Why You Should Work with Creative Staffing Agencies or Not

Throughout the life of this blog, I’ve sung the praises of working with creative staffing agencies (CSAs) as an awesome way for freelancers to get work. I’ve met hundreds of business people, freelance and full-time, who’ve worked with CSAs and shared their experiences with me. Some say good things, some bad, and some have a meh response.

Based on conversations I’ve had and my experience working with CSAs, I want to give you some information about why you should work with creative staffing agencies or not. Information below includes the process, some pros and cons of working with CSAs, and a list of the agencies available in Portland (many of which operate in multiple cities nationally and internationally).

Mathys and Potestio

How the Process Works

  1. Connect with the CSA through their online form. You’ll likely need to provide a resume, link to portfolio, and general background info on yourself.

  2. Auto-generated email tells you your application was received and someone will get back to you soon.

  3. A recruiter gets back to you soon to setup an interview.

  4. In the interview, the recruiter goes over your resume with you, gets to know you personally, asks what kind of position you’re looking for (e.g. freelance/contract/full-time copywriter) and with whom (medium-sized corporation in their marketing department).

  5. You leave the interview with a new team member and advocate, if not a friend. (I’m actually friends with a few of my CSA recruiters. Speaking of which, Blaire owes me a beer…)

  6. When a relevant position comes up, the recruiter who interviewed you (or another recruiter from their office) will email or call you to discuss your interest and availability. You say yay or nay, and they submit you for the position or not.

  7. If you’re submitted, they’ll be in touch about whether or not you get an interview. If you’re not submitted, they’ll contact you again with future opportunities.

  8. The recruiter sets up the interview. You go. You dazzle.

  9. Filter Digital Staffing

  10. The recruiter calls to tell you the result: you got the gig/full-time position or not.

  11. You begin work on the agreed-upon date.

  12. If you landed a freelance or contract position, then the process repeats from #6. If it’s a full-time position, the recruiter’s work for you is done…until you want to leave that position and need their help finding you another one!

Mathys+Potestio created this great video explaining how the process works and what they do as creative recruiters.

Pros of Working with Creative Staffing Agencies

Now for the benefits of working with CSAs:

  1. They’re on your business team. When you work with CSAs, what you’re inviting them to do is leverage their client network to find you the kind of work you want. In addition to your own efforts to find work, CSAs are working toward that same thing on your behalf.

  2. It’s free to work with them. You don’t pay them anything to help you find work or to accept an assignment once it’s been found.

  3. They can place you in freelance, contract (long-term or short), AND full-time positions depending on what you want them to look out for.

  4. They give you health coverage. Depending on how many hours per week you work, you could be eligible for health coverage from the CSA who is essentially your employer when you work for companies through them.

  5. Creative Circle Staffing

  6. Your portfolio will become awesome. There are some heavyweight companies and agencies in the Portland area, and I’m just going to assume you don’t have access to them. These companies usually have a dozen ways to prevent you from getting a foot in the door. You can totally do it though. Using LinkedIn, networking events, and years of patience, you can likely crack into any client. Asking the CSAs to get you in is a much…much faster way to go though.

  7. They advocate for you to the client. When a company/agency wants to hire for a position, they often reach out to CSAs to help with their recruiting. When they do that, the CSAs check their rolodex of talent and recommend people based on their relevant experience. The CSA goes to bat for you to get the position. They don’t just submit your resume and call it good, they have a conversation about you with the hiring personnel. (At least that’s the ideal.)

Cons of Working with Creative Staffing Agencies

Not to be outdone, here are some potential drawbacks of working with CSAs:

  1. The pay is low. CSAs are middle(wo)men. They connect job seeker with job giver and are paid for that work. That payment comes out of your hourly rate. Here’s a sample equation: Company pays CSA $97/hour for You, CSA pays You $50/hour. If you’re placed in a full-time position: Company pays a percentage (10-15% I’ve heard) of your salary to CSA as a “finder’s fee,” Company pays You your full salary with no deduction for the finder’s fee.

