Join Lauren Bacon for an in-depth discussion in this video Freelance, agency, or in-house, part of Web Career Clinic Weekly.
- [Voiceover] Hi, I'm Lauren Bacon, and welcome to this week's edition of the Web Career Clinic, where I'll explore how to build a career you love, making good stuff on the web. Today, I'm going to help you figure out what kind of work environment is going to work best for you by talking about the three main categories of employers: Agencies, in-house teams, and working for yourself, otherwise known as freelancing. Each has a distinct flavor and pros and cons, depending on how you work best.
Now, before I get into the details of each environment, let me quickly define them. Agencies are teams for hire. They do contract work for a bunch of different clients and projects, and they can range in size from just a couple of people to hundreds of employees, depending on how specialized they are. An in-house team, on the other hand, is employed by a single organization, and works on projects for that particular organization.
It might be a development team for a software product, a web team for a retail business, a content team for an online publication, or anything else a company does enough of to keep the work in-house. And freelancing is simply doing whatever you do under your own professional umbrella without having a boss. You might work for agencies or for an in-house team or you might work directly with clients as an independent consultant. Either way, you're running your own business, rather than being employed by someone else.
Okay, now that we've defined our terms, let's talk about some of the things that make these three categories of work environments different. First up, getting paid. In terms of a steady paycheck, agency and in-house work are your best bets. Freelancing is notoriously up and down, so if you'd like to know exactly how much you're going to make from one month to the next, it might not be your cup of tea. On the other hand, freelancing gives you the most autonomy.
When you're your own boss, obviously, you get to decide on your schedule, your projects, everything. Agency work also involves some amount of autonomy, depending on the size of the agency you work for. Smaller shops tend to be more flexible, and allow you some input on the parameters of your job, and how you like to do it. Even some large agencies are flexible on those things. In-house teams don't typically offer a lot of autonomy, but on the flip side, they offer some good opportunities for mentorship, as do well-run agencies.
Another major difference between these roles is how you interface with projects and clients. Obviously, there's a difference in variety versus focus here. You'll get lots of variety in an agency environment and less of it in an in-house context, where you'll tend to do more in-depth work on a smaller number of projects. Freelancing can go either way, depending on how you choose to structure your projects. You can build your business around doing lots of different projects, or a smaller number of large projects if you prefer that.
When it comes to opportunities to work on big household name types of clients and projects, your best bet is working for an in-house team. These larger organizations tend to have their own in-house talent, rather than hiring agencies or freelancers, although, of course, there are exceptions to that rule. But if it's important to you to be able to say that you worked for a big name company, I'd probably recommend that you apply for a job within that company. Your next best bet is working for an agency with an impressive client roster.
Freelancing brings up the rear here, because until you've built up a strong portfolio, those big clients aren't likely to take a risk on hiring you. Next up, opportunities for advancement. Freelancing has plenty of room for this in a way, although no one is going to tap you for a promotion per say. Agencies tend to be smaller, so while you may well get greater responsibility over time, it might take a while for them to change your job title to reflect that.
In-house teams tend to have more formal processes for promotions and HR, so if you're looking to build experience and work your way up the ladder, an in-house environment might be the best fit for you. On the other hand, if creative freedom is a priority for you, you'd probably be happier freelancing or working for an agency. Freelancing obviously grants you the most freedom because you have total control over the projects you take on. In-house teams tend to work with more creative constraints, due to the size of the team, and the fact that you're working for an established brand.
Agencies fall somewhere in the middle, and the amount of creative freedom you have will probably vary from project to project. Finally, let's talk about opportunities for collaboration. I include this because most of us have a happy place, in terms of how much collaboration and interaction with other people we like to have in our workdays. If you like a lot of collaboration, in-house teams can be great fit. Agencies tend to be somewhere in the middle, where you'll have some time where you're collaborating with others, and other time when you're working away on your own thing.
Freelancing is the least social environment by default, so a lot of the freelancers I know who enjoy collaborating, prefer to work in coworking spaces or to find other ways to infuse a bit more human interaction into their days. I hope this has helped you determine what work environment might be the best fit for you. If you have questions about your web career, hit me up on Twitter at @laurenbacon using the hashtag ProWebClinic.
That's it for this week's Web Career Clinic. Tune in next time as I explore another topic for web professionals. See you next week.
Tune in every Wednesday for a weekly "small dose" of advice, an explanation, or an interview with a web veteran. Lauren Bacon has mentored and coached many web professionals as they were starting out and loves sharing all that she's learned from her 15-year career as a designer, front-end developer, and agency principal.