By Scott Sargent

Working with a marketing agency as a freelancer can be a great way to build up your portfolio while collecting a paycheque. It can also be intimidating to someone who may not know what an agency requires, or how to go about approaching one.

I’ve been on both sides of the table, and I currently work for a marketing agency in Calgary. There are some common traits and skills we look for in freelancers, especially those I’ve worked with on a consistent basis. Let’s break it down.

Skills to Pay the Bills 

First, let’s start with your skillset. Ask yourself the question: “What can I offer that saves a business both time and effort?” Then ask, “How can I easily showcase my best work?”

Second, and yet related to the first point, you should have a ‘tight’ online web portfolio and solid intro email to go with it. If you are offering a specific service and emailing an agency, you may have a very small window to get someone’s attention. Even if they already do this in-house, they may keep your contact info as a potential contractor. I’ve actually had this happen and called the person a week later about a new project. Generally, geography matters and it’s helpful to at least be in the same province, if not the same city.

Do Your Homework

Research the type of agencies you want to work for, and the type of work they do. If you can figure out their ‘pain points’, i.e. what they can’t always produce in-house, you may be able to generate a lead. We’ll often be working on deadlines, so having the flexibility to jump into a new project on short notice will increase your value.

You should also know your pricing/rate card. I’ll always ask for a quote, but having a rate card for freelance work can give me a rough idea of what the numbers will look like on my end.

Video freelancer, Kara Artym, says an important element of freelancing is to help clients understand what type of video they are looking for and adapting the concept to match budget.

Making Contact 

A simple email may suffice, but networking events can also be beneficial. Even if you’re somewhat of an introvert, learning to network can yield dividends. You’d be surprised at how asking for a five or 10-minute 1-on-1 meeting or phone call may also yield success or at least some insights. Have a follow up process for after an event, but make sure not to a) start spamming companies on LinkedIn or with daily emails and b) try not to sound pushy or desperate. You’re selling not only your services but yourself as a professional.

Another highly important trait to have is building a good reputation, and this is often done by delivering quality work on time and on budget.

As Lynette Lefsrud, president of GridStone, a Calgary marketing agency explains: “We love working with people who in addition to their unique skillset… also have excellent project management skills. People who manage their time well, provide timelines that they stick to, outline the project and provide ongoing updates are highly valued. Additionally, if a freelancer can nudge us for elements or specific things they need (especially because we’re often busy), move to the top of our freelancing list.”

Bringing Your Game

I can comfortably say there are a few areas that stand out that smaller or medium agencies may need to subcontract:

  1. Video Production & Editing
  2. Professional Photography
  3. Web Design/Production
  4. Graphic Design or Animation

Kara Artym, filmmaker, video freelancer and owner of Kara Bree Productions says, “I have a set of tools that I have to leverage to cultivate a strong work relationship with my client. The most important is to have schedule flexibility; being available seven days a week and atypical operating hours helps to accommodate many clients who look for filming at different locations, events, and off site town halls.”

So, to sum up:

  • Find out what an agency needs and what you offer
  • Do your homework
  • Make the right first impression
  • Be flexible
  • Deliver good work on time and on budget

The busier a small to medium-sized agency becomes, the more they may need to rely on external partnerships, especially if they are in growth mode. Good people who do great work are valuable, no matter what business you’re in.

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