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Freelance Advertising FAQs

Answers to Common Questions About Freelancing in the Advertising Industry


Will Design For Food
Image courtesy of lucamascaro

Most creative people in the advertising industry will freelance at some point, either as a full-time profession, or to make some extra money. Whichever it is, there are lots of questions that people ask about the freelancing business. Here are answers to the top SIX questions received at About.com's Advertising channel over the years:

1) What is Freelancing?

It seems an easy enough answer to most, but the term still confuses some people. Freelancing is basically going it alone by offering your services to an employer without any long-term commitment or benefits. You are what is known as a free agent, and can come and go relatively easy, working on projects as they arise and leaving once the job has been completed to the satisfaction of your employer. Here's a good example of the differences between a freelance and full-time agency copywriter.

2) How Much Should a Freelancer Charge?

This is perhaps the most common question we receive. It's not a cut and dry figure, and there is no formula. It is more in some states/countries than others, and differs by profession, experience, timeline and many other factors. The commonality is that freelancers should be charging at least 50% more than people doing that same job as a full-time employee of the company. Freelancers have overheads that traditional employees do not, including very expensive healthcare plans. For more advice on freelance rates, read this in-depth article.

3) Can I Freelance if I Already Have a Full-Time Job?

In the US and the UK, yes, but with some exceptions. In other countries, different laws apply. For instance, in India 99% of employers forbid any kind of freelancing. If you are going to freelance, don't take on too much and let your full-time job suffer. If you are freelancing simply as a way to collect a little extra income, "moonlighting" should not affect the quality of the work you do for your employer. If it suffers too much, you may be fired and your primary source of income will go away. Also, it's unethical to work for competitors, and equally unethical to work on competing brands and services in your spare time. For example, working on Coors during the day and Budweiser at nights and weekends is a big no-no in the ad industry.

4) Should I Go Through a Staffing Agency or Go It Alone?

A staffing agency has a roster of freelancers and a database of clients. The clients will ask for experts in a certain field, the staffing agency will choose from their list of freelancers, and everyone's happy. Well, that's the ideal scenario. But there is a huge catch - money. When you go through a staffing agency, a large percentage of your salary will go to the staffing agency. That may not affect your take-home pay because the staffing agency will add on that percentage to your requested salary (say $100/hr, giving you $70/hr and keeping the rest). However, you are now competing with free agents who are charging much less per hour than the staffing agency rate. And that could make it very difficult to find work, especially in lean times. What's more, if the client who takes you on wants to hire you, they have to pay a hiring fee to the staffing agency. That is not an attractive proposition to employers, so you may miss out on full-time work because of your ties with the staffing agency.

On the other hand, by going it alone you have to balance your competitive rate with the fact that you're responsible for getting every job yourself. You have to do all of your own cold calling, marketing and networking. The interviews will not come to you, you have to reel them in. Also, if you're doing freelancing as a second job, most staffing agencies won't touch you. They need professionals who are available during regular hours, not nights and weekends.

5) Do I Need a Website?

YES. It used to be the norm to have a physical portfolio that you would take from job to job, and interview to interview. That is no longer the norm. The Internet has put an end to those portfolios, which are cumbersome and can only be with one shop at any one time. With a website portfolio, multiple agencies can see it, they get a feel for your work, and it's instant. That gets your foot in the door. You don't have to have web skills, several websites specialize in creative portfolios, and some offer them for free. It's simply a case of choosing your best work, uploading it and sending out a link to prospective clients. Please, get your own website. Without one, you are showing any future client that you do not keep up with the times and are therefore not as hirable as someone who has a slick folio.

6) What About Taxes? How Do Those Work?

Unlike an employee of a company, you will most likely not be receiving money that has already had taxes taken out. You are now your own boss, and as such, have to make arrangements to pay taxes out of the money you receive. Many people pay their freelance taxes quarterly, estimating what they owe throughout the year. A general rule of thumb around 30% of the money you make, although you could get a substantial portion of that back if you have another income that you pay taxes on. Remember as well, freelancers can deduct many expenses from their taxes. If you work out of an office in your home, that portion of the home can be deducted, as well as any utilities you pay. Materials, mileage, dinners and business lunches can all be deducted too. Make sure you talk to a tax professional. But if you spend all the money you make, you will be in for a very rude awakening when tax season comes around.

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