, you'll know where you're doing well and where you might need to improve upon your 'agency owner' attitude and attributes. 

3. Build A Brand 

Here's your chance to really and truly showcase what you're made of. 

You're about to launch your very own business and with that, comes the notion that you'll be launching a brand and building it up from there on out. 

If you're lucky enough to have a few key players in your network already, then don't be afraid to pull on everybody's strong points to put together the brand you've always dreamed of. 

Use those around you that specialize in diverse skills to fill in the gaps that you cannot fill yourself. 

But you know the steps, well, because you've designed brands for other people before. Remember, that everything is based upon the strategic research that we're sure you've done already. What type of clients are you going to attract? 

Use that research to build the foundation for a brand that can grow and evolve as your business grows and evolves in the coming years. Don't underestimate what online resources can do for you in terms of helping you with strategic planning, SWOT analysis, and more. 

4. The Serious Side 

The serious side of the business needs attention too! (Not that the other things aren't important). But, your paperwork needs to be top-notch and legal. 

Ensure that you do everything possible to register your business in the right way, find someone who knows what they're talking about when it comes to the type of company you should be registering, what taxes you will need to pay, how you register for income tax, and everything else you can think of. 

When you move from design freelancer to agency owner, you're no longer just worried about putting money into your own bank account and filing your own tax return. Now, you're going to have to pay additional team members and worry about holiday and social security payments. 

If you're feeling overwhelmed at the thought of all this, perhaps you should consider finding an accountant that can help you with this side of the business? Yes, it's an extra cost but ultimately, this is the side of the business that you don't want to have any hiccups on. 

5. Deciding On Your Business Model 

Aside from taxes and social security and paperwork and more, you're also going to need to decide on how you'll run the business. We mean, how are you going to charge clients? 

You need to spend some time deciding exactly what services you're going to offer and how you're going to package these services as products you can sell? 

Also, how are you going to charge for them? 

You'll need to do the research on what your business' running costs are going to be plus your profit structure, and then build your estimate approach from there. Ensure that you have great accounting software to help you put together accurate quotes, estimates, and invoices for this. 

Focusing On The Right Team 

Now that you've got the foundation built, your next step is to find the right people to work with you. 

Remember, your team is no longer just going to be made up of creatives and designers. As you grow, you're going to need someone in charge of staff and HR, project managers, payroll and finance people, a creative director (this might be you to start off with), and also someone to do marketing for your newly established agency. 

Once you've established your team and who you want to work with, you'll be setting up formal agreements or contracts with them. There are two ways you can do this:

  1. You can employ people full time but then you'll have to cover things like holiday leave, sick leave, and other statutory requirements. 
  2. You can contract people but then you may have to pay a significantly higher per hour rate than you would for an employee. 

One of the most important factors when opening up your agency is the atmosphere in which your workforce will be operating, there are a number of things you can do to create a positive work environment that promotes trust and efficiency:

  • Ensure that you always pay on time 
  • Create a fun, supportive, and transparent work environment for workers 
  • Promote consistency by supplying a solid stream of challenging work and projects
  • Ensure that you never give to your workers more than they can handle by putting pressure on them 

The happier your staff is to come to work, the more likely they are to become loyal to your agency and produce high-quality work every, single time. If you want to be the best agency owner you can be, then always, always be approachable to anybody who works for you, no matter their level. 

Mentorship And Advice 

As any new entrepreneur will tell you, we're sure, is that at the start of their journey they had a mentor whom they could turn to for advice and guidance. 

If there is someone in the industry that you look up to and admire, don't hesitate to get in touch with them and ask if they have the time to answer some of your questions. 

Underestimating the value that a mentor can add to your journey is a mistake. You have a lot to learn from someone who has already faced the same challenges that you are about to face. The power of social media can help you connect to these types of people in your area, or even remotely, that have opened their own agency. 

You might find that they even admire that you're open to looking for guidance and help as you embark on your new business adventure, so go on, go find that mentor

Focus On Lead Generation And Client Retention 

As a business owner, there's one very, very, very important thing you have to worry about: where are you going to find new clients and how are you going to keep them? 

The basis for answering these questions is first figuring out who your ideal target client is, this, in turn, is going to help you figure out where you're going to find them. 

After that, you'll be creating a lead generation strategy for how you bring the leads in and how you convert them to customers. This will be a combination of how your marketing person or department works with your client service department and your internal resources. 

The second most vital part of the customer focus is how you plan on keeping clients as clients once they've signed on. What will your cross-selling and up-selling strategies be? 

These plans and strategies should be communicated to your entire team before you open your doors so that everyone understands how they contribute to the overall customer experience. 

From Fun Freelancer To Awesome Agency Owner 

As you take each step away from being a design freelancer, and each step closer to becoming an agency owner, you'll start to see that although there are many cogs that power the machine, you are ready for all of it. 

Stay focused on your initial goals and dreams, always remind yourself what your vision was when you started. Treat your staff well and your customers fairly. 

Still, feeling overwhelmed? Never fear, here's how we can teach you that you're a business, not a freelancer. 


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