Why I Decided Against Growing An Agency and Being A Freelancer Instead
The biggest and most difficult decision that I made in 2020 was probably to stay “small” and be a freelancer instead of continuing to grow a digital agency.
How it all started
When I was a second-year bachelor student, a friend of mine and I, both studying Creative Technology, decided to start a creative agency. We wanted to help small businesses to make use of all the emerging digital marketing opportunities.
We set up business websites, email campaigns, online stores, launched facebook ads and produced marketing videos.
Basically, we’ve been a typical agency consisting of two founders that were young, curious and motived, wanting to apply our knowledge and our skills to do creative work for companies that we believed in.
Reasons for growing an agency
Working on awesome projects
My main motivation to run an agency was to work with a team of great people, acquiring amazing clients and having a strong workforce of talented people to work on big creative projects.
Building something from nothing
The idea of owning an office space and establishing an environment, were people and I myself included like to go to work to and create amazing things appealed to me.
Running an agency does not only pays the bills but can help to generate a passive income and escape the classical 9-5, which to a certain degree can lead to more freedom. Or how I read it on Twitter recently: "True wealth is the ability to wake up and do whatever it is you want to do" (Credits to Dan Go)
My personal reasons against the agency model
The classical advertising world
When learning about the advertising industry, I frequently heard that people are often stressed out, that there are tight deadlines and long workdays. These are just some of the factors that made the creative agency model unattractive for me.
Wanting to do more of what I love
Another concern that I had was that running agency might hold me back on doing work that I enjoy most. Hiring, onboarding and managing employees is not part of that and would come with a lot of responsibility and bureaucracy.
The challenges of co-founding
Having a co-founder can be very beneficial, since both founders bring different skills into the company. Think of the great founder combinations at companies such as Apple or AirBnB.
However, what I personally didn’t thought enough about, is the importance of a shared vision and shared goals. For example: What if you want to scale but your co-founder does not? What if your co-founder wants to work exclusively with business consultancies but you would like to serve other companies? What if you want to invest in an office, but your co-founder prefers remote work? Your goals need to be aligned and that’s not always easy.
Trust is an important factor as well. If you mess something up, for example by disappointing a client, not only your reputation is destroyed but often also the one of your co-founder (or the other way around).
Freedom as the main motivator for being a freelancer
As a freelancer, you can decide completely on your own, which projects to take on, from where you work and at what time. Sometimes this might be true for agencies as well, but oftentimes when running an agency, you are more constrained and won’t be that flexible.
When running a business it has to run all the time - usually also when you are on holiday. Taking a vacation when running a business can be tough. You might be needed or at least think that. It’s difficult to completely disconnect for a while.
I am the person who works directly with the client. This puts me in charge but also lets me have more control about a project.
I did not regret starting an agency at all - it was such a great experience and I learned a lot. Especially, about the business- and marketing side of things. My business partner and I ran the agency for two years together. We helped each other, learned from each, had difficult times and good times.
It just did not work out and the agency model was not the right choice for me personally in the long-run. It did not fit within the lifestyle that I would like to have. I did not see myself as a co-founder of an agency and wanted to focus more on the truly creative work.
In the end it really depends on the kind of person that you are. The challenge is to find the work that you truly enjoy.
If you want to stay updated about my journey as a freelancer or founder of a ‘company of one’, feel free to follow me on Twitter.