White labeling services for design & creative agencies

Are you offering white labelling services for your agency clients? In this article I talk about the pros and cons of working like this and if you as a freelancer should be doing dev/design work for a digital, creative or advertising agency in your country (or overseas).

First and foremost I have to say that I myself have worked with advertising and creative agencies, as well clients directly. I've got a background working as a Designer in agencies, and publishers in Australia and Europe and have previously worked in a freelance and full-time capacity in both organisations. So let's start with the basics first...

What is white labeling?

White labeling as a freelancer means you provide design, development or other services for an agency on a freelance or contract basis, and the agency takes credit for the work you've completed. It's a bit like the job of a ghost writer, who writes a book, or article which the official author then publishes under his or her own name.

What are the advantages of working with agencies in this way?

  • Regular work – one major advantage is that you oftentimes get regular client projects to work on that are provided to you by the creative agency. You spend less time looking for and trying to attract new clients directly and this also makes it easier for you to achieve a stable and more predictable income.
  • There's less education and hand holding needed (usually). With some clients you still spend lots of time educating them on technical issues or first have to reinforce the actual value of great design etc. Most team members in agencies know about these things already and oftentimes already know how to deliver a great brief or supply files etc. You're also less likely build "Frankenstein" designs as is sometimes the case when working with clients directly.
  • If you're getting along well with an agency and their team you often have the opportunity to work with them again and again on different projects and can therefore enjoy working with great people repeatedly. When working with clients directly you oftentimes work together on one particular project and that's it, you move on to the next project (and client), who might not be as friendly and great to work with.
  • You don't need to talk directly to the client – this is both a pro and con. The advantage here is that you basically have a middle man (the agency) who discusses all the nitty gritty things with the client, asks for feedback on designs, notes down any changes, does client meetings and takes care of any admin work related to the project. It's definitely handy to have these things taken off your hands if you don't really enjoy doing them. To read about the other side of the coin, check the cons list below.
  • You oftentimes spend less time chasing up payments. This might not always be the case, but let's face it when working with clients directly you sometimes have to send reminders that payment is due, your client might disappear of the face of the earth so to speak and if they're overseas it's often even harder to  get payment at times. However as long as an agency hasn't closed their doors you're more likely to be able to reach them or get in touch with them and if you've got a good, ongoing working relationship with them you're less likely to be ghosted and left with an unpaid bill.

What are some of the disadvantages working with agencies?

  • You are oftentimes not allowed to use a project you did for the ad or creative agency in your own online portfolio. This can be especially frustrating if the project you've been working on was for a large, well-known brand and/or you simply thought you did a stellar job and would like to show off the project. However, you might still be able to show some of your work during interviews or in-person presentations with potential employers or clients.
  • Another con could be that you might be earning less for a project than you would if you were working directly for the client. For instance, the agency will always charge the client a large fee for a website project of which you will only see a very small return – even if you might have done the majority of the design and/or development work.
  • You usually can't talk directly to the client. While this can be a big plus (see pro list above), it can also cause problems. Sometimes information or details might get lost and misunderstandings can occur more easily since you're using the creative agency as a middle man. You cannot quickly ring your client or send an email to clarify something and it might take longer to get feedback or approval for a design.
  • You rely on someone else "e.g. the agency" to bring on board great clients and match you with the right projects. So you might be asked to work on projects that don't spark your interest but don't want to turn them down as you still want to earn money. Also, if the agency doesn't get much work in that you're a good fit for, you might be scrambling to make ends meet.

Should you be offering white labeling services for agencies?

It depends what's (more) important to you. Have a look through the list above and check where your priorities are. Do you like working with the same people again and again? Do you enjoy communicating directly with your clients? Are you happy to only show cool new projects you've worked on to a very limited audience and omit them from your online portfolio? The right solution for you might also be to do a mix of white labeling work for agencies as well as work that you do directly for clients...

Let me know what you prefer and which experiences you've made with both!

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