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Should I go freelance or permanent? The pros and cons of both

Woo hoo! You’ve finished college, you’ve put together your folio and you’re ready to take on the design world. Should you be looking for permanent or freelance roles, or just try and get whatever you can? Here are some things worth considering before you decide.

Should I Go Freelance Or Permanent? The Pros & Cons Of Both


Pros of freelance

  • Freelance can be an attractive proposition to an employer, as they are not tied to keeping you on. When you’ve just left college, you haven’t established yourself in the industry, so it can be seen as less risky to an employer to take you on to do some freelance work and see how you go.
  • Often freelancing can be a foot in the door to a permanent job, a sort of ‘try before you buy’ for the employer. You get to suss them out too!
  • Freelance can be a fantastic way to work for a number of very different clients.
  • You will be able work with lots of different designers and have exposure to many different design styles.
  • Not sure whether you’d like to work in a design agency, advertising agency or even in-house? Freelancing gives you the opportunity to try a bit of everything out.
  • You get to choose when you want to work.
  • You’re not tied to any employer.
  • There’s less chance of getting involved in office politics. You’re not going to be there for long, so why do you care? You can just go in, do your work and leave.
  • If you don’t like the job, it’s easy to move somewhere else.
  • There’s the chance to earn more money per day freelancing than in a permanent role.
  • You may be able to work from home.
  • You’re your own boss. There’s a definite feeling of autonomy and independence.
  • You get to meet lots of people and build up your contacts in the industry. Once you start building a reputation for yourself, you may find that you don’t have to seek out work so much, but that you get called back by the same places when they are busy time and time again.
  • It’s easier to take longer periods off to go on holiday to pursue other creative projects. This can be great if you’re also a budding animator, photographer, illustrator…
  • You can negotiate your own rate. Once you start gathering experience, you can up your rate accordingly.
  • You can sometimes charge for overtime – depending on the employer. You must pre-negotiate this before you start.
Working at a great agency can make all the difference, photography © Lincoln Barbour

Pros of permanent

  • You know where you’re going to be working every day of the week. No job is ever stable in this industry, but there’s definitely a feeling of more stability.
  • Once you’ve been in your job for a while, you will be given bigger briefs and more responsibility.
  • You will be mentored by your creative director. This is particularly important when you’re straight out of college and you’re still learning the ropes. By the same token, you may be given a fair bit more leniency than you would in a freelance role, where you would be expected to perform without ‘learning plates’.
  • You will form close friendships with the people around you. Being permanent means you’ll be part of all the social events, Friday night drinks, award nights etc. You’ll really feel like part of a team.
  • You’ll have greater creative control over your work and a greater say in how it evolves. As time goes on, you’ll have greater say in how the agency runs and you could be given more leadership responsibilities. You may also start to mentor and manage other designers.
  • You know what you are going to be earning every week. This makes it easier to plan your life, paying bills, getting a loan, buying a house. You are considered more stable to a bank.
  • A permanent role can look good to your next permanent employer.
  • You’ll be able to build up a portfolio of work that you saw through from conception to completion. This will be work that hopefully you’re really proud of.
  • You will be able to work and develop a brand over time. You will get to evolve campaigns and have a real creative say in the brand.


Cons of freelance

  • You are often called in because an agency is really busy, such as in a pitch situation. This can be pretty intense.
  • You don’t get any real downtime or ‘quiet days’ like you would in a permanent role, as if you’re not working, you are costing the company money, so they won’t keep you on.
  • It can be hard to plan holidays and other stuff, as you never know when you’ll be working.
  • You could be called in to work all weekend and lots of late nights, especially in a pitch situation.
  • As you’re often moving around from agency to agency, you often don’t get to bond with co-workers and you always have to get to know new people and suss out how they work. You can consequently always feel like the ‘new kid at school’.
  • You may not have such a large say as a freelancer. You can always have a creative opinion, but if someone in the agency doesn’t agree, you often have to go along with what they say, as you are in effect ‘the hired help’. If you become too disagreeable, they can just get rid of you. This can be frustrating, as you often just have to follow other people’s ideas, against your better judgement.
  • You can sometimes have less creative input, as you are seeing someone’s idea through.
  • You often start a project and you may not get to see it all the way through, so it can be harder to build up your folio.
  • You are almost certainly never given the briefs that others in the agency would want. More often than not, you are given the briefs that no one else wants to work on. I once came into an agency for a freelance gig to work on a weight loss client. The creative director had sat on the brief for 5 weeks in the agency, as most of the creative’s were guys and they didn’t want to touch it. Finally my partner and I came in one Thursday and were told we had to present three fully developed concepts to the US heads of this company that flying to Australia for the meeting on Monday morning. Needless to say, we did not get much sleep on Sunday. We charged for 18 hours of work that day!


Cons of permanent

  • Sometimes when you start off somewhere as a junior, it can be hard to move up the ranks as you develop more experience. In some ways, you will always be thought of as a junior. I stayed in my first job for just over three years. After asking for pay rises and only getting very minimal jumps, I decided to move agencies. Even though I absolutely loved where I was, I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to move up the ranks there. By moving agencies, I doubled my salary and my seniority.
  • Sometimes the demands of the job can be so much that you feel like your job is your life. There can be this feeling that you must stay late every night even if you’re not busy, just so you seem devoted to your job. Some people can thrive on this, but most of us like a little balance.
  • It can be harder to take holidays. I remember going to ask for a month off to go overseas and I was told ‘there’s never a good time to take a holiday, so it’s always a good time to take a holiday’. There also used to be this running joke in a few agencies that I worked in that if you went on holiday, you’d be lucky to come back to a job. I know a few people that did lose their job after going on holiday. One poor girl happened to bump into her boss at an airport whilst on holiday and wondered why he was acting so strange and not looking her in the eye. Then the day before she was due back at work, she got a call from someone at the agency saying ‘don’t bother coming in tomorrow’. No wonder her boss hadn’t been able to look her in the eye.
  • As you’re on a permanent salary, most likely you won’t be entitled to overtime. Long hours and weekend work can be expected for no extra pay.
  • Starting salaries can be low and as you’re just out of college, there’s no room for negotiation. You basically have to accept what is offered to you. Sometimes employers take advantage of this and offer really low salaries. Sometimes you have to weigh this up with the great experience you’ll be getting, especially if the agency is highly regarded in the industry.
  • You may only be working on the same two or three clients. In fact a few times, I’ve only been working on one client. This can be creatively mind numbing after a while and once you’re deemed as the so called ‘expert’ on that client, it can be hard to move onto other clients.

As you can see, there are great things about freelance and permanent. It’s up to you to decide what’s right for you now. I started off in permanent roles for the first seven years of my career and then decided to go freelance. Both have been fantastic for many different reasons. Good luck with the hunting!

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