Most creative agencies have their origin centered around a pervasive idea. They can draw a straight line through almost every project to identify a specific, recurring activity: it could be designing, marketing, advertising, innovating or consulting. Whether the agency was founded by a single entrepreneur or a team of creatives with diverse strengths, the vision naturally emerged from a combination of experience and expertise.
So, you might find yourself wondering whether you should turn your freelance work into a full time business, and, if you do enter the creative space, how will your business define itself? And what is a creative agency?
We'll start by discussing what a creative agency is, before delving into the reasons why you should turn your side-hustle into a brand of its own.
Defining your Creative Agency
Creative agency services are broad and normally fill in the gaps in their service offerings by outsourcing any work that can't effectively be done by their in-house team. Generally, their work encompasses business solutions that involve a creative mix of design, technology, and marketing.
A creative agency may also focus exclusively on an industry niche, such as real estate or fashion; or take on work of a particular flavor, like illustrative design or mobile app development. The latter are referred to as specialist agencies. The sort of creative work your agency pursues and the kind of clients you deal with, will help define your creative agency.
Types of Creative Agencies
Full Service Agencies do everything in-house, from graphic design to software development, to advertising and search engine marketing, and everything in-between. Their clientele typically have big budgets and happen to be looking for an agency that can do all things digital.
Digital Agencies are your prototypical creative agency that tend to focus on search engine optimization and lead generation. They're known to outsource the hard stuff and are more likely to have flexible pricing strategies and marketing subscription services that are attractive to small business owners.
Engineering Agencies are software-oriented creative agencies that specialize in building digital platforms for their customers. Since they operate in the bespoke software space, their services tend to be pricey and well out of reach of most small businesses.
Design Agencies specialize in creative design. Their work could be limited to purely digital designs, such as graphic design and website design, or it could include a physical component, like print design and product design. They excel at artistic endeavors and are the first stop for big businesses looking for mixed media projects that have a creative flair.
Advertising Agencies are more than just your old school creative agency. They are media buying experts that help industry giants navigate the complex internet-enabled world to find the best ways to communicate value. Newer ad agencies are starting to shy away from expensive and ineffectual mainstream media ad campaigns, and are frequently partnering with independent content creators to reach out to consumers in more social and more targeted ways.
Interactive Agencies are a close cousin to advertising agencies, but with a special interest in film and interactive media. They provide best-in-class photography and videography accompanied by excellent visual design and animation. Businesses looking for a non-traditional approach to traditional video-based ads will usually work with interactive agencies, or, as they like to call them: media agencies.
Consulting Agencies are adept at offering business development solutions. Their services can lean creative, but are almost always research-oriented and data-driven. They package branding and advertising efforts as part of an overall business strategy that is inextricably tied to management philosophy and business modelling.
Public Relations Agencies are hard to pin down. In the past, PR agencies were the kings of messaging, and held the exclusive domain of free media coverage. They promote—or more importantly, protect public personalities, whether individual or corporate, from negative press coverage. Besides managing public communications strategy, PR agencies will routinely partner with ad agencies and media agencies to produce content for public consumption. But they don't have to. Their in-house teams scale according to the size of the campaigns they run, whether advertorial or political in nature.
The above list should cover the gamut, but new niche terms and self-definitions are on the rise. So, with all that in mind let's jump into the reasons why you should start your own creative agency:
1. Increase Your Service Offerings
The biggest benefit of expanding beyond a personal brand into a separate business, is the ability to offer creative services outside of your areas of expertise. Partnerships and outsourcing deals will gradually move from being absolutely necessary to being viable options, as you put together a capable and ever-growing team of creative experts. You may also choose to retain your real name as part of your business trade name, so you can have the best of both the freelancing world—where your personal brand and career is actively developed, and the agency world—where your business becomes a going concern with or without your personal involvement, and lucrative opportunities for investment and divestment are now readily available.
2. Identify Your Potential Niche
They say the customer is always right—until they're wrong. This is the flipside of being able to offer more: being able to offer less. Saying no to certain types of clients will give you the opportunity to hone in on a target audience that is more appreciative of the work you do. Rather than accepting whatever line of work that will pay your bills, you can bring in more clients from niche markets and build your reputation as a specialist brand. A larger team and an effective customer acquisition strategy should boost your sales to the point where niching down makes financial sense for your creative agency.
3. Learn New Practical Skills
Your newly minted team will bring fresh ideas and new perspectives to the table. Your range of experiences will broaden and you'll learn more about business and finance even if it's not your forte. Leadership skills will naturally take root, and you'll see your communication and strategic planning abilities level up over time. Whether you're looking to go big or maintain a small, dynamic team, your role as a business founder will inevitably lead to new challenges; and practical skills will emerge to help you overcome each hurdle.
4. Take On Bigger Projects
Bigger projects demand bigger teams. And as your creative agency scales, so will the size and complexity of the projects you take on. A small team of specialists could, in theory, also execute an extensive plan with ease, if properly positioned to do so. That's where leveraging your team's talents becomes a skill of its own. Deciding when to partner, when to outsource, and when to be on the receiving end of a partnership or outsourcing agreement is a challenge that fast-growing creative agencies regularly face.
5. Charge More Per Hour
Creative agencies charge a premium. Despite the fact that freelancing services can be much cheaper, businesses will opt to pay a higher rate for perceived quality: because the quality of service creative agencies provide is often commensurate with their fees. And since time spent sourcing clients can be costly, especially for creative specialists, those costs factor into their billable hours. Full time sales and administrative staff also lead to ballooning expenses, which in turn lead to higher upfront charges. The unexpected side effect of this, is that businesses have come to expect to pay more when dealing with a creative agency, and are less price sensitive when choosing a specialist team over a disparate group of freelancers.