  2. The work offered is lame. Sometimes the work recruiters present to you is lame and not at all what you want to do. When that happens, say no. And while you’re at it, tell the recruiter you’re not interested in hearing about positions like that.

  3. Recruiters get in the way. There was one time I got a gig at adidas through a CSA. The client said he wanted me to meet him onsite, but then the recruiter said I could meet via phone. I called him at the agreed-upon time and learned very quickly that he had expected me to be onsite. That gig went away fast. Yes, inexperienced recruiters can definitely get in the way of work.

  4. Recruiter communication is low-quality. Some people I’ve referred to my CSA recruiter connections have had really bad experiences. They’ve said things like: the recruiter never got back to them, shat all over their resume/relevant experience, treated them like a dime a dozen (i.e. not important or worthy of individual attention). I’ve experienced this as well, especially when I was starting out and I didn’t have a lot of experience. I’ve found that the smaller the CSA, the higher quality of experience you can expect.
  5. 52 Limited

Creative Staffing Agencies in Portland

And now for that list of creative staffing agencies in Portland. I’ve worked with a lot of them, and I’ve had good, bad, and meh experiences. I won’t rate them that way, but I will say, in general, my best experiences have been with the smaller CSAs. The time they’ve taken to get to know me, the quality of the recruiters, and the quality of the work (freelance, full-time, and biz dev!) they’ve referred has made me an advocate for CSAs. For me, because of the quality of my experiences with these smaller CSAs, the pros outweigh the cons. Here’s the list:

  • Mathys+Potestio
  • Filter Digital
  • Creative Circle
  • 24Seven
  • 52 Limited
  • Vitamin T
  • Aquent
  • Pact (Never worked with them.)
  • Boly:Welch (Never worked with them.)

  • So, IMHO, that’s why you should work with creative staffing agencies or not. What’d I miss? Why do you or don’t you work with CSAs? Anything you’d like to add? What have your CSA experiences been like?

How to Register a Business in Oregon

The first thing you need to know about how to register a business in Oregon is that I’m not a lawyer. Nor do I work for the Oregon Secretary of State’s office. In other words, you’ll get the most definitive, up-to-date information on how to register your business from them. What I’m going to walk you through is how I set-up my business with the guiding hand of my CPA.

4 Steps to Registering Your Business

  1. Go here and click on ‘Register a Business’.

    Take the steps it gives you. It’ll cost you $100 to register your business and $100 to renew it every year on your anniversary. And yes, this is where you register your business name.

    I really can’t tell you what kind of entity you should register as (LLC, S Corporation, Sole Proprietor, etc.), but the majority of freelancers I know are registered as either an LLC (Limited Liability Company) or S Corporation. Do a little research and see which option is best for you. They each come with legal and financial requirements. You can change your entity organization later on if you decide something else will work better for you. Your CPA/attorney can help you with that or you can do it yourself. It requires some more money and more paperwork.

    The U.S. Small Business Administration has a lot of useful information about incorporation (i.e. business entity options).

  2. You’ll need to get an IRS employer identification number (EIN), which is a social security number for your business. Go here to fill out the application.

  3. Once you’ve done steps 1 and 2, go to the bank of your choice and set-up a business checking account.

    A lot of banks require a minimum monthly account balance (of $1,000 usually) or else they charge you a fee of $10 or so per month. My business checking account is with Rivermark Community Credit Union and they don’t have that minimum charge for the basic checking account (which is really all you need). Pretty sweet. I recommend shopping around for a bank that doesn’t charge you for not having a lot of money in your account. Talk about hurting the little guy.

    You’ll need to bring the State business registration and EIN paperwork with you when you set-up the account.

