Back to the cubicle?! 6 Reasons to work in-house (at least part-time)

work in-house

A design manager recently told me that he has a hard time finding good freelancers who are willing to work in-house. This is at a very well-respected marketing communications firm in Portland, Maine – a town bursting with designers.

Why is he having this problem?

All jokes aside about freelance designers living in their pjs, it may be time for you to consider working in-house.

Maybe you spent years in a corporate or agency setting with the goal of making the leap to freelance. Now you have no intention of going back – even in a limited way. Or maybe you’ve always been an independent designer and just can’t picture yourself enjoying any other lifestyle.

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Whatever your rationale, consider these 6 reasons before dismissing your next in-house freelance offer.

#1: Get face time and speed up your workflow

You may be familiar with this situation – you’re hung up on a project in your studio, trying to get the answer to one simple but vital question. The job ends up in purgatory while you await a response from a marketer, via a project coordinator. Sometimes the back-and-forth on a question can bog a project down for hours, if not days.

Your reputation suffers because, regardless of the cause of the delay, you’re not hitting that all-important deadline.

Consider the in-house flip side. You walk over for a quick confab with that same marketer, brainstorm a little bit about solutions, and keep the project on track.

Everyone’s happy, and your collaborators perceive you as an effective communicator, problem-solver and team member.

#2: Reap the benefits of your fellow designers’ experience

Working on your own, it’s pretty easy to do things the way you’ve always done them, and not take time to examine your methods – even if they may be a little outdated.

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In the company of other designers, though, you invariably gain insights into how they approach their work – whether it’s application-wrangling, file-management or intricate kerning.

Just lending an eye to each others’ work and geeking out in design conversation is hugely satisfying, too.

#3: Build your marketable skills

Just by being physically present, you may get access to additional projects that allow you to get experience in a specialty area that you’ve been wanting to break into.

Example: I came up as a print designer, but through in-house freelance work, I crossed much more quickly into digital work than I would have working purely on my own. As I worked on print collateral for certain projects, I ended up also designing associated emails and web pages, mentored by the digital team. They were glad for the help and I was certainly glad to expand my skills. (Not to mention that just sitting near the web developers stretched my brain.)

#4: Make connections

By building a wide range of personal relationships within the corporate or agency setting, you’ll be more likely to be remembered by your co-workers, and recommended for future work as they change jobs.

I’ve been very fortunate to have been contacted for work several times by people I’ve met while designing in-house. These are people I would never have met while working strictly from my home studio.

Messages in a workflow management system just don’t build that kind of rapport.

#5: Make your admin (you) happy

Many in-house freelance positions are payrolled through temp agencies, which means that despite the fact that you are not an employee, your taxes are deducted from your paycheck every week. This takes some of the headache and dread out of tax prep.

(Conversely, you may consider filing as an LLC which often makes it easier and cheaper for companies to pay you directly –  a totally separate blog topic.)

Another little benefit of getting paid through a temp agency is that you may also be able to log your hours on their site instead of creating invoices – a few precious moments of free time gained!

#6: Take the edge off your anxiety

Working in-house is a sweet spot between being a staff designer and working completely as an independent. For as long as the situation lasts, you have the promise of relatively consistent, predictable income and steady hours.

It can be the best of both worlds. Sure, you don’t get health insurance, but freelance perks like deciding your own number of vacation days are in full effect!

You may worry about how long the in-house situation may last. As the company grows, will they open up the head count and drop their freelancers?

Who knows!

That’s one of the gambles you took, diving into the freelance life.

As your schedule allows it, keep marketing yourself and working with other clients – stay in the game in case the in-house situation dries up unexpectedly. And if the situation arises that you are offered a staff job with your in-house freelance client, you have extensive experience with the company.

From there you can make an educated decision about whether that leap is right for you.

Have you worked as an in-house freelancer?

How has it affected your design business and your work? Share your stories in the comments!


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  1. I think #7 would be, everyone including their dog and grandmother is a web designer these days 🙂
    Nice article, thank you for sharing.

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