The Case for Working with Independent & Freelance Designers

By Kristen Rebelo
January 3, 2019

There’s a common story that I hear from people who need creative work to support their goals. They need to work with designers to make their vision come to life, but can feel shut out by agency prices and/or don’t know where to start with freelance designers, who are often perceived as unreliable. But just you wait.

The Case for Working with Independent & Freelance Designers

By Kristen Rebelo
January 3, 2019

There’s a common story that I hear from people who need creative work to support their goals. They need to work with designers to make their vision come to life, but can feel shut out by agency prices and/or don’t know where to start with freelance designers, who are often perceived as unreliable. But just you wait.

I’m here to tell you why working with independent and freelance designers is the secret sauce that will make achieving your goals possible. It’s going to take the weight of producing creative work off your shoulders and put it in the hands of a trusted partner, so you can focus on what you do best.

Who am I talking to? Everyone seeking creative work. Whether you’re someone trying to get a nonprofit off the ground or you’re an executive at a large global brand, there is a valid case for everyone seeking good creative work to be hiring freelance creative people. This isn’t about shitting on agencies (if that’s the best model for your needs, by all means go for it). This is simply about offering another way.

Let’s start at the beginning, what is the difference between a design agency and a freelance / independent designer?

A design agency is a group of creatives that functions as a structured organization. They work under a leadership team, and traditionally have dedicated account or project managers who communicate back and forth between clients and creatives. The perceived upside of working with agencies is reliability, the downside is usually pricing.

A freelance or independent designer is an individual creative (or a collective of individuals, as we are at House of Rebelo) who works directly and closely with clients to produce creative work. Independent designers are in your corner.


I want to dispel the most common myth first. Aren’t creative freelancers unreliable?

No. Let’s real talk about economics for a second. As an independent creative, my income is directly tied to the quality of work I produce and the relationships I form with my clients. Let me repeat that; if I am unreliable, I do not get paid. This is the framework that all freelancers are operating within, and we know this. We don’t get a paycheck every two weeks, and we want to form trusting, lasting, and productive relationships with our clients so that we can a) support your mission and produce the best work possible and b) eat something other than ramen noodles, please.

The myth of freelancers being unreliable, I find, is perpetuated by those who do not believe creative people are able to keep track of projects and deadlines on our own, outside of a structured company. We can! It’s really not that hard.

I also understand that some people have been burned by unprofessional freelancers who’ve ghosted them, quit mid project, or were just generally unpleasant to work with. I don’t doubt this, and I’m sorry you had to work with someone who didn’t support you. There are unprofessional people that plague every field though, and even exist within agencies. I’d urge you to try again, and to make sure you’re hiring an expert in their field with real experience who believes in what you’re doing. (Not your sister’s kid who has Photoshop and made a t-shirt once.)

Alright, now that this misconception is out of the way, let’s get to how working with independent designers uplifts you, the client.

1. You’re paying directly for the creative work you’re getting back.

You’re not paying for an agency to keep kombucha on tap or for their annual retreat. When you’re working with a freelance designer, your money is going directly into the creative work we’re producing for you, or into the essentials needed to keep the ship running. This will vary among freelancers — at House of Rebelo, for example, I do pay for healthcare. But generally, your costs are going to be significantly lower than if you work with an agency because we don’t require nearly as much overhead. We’re keeping the lights on, and you’re getting more value for your money. It’s a win-win.

2. You get direct access to your creative professional, and we form a more personal relationship.

What many don’t realize is that creative work is very personal. It’s about how to make your audience feel something, so they can take action — whether that’s voting, purchasing your service, or donating to your cause. Therefore, it’s essential that you’re able to have meaningful conversations directly with your designer. In my experience, when I’m not able to work directly with my clients, much gets lost in communication, details slip through the cracks, and initial goals become diluted through the game of telephone. Ultimately, the quality of work suffers and everything takes longer.

When you work directly with creatives, you have more access to us. Do you have questions about the creative process? Want to learn how to think outside the box when it comes to your marketing efforts? You can ask us directly and gain meaningful insights that you wouldn’t get from account managers or sales people. No shade, it’s just not their job.