  4. Work with an attorney or use services like Docracy or Legal Zoom to get a contractor agreement drawn up.

    This is what you’ll have your clients sign before you work with them. Sometimes you’ll sign theirs instead. As long as all your interests are covered, that’s not a problem. To learn more about attorneys and CPAs, read my previous blog post about your legal and financial team.

And that’s how you register a business in Oregon. Steps 1 and 2 are really the only legal ones you have to take to do business in Oregon, but steps 3 and 4 are HIGHLY recommended by legal and financial professionals, and experienced business professionals. Having a business bank account shows the IRS very clearly what are business expenses/income and what’s personal. The contractor agreement will help you set expectations with clients, and protect you against scope creep and any legal situations that might come up. Katie Lane, Conclave friend and freelancer attorney, writes about these and other legal topics that affect freelancers.

If you don’t live in Oregon, I’m going to ASSUME the same steps need to be followed in your state as well. I mentioned that I’m not an attorney right? I’m not an attorney.

Answers to Some Business Questions From a Copywriter, Part 2

Continuing to answer the questions of an inquisitive freelance-copywriter-to-be, this post is the second of two. Here’s the first one in case you missed it.

  1. I am currently working on building a portfolio and don’t intend to officially go into business until September. Are there any reputable charities in the Willamette Valley that need pro-bono copywriting and are willing to work with newcomers to the business?
  2. I’m sure there are a million charities/non-profits in the Willamette Valley that need copywriting assistance. If you offer them your services pro bono, they will very likely say yes. There’s a good business case for doing pro bono work at the beginning of your career. It can get you some decent samples fast. Know when to stop though. Working for free gets expensive if that’s the majority of your workload.

  3. Assuming that I’m earning enough to afford it, I am willing to travel to meet with clients on occasions – I love visiting Portland – but doing so is time consuming and costly enough that it will not be possible for clients who need me to work short jobs. Do the people who hire copywriters in Portland generally feel comfortable not meeting their freelancers in person?
  4. Meeting in-person is the most effective way to make long-lasting relationships. You definitely don’t have to though. I’ve worked with clients that I’ve never met except via phone and email. I will say that the majority of my work has come from people I’ve met face-to-face, and with whom I have a personal relationship. Since those relationships have been established, we’ve not needed to meet in-person to do business together. All it takes is an email to assess availability, a phone call to get brought up to speed, maybe an in-person meeting, and then I complete the project from home.

    In general, people hire people they know, like, and trust. Your best bet is to set up meetings with prospective clients for times you’ll be in that city, and start building your professional relationship with them based on a foundation that includes a handshake, eye contact, and your physical presence. Go remote from there.

  5. Is your group [Copywriter Conclave of Portland] willing to accept a copywriter who is physically located outside of the Portland area, but working for firms doing business inside it?
  6. Not at this time. As I mentioned in the answer above, there’s no substitute for your physical presence, or in this case, being in the physical presence of your peers. One of the main purposes of the group is to build strong local connections with people we know, like, and trust. We’ve all spent quite a bit of time together since 2011, and the relationships we’ve built and nurtured are critical to our success. We meet for happy hour on the fourth Wednesday of the month. If you’re ever in town then, let us know!

  7. If I determine that I would like to join your group, what sort of goals should I set to become qualified?
  8. 1) Live in the Portland Metro area
    2) Be a full- or part-time freelance copywriter
    3) Do high-quality work
    4) Come with experience and knowledge that will benefit the membership

    (NOTE: If you’re just getting your feet wet as a writer, this isn’t the right group for you. Join us for happy hour and we can swap advice and tips and such, but the level of knowledge amongst members is high, and we want to keep it that way. We’ll be rolling out a MENTORSHIP PROGRAM in the next few months, so if you need to fill in the gaps between your desire to be a freelance copywriter and your experience as a freelance copywriter, stay tuned.)

