Is Your ‘Agency’ Actually a Freelancer or One-Man Band?

Is Your ‘Agency’ Actually a Freelancer or One-Man Band?

freelancer vs agency

We explore the freelancer vs agency debate!

Recently, whilst scrolling through a Facebook digital marketers group I belong to, I stumbled on a post that talked about “new agencies” emerging in the last three years; that anyone with an “ABN and a modicum of experience” were setting up shop and working as, and referring to themselves as, an ‘agency’.

It’s true, the term ‘agency’ is under threat and losing perceived value with the rise of freelancers operating as a ‘one person does all’ solution, offering services traditionally associated with agencies. So I thought I would take fingers to a keyboard for a humble little rant if you are considering freelancer vs agency as to why they two are not the same! 

In today’s ever-evolving marketing landscape, the term ‘agency’ has taken on a variety of meanings and it’s become increasingly important to discern whether your chosen ‘agency’ is truly equipped to deliver and scale with you or if it’s merely a one-man band operation masquerading as a larger entity. To me, ‘agency’ denotes a group or collection of people working in formation, to provide a specialist service. Whereas a one-man band is a marketing professional, consultant or specialist.

Let’s not mistake that there are some very talented and well-versed freelancers or one-man bands out there (and we’re also always after them!), but engaging a person as opposed to an ‘agency’ has a time and a place. There are key differences that I believe discerning clients should be aware of before engaging in a marketing relationship.

Accessibility

For many, hiring a smaller ‘agency’ or one-man band gives them the perception of having more accessibility and being able to call on them whenever they need. Over the span of my 20+  years in the industry, I have worked client side, as a ‘one-man band’ and agency side. Accessibility being correlated with size of the operation is a myth. A ‘one-man band’ might be more available if they only have a handful of clients, but if they are taken out with sickness, holidays you are often at their helm. Likewise, their hours are often not standardised so you can’t be sure that something can or will be actioned in business hours.

With working with an agency, I can’t speak for every agency, but I can certainly speak to how we are structured here at The Creative Collective. We allocate a dedicated Account Manager for accessibility purposes and that person’s capacity is carefully managed to ensure they can remain accessible to their clients. However because they are supported by a team, there is always someone shadowing their sick leave, annual leave or can chime in and give depth of insight on any aspect of the project or service. 

Capacity & Scalability

Another key difference between agency and the one-man band is the ability to scale. An agency typically employs teams of specialists across various disciplines, allowing them to tackle projects with depth of expertise. Often and depending on size, they can also shuffle things within teams or build capacity quickly, as required, to meet demands of clients. In contrast, freelancers and solo operators may lack the resources to handle large-scale campaigns or projects requiring diverse skill sets and they often can’t scale quickly due to financial or time limitations. While they may excel in certain areas, they could struggle to deliver comprehensive solutions or the depth of expertise that an agency can. We call them ‘generalists’ (someone who has good knowledge across multiple disciplines, but may not be a specialist in any, certainly not all). 

As your business grows, it’s important that you have access to scalable solutions to accommodate your increased demand and evolving needs. Established agencies are better equipped to scale their operations to meet such requirements, drawing upon their resources and infrastructure.

Depth of Expertise

This is arguably the biggest advantage of working with an agency as opposed to the solo operator. The more people an agency employs, the more ability they have to hire people with the depth of expertise within their teams. From graphic designers and web developers to content creators and marketing strategists, agencies bring together specialists with diverse skill sets to deliver integrated solutions.

We focus on hiring ‘T-shaped marketers’ – those that have depth of expertise in about 1-3 main marketing facets but really well rounded knowledge across all our disciplines and we focus on developing our people into ‘T-shaped marketers’. 

For us here at The Creative Collective and for agencies in general, the challenge is then one on the front of communication and collaboration – how we can ensure that the ‘team’ is working seamlessly and you, as the client, are not repeating yourself. If you only need specialist support in a single area only, then a one-man band might be a good solution for you, however as your business grows, you should consider that you will also likely outgrow your specialist.

Systems & Tools

With scale and larger teams, the agency also has to invest in more systems and tools to support the work. This includes project management systems, reporting software, or industry leading software; costs that a solo operator simply (or more often than not) don’t have the funds to invest in. 

Brand Reputation

Reputation is crucial in the competitive world of marketing services. Established agencies have often built solid reputations over years of delivering quality work and achieving tangible results for their clients. Their track record speaks volumes about their reliability, professionalism, and ability to drive success. While freelancers may earn positive reviews and referrals, they may struggle to match the brand recognition and credibility of established agencies. A one-man band often also specialises in a specific industry, and in those instances, that could be beneficial to you. Do seek to see what work your agency has done in your industry with up to date, recent and relevant case studies

Freelancer vs Agency Summary

So if you have just engaged an ‘agency’ or perhaps you are rumbling to do so, be sure to know if you’re hiring an agency or a freelancer masquerading as an agency. Onboarding and off-boarding a marketing partner can be a big job – you have a lot invested in this marketing partnership so it’s important to get it right.

Be discerning in your selection of freelancer vs agency and consider your current needs and potential future needs. It’s essential to look beyond surface-level appearances and consider factors such as scale, expertise, client experience, scalability, and reputation. By doing so, you can ensure that your chosen ‘agency’ is truly equipped to meet your needs and drive your business forward.

And if you’d like to have a chat with us, of course we’d be delighted to speak with you.