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September 20, 2018

How freelancers can compete with agencies

Written by Jack Lewis

Many freelancers work alone, and they like it that way. They know everything that goes on in their business, they don’t have to manage a team and they control every piece of work that goes out.

The only problem is that competing with big agencies can be tough, especially when they are well-established with an impressive portfolio of clients. Big agencies have a team of people who can offer a wide range of services. They can wow clients with fancy meeting rooms, dedicated account managers and the latest technology and systems.

If you’re a one-man-band, just how do you compete with the big agencies?

Compete on marketing

Agencies might have bigger budgets, but they aren’t always consistent with their marketing. If they have several members of their team contributing, the messages and branding can get confused. You may not have the resources that an agency has, but you can be more effective in how you use them.

Be niche

If you have a specific niche, this can be a huge advantage over agencies. Many clients want the best, so if you are a specialist or expert in a particular area, that is a benefit to them. Focus your marketing efforts to attract clients in your niche.

Get testimonials and reviews

Credibility is your best friend when it comes to winning business. Build up a portfolio of testimonials and ask clients to leave reviews. As a freelancer, you’ll probably build closer relationships with your clients than an agency. This means your clients are more likely to provide feedback if you ask them.

Show your personality

As a freelancer, your unique selling point is you, so demonstrate your personality in your marketing. Show clients who they will be working with, so they feel comfortable with you even before you’ve won the business.

Utilise word of mouth marketing

Ask your clients to recommend you and let people know which companies you would like to work with. Many businesses would prefer to work with someone that has been recommended to them, rather than a company they’ve found online.

Compete on sales

If your marketing is effective, then you’ll be attracting plenty of enquiries. You’ve now got to convince these potential clients that you are better than an agency.

Respond faster

When a client calls or emails an agency for a quote, they won’t always get an immediate response. The enquiry may have to go through several people before someone can confirm feasibility, timescales and cost.

When a client calls or emails you, it’s likely you can respond immediately. You will know exactly what questions to ask, so you can give them an answer straight away about whether something is possible.

Clients can be impatient, they want answers quickly. If you can respond faster than an agency, you’ll have a better chance of winning the business.

Prepare a better proposal

Many agencies simply use a proposal template, listing generic services and inputting a figure in the price box. You can prepare a more detailed proposal based on your conversation with the client.

A personalised proposal shows that you have understood the client’s need, which will give them more confidence in your services.
Clients want to feel special. They want to feel like you care about their project, not just their money. They want to feel like they will get value.

Compete on team

Agencies have a team of people to support them, but this doesn’t necessarily make the quality of the work any better. Employees can be unpredictable, and they aren’t as invested in business success as a freelancer is.

Build trusted partners

A big advantage for agencies is that they have an in-house team, meaning they can offer a full range of services. To compete with this, you need to build a network of trusted partners who you can rely on to deliver high-quality work.

Think about the other services your clients usually require and source trustworthy people who can provide these. If you are a web designer, find a reliable copywriter that you feel comfortable passing work to. If you are a graphic designer, connect with a quality print company.

If you build a network of trusted specialists, you can offer the full-service that agencies offer.


You don’t have to have employees to have a great team. You can outsource many aspects of your business, freeing up your time to focus on the work that pays. Outsource your admin tasks to a virtual assistant or leave your invoicing and expenses to a bookkeeper.

Take advantage of tech

So many things can be automated or streamlined, and the great news is a lot of stuff can be done for free. Use scheduling software for your social media. Automate emails and newsletters. Use accountancy software to make invoicing more efficient. Download mobile apps that help with organisation.

By utilising the software and tools available, you can free up a lot of time without having to pay employees.

Compete on service delivery and value

If you can deliver great service and excellent value, then you can compete with the biggest agencies. In the end, clients don’t care how impressive a company is if they can’t deliver results. Focus on establishing a reputation for providing a high-quality service and good value for money.

Offer a personal service

With an agency, the client might never even speak to the people working on their project. If they do need to speak to the project manager, it’s likely they’ll have to schedule a call within office hours and, if the project manager is on holiday, they’ll just have to wait.

When working with a freelancer, the client knows exactly who to contact if they have a question or query, and they are more likely to get a response outside of ‘normal’ working hours.

You can use the personal service as a selling point when bidding for work. Let the client know that you will personally be handling their project and give them regular updates.

Be flexible

Another advantage you have as a freelancer is your ability to be flexible. If a client’s need doesn’t fit one of your set packages, you can still accommodate them by putting together a bespoke package. An agency is less likely to offer this flexibility.

Unlike agency employees, you won’t mind working a couple of extra hours one week, taking a call in the evening or replying to an email on a Saturday morning. Flexibility is a huge selling point.

Go the extra mile

Clients appreciate companies that go above and beyond expectations. Quite often, they’ll be happy to pay extra for a better level of service. It’s the details that get noticed, so don’t be afraid to go the extra mile. It’s always better to under promise and over deliver than to leave the client feeling ripped off. Many agencies don’t have good systems in place for following up after they’ve been paid; make sure you do.

Play to your strengths

You know what makes you the right choice for your clients and where you add value; focus on this. You won’t win every client, so concentrate your efforts on winning the type of clients and projects you enjoy and excel at. Leave the other stuff to the agencies.

About Jack Lewis

Read more blog posts by Jack Lewis

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