What Should Freelance Copywriters Charge?: Questions From a Copywriter, Part 1

I received an email from a guy who’s interested in applying his business education to copywriting. He asked me seven questions about copywriting that I didn’t answer. My reasons for that here. Assuming his questions are the questions of other getting-started freelance copywriters, I thought I would copy his questions from the email, paste them into this blog post, and answer them here so more people could benefit from the answers. The questions will be answered across two posts for the sake of length and readability (and let’s be honest, the SEO on these is going to be amazing).

The first few questions basically asked “What should freelance copywriters charge?,” so I’ve answered those few here.

  1. What is the average rate that your successful copywriters demand?
  2. Averages for everything vary widely, and for all kinds of copywriting-related services, so instead, I’ll give you some qualified numbers for what freelance copywriters should charge.

    • Just starting out: $50/hour.
    • Absolutely no less. That number also assumes you have basic, good quality writing ability. If you’re not a good writer (you don’t have to be a great writer to do this kind of work, just good), then this occupation will be very hard for you because you’ll have to learn how to write well first.

    • Experienced: $60-75/hour.
    • After I’d been copywriting for a couple years with increasing success, I gave myself a raise from $50 to $75. If you’re wondering when it’s time for a raise, this post might help.

    • Executive-level: $100+/hour.
    • If you’re good at what you do (and I mean good), and/or you’ve got the portfolio to back it up, charge $100+. I know a few freelance copywriters who charge over $100/hour as a regular rate, or have done so for certain services such as consulting. Depending on your experience and the kinds of clients you want to work with, you may or may not be able to charge that rate. The trick is to find clients who believe you’re worth that much, and have the money to pay. More on that.

    • Creative Staffing Agencies: $25-45/hour.
    • If you’re going to be working through a creative staffing agency (something I quite enjoy doing), you’re going to be paid less than you would if you’re working directly with the client. As the middleman, the staffing agency will take a cut of the hourly rate they bill you out at. They’re a business, after all, and they all have overhead to cover. I know some freelancers who refuse to work with them, and others who get all their work from them. The kinds of clients you want and the point you’re at in your career will determine if this is a good place for you to invest your time.

  3. What is a rate that acknowledges that I am new to the business, but indicates that I am still capable and qualified, and doesn’t drive down the rates of others who are capable and qualified?
  4. $50/hour.

  5. Can you recommend any good literature or blogs to help me understand the copywriting market in the Portland area?
  6. As far as I know, the Copywriter Conclave of Portland blog is the best (and only?) resource for freelance copywriters in Portland. THE book I recommend for all things freelance copywriting is The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman. I also recommend the Well-Fed Writer blog, the Ed Gandia podcast, and Seanwes podcast/blog.

Why I Won’t Meet You For Coffee: How Self-Education and Mentorship Lead to Success

I was compelled to write this post because I’ve recently received quite a few requests for meetings from people who aren’t freelance copywriters and want to become freelance copywriters. Now, I’m happy to share what I know, but at this point in my career, I can’t/won’t do it on an individual basis. It’s just too time-consuming: my own business would suffer if I said yes to every request, and that’s not okay with me. It might come across as a little bitchy, but one thing I’ve learned from being a freelancer (write this down): you have to be stone-cold when it comes to protecting your time. I hope I can explain my reasons why in this post.

Why I Won’t Meet You For Coffee

It’s important to have mentors, elders in the industry who can help get you on track, keep you on track, and always help you grow. It’s equally important for each of us to be active participants in our own lives and work our asses off to achieve our goals.

In short, before you ask someone (me) to help you, do your damnedest to help yourself first–educate yourself before you ask someone to do it for you. Read books on your topic of interest, read blogs (like this one), follow Twitter hashtags, go to meet-ups. Learn as much as you can on your own, or with your peers, before you walk up to someone more experienced and say: teach me all that you know.