3. You get more say in the work and can treat it as a collaboration (if you choose).

I’ve noticed it can be hard for clients to voice their opinions and give meaningful feedback when confronted with a laptop squad. (Laptop squad (n); a flock of mostly young agency workers that descend on a small business with cool glasses and Macbooks. Unaware that the phrase “SEO engagement analytics” means nothing to most people.)

I hate this trend, even if I admit to having cool glasses and a Macbook. I want my clients to feel comfortable, know that I value their voice, and are encouraged to share their insights without feeling intimidated by the creative process. When you’re working with a freelancer, your feedback is important and necessary in driving creative solutions for your company or cause. We understand that you know the ins and outs of your organization more than we do, and we don’t brush you off.

4. We know what it takes to build something from the ground up.

We see you. At our core, independent creatives are small business owners ourselves. We may specialize in a particular field, but we wear many hats and know the big picture of what it takes to deliver results to our clients and in turn, to be successful ourselves. Personally, I’ve never learned more about marketing, digital strategy, or account management than in the years since leaving my design cubicle and going out on my own.

Independent creatives often also bring in help when we’re not the expert. In hiring other freelancers to support my work (such as writers and developers), I’ve gotten a real sense of what it’s like to be on the client end of a creative process, and just how fun and uplifting working alongside freelance creatives can be. When you’re someone who’s trying to accomplish a big goal, you want people in your corner who are reliable, invested in your mission, and who are just as success-minded as you are.

5. Our processes are more agile and we can avoid creative burnout.

Ohhh creative burnout. It is very real within the industry, and is something clients are often not aware of. Writer Scott Berkun has a great definition of what this is — ”burnout means you’ve pushed your creative energy beyond the point of recovery.” Burnout means the work we deliver to clients suffers, and I find it hits the hardest when creatives are chained to their desks or working within a 9 to 5 model when our brains often don’t function this way.

When you’re working with an independent designer, we’re able to tailor our schedules to first and foremost meet your deadlines and keep in touch with you, but to also allow for the creative work to happen at the time of day we are most “on it.” For me, that’s at 7am, with a strong cup of coffee, before anyone is awake. It’s the time of day I am most focused and I make my best creative decisions. For some, it’s late at night. For others, it’s when their kids are at school or in childcare. Often, I’ve had my most brilliant ideas for client work when I’m running errands, on a hike, or just out in the world. I’ve never met a creative person who can sustainably produce quality work sitting at a desk from 9 to 5 without hurting, at the very least, their mental health.

In working with a freelance or independent creative, you’re trusting us as professionals to work at the times that are best for us. We can take breaks to avoid burnout, and we can in turn deliver the best possible creative work for our clients. Another win-win.


To recap:

  • As independent designers, working with you is providing us with an income in an often unstable freelance market. We recognize this, we appreciate it, and it makes us want to work harder for you. After all, your success is our success.
  • We’re working together closely and communicating directly with each other. We get to know you, we see the work you’re putting in, and we believe in you. This is the foundation of meaningful creative work.
  • In working with independent designers, you have a creative professional in your corner to ask questions and strategize ideas with.
  • You have more of a say in the overall process, we get what it’s like to build something from the ground up, and we value your feedback.
  • We are business owners ourselves, and we know how to think big picture.
  • Creative people tend to work a little differently, and by creating flexible schedules for ourselves to avoid burnout, we’re producing the best possible work for you.

In the end, you’re looking for a reliable professional to take the creative work off your plate so you can focus on your own mission. That’s what independent creatives are here to do, and we urge you to think a little differently about what a relationship between you and your creative professional can look like. It can be personal, it can be uplifting, it doesn’t need to be intimidating, and it can serve us all.

“Alright, I’m convinced!” you may say, “now what?” Get in touch to book a creative strategy session and see if working together is the right fit. And stay tuned — now that you know the benefits of working with independent creatives, we’ll be writing more on how to best work with us to get the results you’re looking for.

Kristen Rebelo

Kristen Rebelo
Creative Director, House of Rebelo