In an honest, spot-on post last Monday, Susan Johnston shared “Why I’ve Lost Faith in Creative Staffing Agencies.” She cited low pay, agencies valuing experience over a quality portfolio and lots of on-site gigs (even when the agency claimed to have off-site work). It’s a great piece and Susan’s readers responded with additional insight, including their own experience with agencies.
While relying on an agency for work is not considered ideal by most freelancers and entrepreneurs, it can be an income bridge if your clients and customers can’t cough up funds for your work in this harsh economy. Connecting with an agency should be one piece of your strategy to obtain clients; it should never be your only tactic.
Since I have prior experience as a staffing manager* for a boutique staffing agency in Seattle, I thought I’d use that “insider” knowledge to provide tips on working with agencies, including those focused on placing creatives.
*Okay, my actual staffing experience was shorter-lived than my employer branding work for the industry, but I have been on all sides of this particular table.
- Look for an insider. This is especially helpful if you want to sign up with a creative agency. What do I mean by “insider”? Someone who is involved with your local freelancing/ writing/ design community. I belong to a group for independent creatives and our meetings are sponsored by a local agency. At least one or two recruiters from the agency attend every meeting; they are involved in learning about our work, styles and needs. Although I have not signed up with an agency in Denver, this is the first (and possibly only) staffing company I would contact.
- Network your way in. Good recruiters—whether they are based in agencies, companies or are independent agents—are some of the best networkers I’ve ever met. Ask friends and colleagues—or even post to forums you trust—for referrals and feedback. Another way to network your way to a good recruiter is to browse the connections of your LinkedIn contacts. If someone you trust is connected to a recruiter at an agency that interests you, ask for an introduction.
- Sell yourself and your recruiter can sell you. In addition to providing a staffing agency with your resume and portfolio, always write a letter of introduction—just like you would send to a prospective client. This gives your recruiter additional tools to market you to their clients. If you have other marketing materials, be sure to share those, too.
- Be clear and firm. If you absolutely, positively will not take any on-site gigs, say so. If you suggest you’re open to anything so that you appear flexible, you’re only going to be frustrated because you’ll get calls for the work you don’t want. And you’ll frustrate the agency by always saying “no.”
- Stay in touch. When you finish a new project or have a new portfolio sample, e-mail your recruiter. It’s an easy way to stay top of mind and promote your skills. Your message showing off a new website you wrote could mean you get the first offer for that ideal, off-site webpage copywriting gig that came in to your recruiter today.
- Pass it along. Called with a gig that’s just not quite right? Take Susan’s advice: offer to help promote the gig or refer it to a qualified pal. This is good advice any time a recruiter contacts you. When I’m called for full-time jobs, I turn them down but always offer to help network for the recruiter. I’ve built some fantastic relationships this way.
Agencies are not equal; some are far better than others. A large firm may have more clients while a smaller agency may offer you better matches and a stronger relationship. You’ll have to do some digging and testing to see what fits you best. One thing is for certain: a successful experience depends on building a relationship and that is a two-way street.
Has a staffing or creative agency hooked you up to ideal gig? Are you done with trying to find work through staffing companies? What tips do you have for working with agencies? Share your experience and tips in the comments.