When your agency is just, er, you.

This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from Founder & Designer at See, Think, Do  — Jason Hunt. He says:

“OK DIFTK crew!

The (for me at least) perennial question has come around again…

How do I credibly present my agency as a viable team when actually, it’s just me?? 

The reality is that my agency is just me, and that I outsource/sub-contract anything I don’t do or have no time to do, but I have a sense that in an imminent pitch — that may not be quite what the client wants.

Do you have any tips about how to sell this setup to a larger client? Explaining the benefits (there must be some right?!), and eliminating all/most perceived negatives? What about ‘stability’, financial security, everything under one roof – all things I would struggle to prove. 

I have 10+ years of solid trading, increasing and solid revenues, some great (and relevant) client experience and just want to give myself the best shot. Thanks!”

• • • • •

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Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.

Here’s what was said in this episode:

Comments on the previous episode:

[00:01:53] – Frankie
Hello. You’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie and this is Steve.

[00:02:04] – Steve
Hello. Yes, each episode we take a question for the Doing It For The Kids community, do our best to answer it, but of course we start each episode by looking back at the last episode. Last time we were talking about…

[00:02:14] – Frankie
We were talking about retainer Furbies and how to take the batteries out.

[00:02:19] – Steve
Such a good question. Yeah. Kate Cashmore got in touch.

Kate said:

“My big bit of advice with the retainers is to try and separate your friendship with the client and your working relationship, because the longer your retainer goes on, the more your client becomes like a colleague or friend. And then the harder it is to say no to the extra work/out of hour phone calls/Teams messages/WhatsApp messages/last minute requests. Just know your worth and don’t be afraid to be professional in your response sometimes.

Don’t be embarrassed to say you’ve got other meetings or are working on other things, or simply that you don’t work outside certain hours or to ask for more money please.”

[00:02:57] – Frankie
Lynda Kendall says:

“Oh, retainers. Yes, retainers. Let me tell you about retainers.

If, for example, you were an idiot and, say, you might have agreed a retainer of 20 hours per month based on your actual hourly rate, but not taken into account your years of experience, which means you can output a hell of a lot of work in that 20 hours that you could have otherwise charged a hell of a lot of money for. Then you must make sure that when you are asked to do small amends constantly, that they are racked up in half hour minimum spends. Because otherwise you might find you literally spend all of your time working for your retainer client and seemingly nothing else, and your regret basket will be somewhat full forever.”

[00:03:39] – Steve
Thank you, Lynda.

Yeah, it’s a good point, actually, that minimum spend thing. I have a thing where sometimes I edit an advert for a podcast, and okay, maybe it doesn’t take me an hour, but there is all the disruption that goes around it, plus my skills, in editing. That’s why they sent it to me in the first place. And so each one, it costs an hour.

[00:04:02] – Frankie
Yeah, we very rarely talk about, like… what’s it called?

Hmmm, this is why we don’t talk about it, because I can’t remember what it’s called. Value-based pricing versus, like, hourly pricing right? There is a hell of a lot of value in you doing that job, whether or not it took you ten minutes or four hours — particularly in the context of an advert.

[00:04:23] – Steve
And that’s the thing with retainers, when it can slip into hourly pricing by accident, when maybe it should be more about the deliverable. So for me, it could be if you want a podcast sponsor ad edited, it’s x amount of money. And then it’s not about time.

Our answer to this week's question:

[00:08:36] – Frankie
This week’s question comes from Jason Hunt, who sounds like a detective, but isn’t. That’s his actual name. He is founder and designer at See Think Do.

Jason says:

“Okay, Doing It For The Kids crew.

The — for me at least — perennial question has come around again: How do I credibly present my agency as a viable team, when actually it’s just me? The reality is that my agency is just me and that I outsource or subcontract anything I don’t do, or have no time to do.

But I have a sense that in an imminent pitch, that may not be quite what the client wants. Do you have any tips about how to sell this setup to a larger client? Explaining the benefits? There must be some, right? And eliminating all or most of the perceived negatives. What about stability? Financial security? Everything under one roof? All things I might struggle to prove.

I have ten plus years of solid trading, increasing and solid revenues, some great and relevant client experience and just want to give myself the best shot. Thanks.”

[00:09:39] – Steve
There’s two things here, isn’t there? It’s that you can give yourself a company name, but still make it very clear that it’s just you. Right? But Jason obviously wants to come across as an agency.

[00:09:51] – Frankie
His website is like… he looks like an agency!

[00:09:55] – Steve
Right. Well, that’s a good start, isn’t it? This isn’t quite me — though I do hire others to do work with me and I know sometimes, Frankie, you think of me as working a bit like an agency, but I don’t ever pretend to be an agency. I don’t portray myself as that. I present myself as Steve Folland, video and audio freelancer.

But, you know, whatever you need, we can make it because I have all of these specialists that I work with. And actually I’ve always found that it works well. Like a line that I have trotted out many times — and I find that it works because it makes sense to people — is the fact that I hire specialists to do the thing that will work best for that client’s project.

For example, I’m not a videographer, so I don’t need to sell you a video that is filmed. I don’t have a drone, therefore I don’t need to sell you a drone video that you don’t need. I don’t have a motion designer working with me, so I don’t need to try and angle in loads of brilliant animation.