That’s not fair. We more experienced folk have busted our asses to learn what we’ve learned. We’ve done the hard work: we’ve read and researched, we’ve gone beyond our comfort zones to learn about our boundaries and interests, we’ve gained enormous amounts of insight, philosophy, and confidence by putting ourselves through this career-building fire. And guess what? That’s the only way we would have been able to achieve all that we’ve achieved, and it’s the only way you’ll be able to achieve as well. You can’t ask anyone to just give you all of that. It’s non-transferable. You have to earn it on your own. Build it from scratch for yourself. You might not want to hear this, but it’s the only way you’ll be successful.

You might think meeting with me is your ‘Easy’ button to success. Reality check: all I’m going to do is give you more work.

Why I Started This Blog

Whenever these requests come up, it puts me in mind of a college freshman asking their professor: “I want to become successful. How do I do that?” A fair number of interested-in-becoming-a-freelance-copywriter people have asked me that question. For awhile I was meeting with them at endless one-on-one coffee meetings that took up a lot of my time. Time that I would have otherwise spent on my business.

I believe mentorship is important and I didn’t want these people to flounder, or fall through the cracks, on their way to copywriting success, so I started this blog. In an effort to answer all freelance copywriting questions, basic or complex, I and several other Conclave members have contributed to this knowledgebase so others may benefit from our collective experience…and so I don’t have to have coffee with everyone in Portland who wants to become a freelance copywriter. I love you all and fully support your inquisitiveness and bright-eyed enthusiasm for this career path, but if I met you all for coffee I couldn’t remain in business and then I wouldn’t be the person from whom you would seek knowledge. Thus, this blog and the Conclave’s twice-monthly gatherings are where I’m willing to share all that I know with you.

The Answer to the Question

The answer to that college freshman question mentioned above is also the answer to “How do I become a freelance copywriter?” It’s the answer to how do you become/do anything. Write this down and put it somewhere prominent so you never forget:

Do the work.
Build the relationships.
Build your unique knowledgebase.
Success will follow.

That’s your anchor. Everything else you and your business/career become is borne out of that foundation–the foundation you build from doing the work, building relationships and your unique knowledgebase. Without that foundation, you will crash and burn. Harsh? Yes. True? Also yes.

You have to KNOW WHY you’re doing what you’re doing. KNOW WHY you ask for half the project fee up-front instead of billing for the whole thing after you’ve sent it to the client. KNOW WHY you’re attending this particular networking event/conference and not those others. KNOW WHY you charge what you charge. KNOW WHY you only work with certain clients. The only way to learn these WHYs for yourself is through experience. You can’t cheat on this one. You just have to get out there and do it.

It’s supposed to be hard.
It’s supposed to be a little scary.
It’s supposed to be uncomfortable.
You’re supposed to feel like you have no idea what you’re doing
and then do it anyway.

If this has been your experience, then good job! You’re on the right track. Keep going and see it through if you’re truly invested in this path. Change your focus and do something else if not.

Make It Worth My Time

Before you ask someone (me, in this particular scenario) to take the time to answer your questions, make sure you’ve spent your own time trying to find the answers first; educating yourself as much as you can on your own.

Come to me educated, with complex, dynamic questions that help me as well as you, and I’ll be much more likely to sit down with you one-on-one. Say to me, “I’ve read The Well-Fed Writer, the Conclave blog, and I’ve implemented the strategies and advice from both. I have some additional questions and thoughts I’d like to run by you. Can we meet for coffee?” YES, WE CAN!!

For example, a peer called me up a few months ago and asked me a great question: what do you do when the client gets in the way of your doing great work for them? What a great question! This woman was a stranger to me, yet we spent 20-30 minutes discussing her challenge. It was great! The college freshman questions I’m referring to are: How do I find clients? and How do I make more money? To be clear, I believe these are valid questions. As you can see, we’ve already written blog posts answering them. I believe answers to such questions are important and widely available online. I would love it if you would first do a web search for this information that you seek (much of which I think you will find on this blog), before asking them of me via email.

That’s all I’m saying. Does that make sense?