5 Things a Design Agency Looks for when Hiring Freelancers

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The life of a freelance designer is rewarding. You make your own hours, choose your clients, and have the kind of autonomy most people dream about.

But it’s not all roses and champagne. The myth of the freelancer working with their brand new MacBook Pro on a beach in peru is…well…a myth. You might have long droughts without work, or a spat of difficult clients.

One of the best ways to balance the freelance lifestyle is to build relationships with design agencies. If they like you, they can provide a steadier stream of projects.

If you like them, you can let their account people deal with the end client, while you develop a relationship with the art director.

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What do agencies look for when hiring freelancers?

We talked to design agency Impress Printing and Graphics to find out the 5 things they look for when hiring freelancers.


It’s obvious, but creativity may also be the single most important quality for a freelancers. It’s the one you absolutely have to nail.

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For most agencies, creativity means going beyond technical skills and producing wholly original work. It’s taking the tools of the trade and using them in a way that expresses your style and meets with a specific goal.

Start with a creative resume design, and carry the theme through to your portfolio. And of course, put only the best stuff in your portfolio. Don’t fall into the trap of putting every piece you’ve ever made in there. It’s not about showing 20 decent pieces, it’s about showing 5 great pieces


“Agencies want to know they can trust a freelancer” says Wendy, art director of print at Impress. “We want to make sure that your work is good the first time, and that we don’t need to spend valuable time coaching you through the workings of the marketing world.”

And that’s where experience is an asset. If you can show that you’ve worked successfully with a few clients over longer periods of time, it shows you’re reliable.  Companies might take a chance on a fresh freelancer, but if it’s an important project, or if they just have exacting standards, they’ll almost always go for the experienced veteran.

The best way to build your experience is to take on enough different jobs to build your portfolio without sacrificing the quality of your work.


Part-time freelancers should be especially wary of overbooking themselves. No matter how skilled you are, you need time to get work done.

Rush jobs show a lack of professionalism, and might force an agency to start  to start from scratch, and missing deadlines can be even worse. Be prepared to prove you have the time to do the work, and show your dedication to finishing a project on schedule.


Another no brainer, but maybe not how you think.

Agencies have to be able to afford you – that’s no secret. But an agency is looking for all around value. If you’re dirt cheap and the work is blah, it won’t matter if you do the work for free. The best paid freelancers offer more than good work. They offer good work, on time, and with a positive attitude.

In short charge what you’re worth, and be prepared to tell an agency (politely, of course) why you’re worth the price. And be prepared to negotiate. It’s a skill just like anything else.


This is two-fold. First, agencies expect you to be available. They expect that you’ll pick up the phone, answer emails, and maybe even be available over chat.

Provide lines of communication and assure that you’ll respond to calls and messages quickly. If you’re close to the agency, stop by. A face to face can make a lot of things smoother. Above all, know that employers get very, very frustrated when freelancers are suddenly incommunicado. If you’re busy, let them know, and give them an anticipated time frame for when you can be back in touch.

Second, it’s an added bonus when a freelancer is a skilled communicator. Someone who can resolve conflict, take good direction, and speak up when they have something to say.

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  1. I think another very important one is ‘Personality’. Freelancers need to be flexible enough to fit any agency’s culture and not bring along attitude, ego or any other baggage.

  2. Handy, thanks!

  3. Agreed on all points. Before I learned design, I hired a freelancer to create an identity package. She missed the first deadline (and all subsequent ones), sent me mediocre work and was ‘out of town’ what seemed like every weekend for 4 days. FF 3 months later, I had basically designed my own logo, had a poorly printed card and no website or brochure – ended up having to hire s/one else to finish. I found out much later that she’d never held a design job or any other sort of structured position, but had merely finished a design course, put up a website and set up shop. Even if someone’s got a great portfolio, it only goes so far when they know nothing about deadlines or professionalism.

  4. great post. i’m a relatively new freelance graphic designer, fully aspiring to the macbook-pro-on-a-beach myth.. though for the meantime i’m happy just to do the work that i love. do you have any tips for capturing the eye of agencies who will hire from outside their own countries? i’m living and working in japan, and while i do ok with my local business, i’d like to get more international/english-speaking business..

  5. The beginning of this article made me laugh because I’m a freelancer from the states but I actually do live and work in Peru. . . though not on a beach and not with a brand new macbook (mine has a few years on it).

    While I too am working towards that dream and feel pretty good about how far I’ve come it is definitely not all “roses and champagne” as you say. I’ve found that to make it work I’ve had to be willing to work much harder than I would in any other job and, as you mention, you have the uncertainty of not knowing what the future holds, having slow moments followed by overloads and dealing with difficult clients. For me it has been worth it because I love what I do though I truly think that for the difficulty in getting this kind of business and lifestyle set up one will only be willing to stick with it long enough to achieve their goal if they truly love design and would be doing it from anywhere be it a beach in Peru or somewhere much less nice.

    As far as my experience goes, my clients are almost entirely overseas from me (the US and Europe primarily) and I’ve found that the best way to make connections and maintain long-term work relationships is to be very reliable with quality of work, timeliness and communication. Being abroad I have the disadvantage of not always being accessible by phone so I put a lot of work into really clear email correspondence and I have found that the best way to attract new clients is to look for partnerships that I genuinely think would be beneficial to both parties, write a personalized letter introducing myself, presenting my portfolio and explaining why I think we would be a good fit, I like to explain my living and work situation right in that initial email so as not to waste their time if they are not interested in a telecommuter and I at times, when I really would like to partner, will offer to do a small trial project just for us both to see if we would work well together.

    Acquiring new clients I find to be the most difficult part but if you are reliable with your quality of work, timeliness and communication I have found that people will often continue to wish to work with you since they feel you can be counted on to make their work lives a little easier.

    • Hey, Brad.

      Nice share you did here. I feel very related to your story, because I’m based in South America too.

      Thing is that I’m just getting started. I’ve gotten some experience out of working with a few local clients, but I want to partner up with clients abroad (U.S. / Europe) on more steady commercial relationships!!!

      What would you recommend me?

  6. Very nice post, its very help full for me. Thank you very much…

  7. This is great advice, but how do you go about creating these relationships with design agencies? Do you contact them directly and let them know you are for hire? Is there a blog on here about that? lol

  8. Great article, thanks!

  9. totally agree with this. I recently interviewed a couple of people who hire freelance designers and the top tip from all was that they had to fit in.

  10. santosh kushwaha says:

    Totally agree with this and this called is “professionalism”. There is no room for excuses in the last moment. I’m also a freelance infographic designer and provide quality visual contents for agencies. http://www.dasantosh.com


  1. […] This article is somewhat interesting, if a bit obvious. For those of you looking to get into freelancing, here is a bit of a window into what Design Agencies want. http://graphicdesignblender.com/design-agency-looking-to-hire-freelance-designer […]


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