In case you just started as a freelance designer or you’re thinking about going freelance in the future, there are essentially two ways of getting work.
The first way is to just work directly with a client that reached out to you, or maybe a client you got through a friend. The second way is to work with a recruiter or a recruitment agency. In this article we talk about getting work through a recruitment agency. As you can imagine, there are a couple pros & cons about this, but first, let’s review the basics:
A Recruiter is like a match-maker between you, the Freelancer/Contractor and a Creative Agency. When an agency needs an extra pair of hands for a pitch or client presentation, they send a request out to one (or many) of the recruiting agencies they work with. The recruiter will then select a few freelancers from their database who are available and fit the job description and day rate.
As a freelancer you will always need to give permission before the recruiter can send over your portfolio to their client. This means, you won’t end up working on a project you don’t like, you are still in charge. When a match is made and the booking is confirmed, the recruiting agency will handle the contract, time sheets and payments. Within just a few hours you can be secured with a job for the following week or even month. At the end of every week, you send the Recruiting Agency a timesheet with your invoice and most of them pay you within 7 days. The Recruiter invoices the Creative Agency and charge their own fee on top.
You can see the recruiter in the middle between you and the creative agency. They’re not only the match-maker, but they also handle crucial details you might not be interested in dealing with yourself (for example contracts, payments etc.)
How to find a recruiter?
There are different ways to find a creative recruiter. The best way is to ask other freelance designers for their recommendations. In big cities such as London or New York, designers are usually happy to share their experiences with the different recruiting agencies and they will give you names of the agencies they like to work with.
To be honest, there is so much work with so many recruiters, there is usually very little competition between freelancers to get work, even if it sometimes feels like it. This especially is the case in bigger cities such as London or New York. Also, if you’re trying to get recruiter recommendations, ask designer friends that in your eyes do very well and always seem busy. Those are the ones who usually appreciate the extra help.
When it comes to smaller cities, things are a little more difficult mostly because there is less work and people are less likely to exchange information and contacts. However, some recruiters in London for example, would have good contacts to advertising agencies abroad. So whatever city you’re working in, contacting bigger recruiters in bigger cities could still give you projects in your local city.
Other ways to find recruiters is to search on LinkedIn. Yes, I said it, LinkedIn. People who work for recruiting agencies call themselves Consultants. Within the agency there are different consultants for different fields : IT, Technology, Creative, Freelance or Permanent consultants. Contact the person that you think can help you out. Also as a bonus tip, if you put Freelance in your LinkedIn title, it will help recruiters find you easier.
Most designers who have good work are constantly overbooked and even jokingly complain about how many recruiters bother them on a daily basis. Knowing this is important because it tells us how much work is really out there, and it’s a lot!
Pros & Cons of working with a recruiter
1. Access to the biggest creative agencies via their network. This will help build yours. LinkedIn is your friend! If you enjoyed working with someone at a Creative Agency, add them on LinkedIn, stay in touch! You never know what will come up in the future
2. The role of the recruiter is to have a good relationship with both sides and it's up to them to find the perfect match. This means that big agencies trust them to only send over their best talent for the right job. So you have a higher chance to get in.
3. Most of them pay you within a week, even if the client takes forever to pay them. Probably one of the best benefits of working with a recruiter.
4. Recruiters get paid when you work, so they are eager to get you on a job. If you’re on their list, you can be sure that they will push many projects to you.
5. They will negotiate your day rate and overtime fees, so you don't have to deal with this. But always make sure you know what the terms are before you start.
6. You can work whenever you want, for as long as you want. Just let them know and they will contact you with the right jobs. A recruiter or recruitment agency is similar to working with an agent, but more flexible.
7. You can have multiple recruiters working for you, talking to multiple agencies at the same time. You the boss!
1. Lower day rate, as the recruiter will add their own fee on top of yours. However, you don’t have to deal with contracts, negotiations or late payments. But beware of recruiters who charge more than 15-25% on top.
2. Not allowed to work directly with the creative agency within 6 (sometimes 12) months of them introducing you. This means that you can’t go behind the recruiters back, and cut them out of the deal. But at the same time, this might be bad for your future career not being able to work for a company, just because a recruiter introduced you first. Be careful.
3. Recruiters get paid when you work, so they can sometimes be a bit overeager. Don’t get pressured into a project. Just because they send you one, doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Of course, this is a good problem to have.
4. If you have Freelancer in your LinkedIn description, you will get bombarded with invites from recruiters. Be selective! Always meet (Skype) them first before you take on a booking through them. A good recruiter wants to get to know you and your skill set so they can place you somewhere you will fit in.
5. Communicate exactly what work you want to do, or they might book you for the wrong job. (No PowerPoint for me!)
6. You need to keep track of which recruiter introduced you to which agency, to prevent being put forward for the same job. This won’t look good on all involved.
So generally, my advice is to just be careful. Good recruiters are rare, but if you find one it can be a great relationship. Unfortunately, there are as many bad recruiters out there, so you really need to listen to your gut. Always ask recruiters for all the details, and even ask them how much their cut will be. An average is 15-25% of what the recruiter adds on top, but some of them add even more. Beware of those, and don't work with anyone who does shady business.
Different cities, different ways
These are my experiences of working in London as a freelancer for 3 years. I recently moved to Amsterdam, which is a different playing field.
But generally the rules from above apply to working with most individual recruiters or recruitment agencies. And of course, some recruiters can even find you a full-time position as well, if that’s what you are looking for.