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The Benefits of Freelancing for Design Agencies with Amber Weinberg – The Divi Nation Podcast, Episode 19

Posted on March 25, 2016 by in Community | 24 comments

The Benefits of Freelancing for Design Agencies with Amber Weinberg – The Divi Nation Podcast, Episode 19

We’re back this week with another full length episode of our Divi Nation podcast. This time around we’re talking about the benefits of freelancing for design agencies. Our guest this week is Amber Weinberg, a freelance WordPress front-end developer living and working out of Nashville Tennessee.

Amber has been working with WordPress professionally since 2008 and over the years has enjoyed the best of both the freelancing world and the agency world by attaching herself to one or more agencies at a time and maintaining both higher rates than she could get locally and the treasured autonomy of a freelancer.

This approach has allowed her to off-load some of the more stressful aspects of freelancing–marketing/sales, client management, etc.–to the agencies she works with while still having a reliable source of recurring income (again, managed by the agencies).

We get into all of that and more in this week’s interview.

The Benefits of Freelancing for Design Agencies with Amber Weinberg – Divi Nation 19

As Amber and I talked I really enjoyed hearing her story and picking her brain on a few broad freelancing topics. But once the topic of “the benefits of freelancing for design agencies” came up as a way to off-load work that wasn’t her speciality while also locking down a dependable source of recurring income, I knew we needed to go deeper.

I understand that this may not be the right approach for everyone, but it’s something we haven’t had anyone champion on the podcast before and so I’m excited to share this perspective with the community. At the very least it’s an interesting alternative to the ongoing maintenance model a lot of our previous guests have used and promoted.

I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as we did. And if you’d like to make sure you can easily watch or listen to future episodes of Divi Nation (as well as our entire archive), please take a moment and use one of the subscription options we’ve provided below.

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Your Turn: Weigh In On This Episode

After listening to our conversation about the benefits of freelancing for design agencies, what’s your take?

Have you tried working with agencies before in a freelance capacity or do you prefer other models as a means of securing recurring income?

Let us know all about it in the comments. And of course, feel free to leave any other thoughts or questions you might have too.

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24 Comments

  1. Thank you for having me on the show, Nathan!

  2. Hey Nathan, recently discovered the show and I’m working my way through all the past episodes. Keep up the great work!

    This topic was really relevant for me. I went full time freelance a little over a year ago. It was a slow build, and I struggled to create reliable regular income. My small/medium business clients don’t usually have a need for ongoing work, so it was always a hustle to keep my pipeline full. I had to spend a lot of time on lead gen with Linkedin and local networking events.

    I had already worked as an in-house designer/developer for 10 years before going freelance, so I didn’t really consider approaching companies like that for freelance work. I wanted to things my way and I wanted my own clients.

    Then I got contacted by a web design agency that had recently lost an employee and was looking for a freelancer to replace him. This turned into regular work, and I could count on them for new business every week. After that, it clicked. This was the way to create a regular flow of work, and I could still take on one-off projects with small biz clients.

    Now, I contract for a bunch of different companies and they keep me very busy. But it’s not just website agencies. There are lots of businesses for whom websites are not a core service, but they frequently have clients asking for them. I do work for IT companies, a branding company, a video production company, a specialty marketing company and one web design agency. Most of them don’t have work for me every week, but one or two of them always do.

    I still do some lead gen and find small business clients for myself. But it’s not as urgent as it used to be, and there is less legwork involved in keeping my pipeline full.

    Listening to Amber made me realize I need to update my own website to reflect this. My current site is geared towards small businesses. Anyway, great episode, thanks!

    • Nathan B. Weller

      Thank you for the kind words Bill. It sounds like you’ve been able to create the exact arrangement that Amber is advocating. Congrats on finding a model that works for you!

    • Hey Bill,

      So happy that’s worked out for you! Gives me hope 🙂 Do you have any tips on how you got into contact with those kinds businesses?

      And yea after watching this podcast I realize I need to update my website as well now that I’m thinking of changing my target audience lol.

      • Nathan B. Weller

        +1 for the tips sharing Bill. Would be interested to hear about that too.

      • Hi Jenelle, I’m happy to help if I can!

        Well the first one came from (shockingly) Craigslist. I setup some email alerts for terms like web and html. That was the only valuable lead I got from CL in 8 months though, and sifting through all those (mostly irrelevant) ads was taking up too much time. So I don’t do that anymore.

        I also got two through a local chamber of commerce. One of them was a random lucky meeting at a chamber event, and another was a referral from one of my clients at the chamber. The chamber has also gotten me some good small business clients. It takes a while though, I think I was a member for about 5 months before I got my first client there.

        I’ve discovered that many web agencies in my area use freelancers often, some don’t even have full time designers/developers. It was surprising to me.

        I’ve had luck with Linkedin too. I had one IT company find me and become a regular client. I’ve also contacted several businesses offering my services. I use the linkedin advanced search to look for specific types of businesses (information technology and internet). I set it to search 2nd connections (people who are connected to my direct connections). I look at their profile, then I check their website to see if they offer website design services. If they do, I send them a really short email explaining who I am, and letting them know that I offer contracted WordPress development.

        I usually send out about 20-30 of these at a time, and I’ll get maybe 5 people who just connect with me, 2-3 who ask for more info, and if I’m lucky, one who wants to talk or meet. So far I’ve only gotten one client this way, but I only invested about 15 hours into the process, and I’ve made thousands from that client already. I’m going to keep doing it, and refining my process.

        I recommend that you contact local web agencies, branding companies, IT companies, and marketing companies. Businesses that don’t offer websites as a core product almost always use freelancers to build them. Be very brief and to the point, and if they show interest then offer to follow up with a call or meeting.