As an agency, if you have these people on the payroll — a videographer, a drone pilot, whatever. If you have those people on the payroll, you’re more likely to try and invent a reason to use them on a project so that you can bill for their time. I can give you exactly what will fit the job and do the best thing for you by going and finding these people when I need them.

[00:11:23] – Steve
Also I don’t have a massive office for me and these people to sit in which ultimately gets billed to clients, doesn’t it? Because they have to do that. They have to pay for insurance, they have to pay for people’s pensions and all of that. You’re not having to do that.

Let’s face it, you’re probably a more cost effective — not cheap! — but more cost effective than a big agency which is in a building. Plus I’ve often heard freelancers who work in this way — same way as you, Jason — be able to say that basically that they give a shit about your project because it’s like the main thing that they’re going to be working on.

You know, with an agency, sometimes — not all agencies I should say! — but with an agency some clients might have an experience where they get sweet talked into it by the main dude or dudette and then they never see that person again. The actual work gets passed on to fairly junior members of a team, whereas you’re not. You have ten plus years experience and probably more beyond that when you were working before you went self employed, right?

So you have all of these years of experience and you are actually the person doing the job, caring about the job, seeing the job through. And I think having that point of contact and that trust and that relationship…

[00:12:46] – Frankie
…It’s more personal isn’t it?

[00:12:46] – Steve
Yeah, that’s another positive, isn’t it? And again, I don’t want to like be bad mouthing big agencies, especially because some of them hire me!

[00:12:59] – Frankie
Hi guys *waves*

[00:12:59] – Steve
But these are the pain points that some clients will have experienced or could experience and it’s your job to try and put across why that isn’t you.

[00:13:12] – Frankie
Yeah, I just feel like, if anything, Jason shouldn’t be approaching that pitch thinking how can I persuade them “I am like an agency”. I think that’s the wrong approach. It should be, “What’s my point of difference? How am I better than an agency for this client?”

Also, from his mindset perspective, going into that meeting in a more positive way — “This is why I’m good. This is why me not being a traditional agency is good for you!” Rather than, “Oh, here are the ways that I feel like I am the same as that and I know you want that”.

Does that make any sense? You know?

[00:13:47] – Steve
Yeah, very much so. Because it’s the whole thing, isn’t it? Of how you confidently come across and then they will buy into that because you believe it. If you don’t believe it, then why would they?

[00:13:56] – Frankie
Because really it’s like the whole debate about whether we should call ourselves freelancers or not. It’s like a lot of this boils down to semantics? Does it matter from the client perspective? Does it actually matter whether you’re an agency or not? As long as you can get the job done and do what they want you to do within their budget. But you can prove all of those things to them in that pitch without feeling that you need to be chasing the agency.

[00:14:33] – Steve
Just do your best to have those answers up your sleeves or to show how great you are to work with before those negatives come back at you because you’re pre-empting them. But also, you know, you say, “What about stability, financial security, everything under one roof? All things I would struggle to prove”.

Well, you do have financial security. You’ve got ten years of solid trading. You do have everything under one roof. Yeah, you’re not all in the same room, but you have a team of proven people who you have worked with on numerous products over numerous years. You have testimonials, I presume, to back it up. Or metrics, depending on what it is that you do. So you DO have proof.

One thing some people do when they pitch — and I know this because I’ve been asked if I’d be happy for myself to be included on a pitch as a freelancer — is that they will provide a document with the, “Here is the team that I’m considering for this pitch. You will work with this audio expert, this SEO expert, this web developer”.

That might be something to consider if you don’t do that already. If that’s the sort of thing that they’re looking for. If they’re nervous, like, “Who are these mysterious people we will be working with? Then yeah, check with the freelancers. They might be happy to do that.

[00:15:49] – Frankie
I think ultimately this conundrum boils down to building trust. Because it’s not that they don’t want to work with you — they’ve asked you to come in to pitch for this job, so they must know something about you and your set up to get to that point.

So I guess this meeting is just about building trust, like identifying what things they might be concerned about, worried about about your setup and bringing the resources and the tools and whatever is part of your presentation to exactly address those worries. “Here are the people, look how amazing they are. Here’s how you’ll get amazing quality content for less money. See all my testimonials” blah blah blah.

[00:16:34] – Steve
I wouldn’t focus on the money though. Ultimately their eye will be drawn to that figure.

[00:16:39] – Frankie

[00:16:40] – Steve
I always kind of think you can say in your pitch to somebody, “I realise there will be people who are cheaper than I am or less expensive than I am, just as there may be people who are more expensive than I am. But I know that I will do a great job for this thing. Here’s what I bring, and it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to go for that”.

You don’t have to say that you’re cheaper. You can just say, “This is what I am. And there’ll be people who are less. There’ll be people who are more, but I’m bloody good at what I do. Thanks very much. Do you want a donut? I can give you a donut because I’m right here. It’s actually me”.

[00:17:15] – Frankie
That’s a good tip. Bring donuts!

[00:17:17] – Steve
Quite fancy donuts, actually.

Alice Hollis, I don’t know whether she still does this, but I know it used to be like one of her big things was like when she would go to a pitch meeting, effectively I guess, she would take cupcakes with her that she had made herself. It’s just that personal touch, isn’t it?

[00:17:34] – Frankie
Which you wouldn’t necessarily get from a traditional agency setup. That’s what makes you nice. That’s why you want Detective Jason Hunt on the case.

What would your advice be?

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