        Hope this helps! Freelancing is great, but it does take some time to learn how and where to get your clients. I’m still learning, but my income has gotten drastically more reliable since I started focusing on these types of clients. Good luck!

        • Awesome, this all sounds like great advice. Thank you so much Bill for taking the time to write all this. It’s very helpful! I will definitely be implementing these tips 🙂 ​

  3. Hey Nathan:

    I needed this podcast today. Thank You!

    • Nathan B. Weller

      You are more than welcome! That’s why I do this every week 🙂

  4. I’m giving freelance website design another try. This podcast had some great tips and information for me going forward. Thank You, Linda

    • Nathan B. Weller

      Great to hear Linda! I wish you well as you get back into the swing of things. If there is ever a question you need answered or a resource that would make what you do easier/better please don’t hesitate to put in a request. You can drop them in the comments here or you can email me directly at podcast at elegantthemes dot com.

  5. This is almost exactly what I’m looking to do in my early freelance career except for the fact that I prefer to specialize more in the actual design process for the web rather than code.

    I was really trying to figure out what my niche market should be and how to target them. Things are much clearer now. Thanks so much for the blog post. Great job with hosting Nathan, your questions were spot on and Amber was super helpful!

    • Hey Jenelle,

      I don’t know what others found… But for the first few years of my business I was mainly an agency freelancer developing wordpress sites. It might be different now, but I noted that agencies seemed to for the most part want to keep the design in house, but would be more comfortable outsourcing development. Although I know a few agencies employed freelancers, but they tended to be expected to come and sit in the office.

      Also, Amber seems to have earned some really good agency clients. It’s easier said than done… With money tight, it’s not uncommon… In fact it was more common that agencies that are outsourcing… Are outsourcing a project that is late before you even get your hands on it, and quite often badly project managed by an under qualified project manager who only knows how to say yes to the client, and hit forward on emails.

      Just wanted to out that out there! On the flip side, while for the most part I found agencies not a fantastic niche, alongside my direct clients I work with a lot of designers who need a development partner. I wouldn’t call these designers or small companies agencies though… And they are not outsourcing, they are partnering on projects with myself and my wider collective team. These are my favourite projects. If you were starting out.. It would be a good place to look in terms of niche.

      Like Amber mentioned… With agencies often all the decisions are made before you are involved. You can be just a tool, using only your code and not your valuable knowledge of what is good for Web design.

      All that insight is really my perspective of a developer / site builder… For a designer it may be a lot better because you are right at the front of the production line… If perhaps hidden behind smoke and mirrors of the project manager who may or may not be transparent that you exist to the client.

      Best of luck, if you have the skills you are sure to succeed and eventually find your perfect niche.

      ☺️

      • Wow thanks for sharing that with me Paul 🙂 Yea I would very much be open to partnering with developers and other freelancers too. That’s actually how I started out so it’s definitely still an option.

        I guess I was thinking agencies would be great because if it works out well you are likely to get consistent work from them instead of always hunting for new clients. However, you made some good points for me to think about. Thanks again!

    • Nathan B. Weller

      Thanks Jenelle, I really appreciate that! If there is anything we can do to help (via the podcast or blog) please let me know.

  6. This is almost exactly what I’m looking for…
    Great job…Thanku so much…

  7. I enjoyed listening to the podcast, thanks for doing this. I actually work primarily for agencies myself now instead of directly with small business clients.

    Just kind of happened when a couple firms I started doing work for and now I think I might enjoy it more.

    • Nathan B. Weller

      Any tips you can share based on your experience for people wanting to do the same thing?

  8. The thing people need to understand about how agencies operate is that it is in their interest to keep all aspects of production under their control.

    Why would you hire contractors and outsource everything only to have freelancers showing off your clients website / work in their portfolio?

    I get it.

    It’s your creative work.

    I am a huge advocate of propriety and ownership, but freelancers don’t have $80,000 a month in commercial leases, payroll and insurance hanging over their heads. Plus, you are being paid for the work, so complaining about not being able to take credit for the work and show it off publicly (on your website / portfolio) is just an amateur perspective of the business.

    With that said, make sure you get paid a premium to release full control / copyright ownership of your designs to the agency (especially if they are going to reuse it over and over for clients), unless you are relatively new to the business – then take whatever you can get under a “work for hire” type of agreement.

    Think about this – if they (the agency) let everyone they worked with run off and show their clients project as their own… over time, people would just go to the freelancer for the work, not the agency. I’ve actually had this happen to me many times. Why go through a middle man? At an agency, the projects you execute are your best bet to getting new work.

    It’s hard for freelancers with nothing to lose and very little overhead to understand. When you have so much liability and people’s livelihoods hanging in the balance, keeping close control over the work, assets and where it is shared / disclosed is very, very serious.

    As a freelancer, put yourself in the shoes of the agency owner and have some empathy and respect for the liability they take on just to get you a gig. It’s really hard to talk people into spending the money that it actually takes to create a professional custom WordPress website, especially these days.

    Respect the business and the business will respect you.

    • I totally respect this, and respect goes both ways. If I do work with an agency I want to be able to show off a project and take credit for my role. Notice the distinction here….role, not the entire project. And with the added distinction of giving credit where it is due – that means the agency and anyone else associated. Freelancers who want to remain in good standing with agencies have it at their best interest to advocate their roles only – and not take credit for entire projects. Because what is the point of freelancing? To offload project management, client relations, discovery phases, etc. I don’t want credit for any of that because maybe I don’t want future work like that. Most freelancers enjoy their role as contributors and I think they should be allowed to show that.

  9. I love this. I am new to freelancing mainly as a designer and now Divi / Genesis designer and was strongly considering getting a full-time job. Thanks for reminding me there are other options. Great stuff. Thanks.

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