When I first started freelancing I tried to bring some work in by teaming up with an employment agency that specifically placed creative professionals. What a match huh? I am a creative professional, I know...or think I have talent, and these people can bring work to me - it's perfect!
Well I found out it's not so perfect, and after going through this story you'll have a better idea of how to protect yourself if you decide to go that route as well.
I contacted the agency by email (I sent them a quick cover letter). They looked at my online portfolio and asked me to come in for an interview and to take a few timed tests on my Adobe software skills and comfort levels.
During the interview of course the topic of money was bound to come up, and it did. The interviewer asked, "So what's the lowest amount you would take per hour?
Tough question...if you're too high it'll prevent you from getting some jobs, if you're too low then you might be asked to take on some lower paying projects. I wasn't prepared and ended up blurting out, "Twenty-five dollars." Oh jeez, that was stupid (but more on that later). To make a long story short, the entire process took about 4 hours.
A few days later I got a call from the agency, they had a position they'd like me to interview for. All right! They told me a little about the company and what I'd be doing, and together we set up a time I could go in and interview - end of conversation. Hours later it dawned on me that I was so excited about the interview that I'd forgotten to ask how much the job paid (it was a big company so I figured it would be pretty good).
A couple of minutes later I received an email back, "$25/hr."
How odd...this company was paying the EXACT amount I said was the lowest I would take. Kind of an unusual coincidence, don't you think?
Moving ahead in the story, at roughly the same time they found this position, they found another client to work for and we set up an interview. I then asked how much this new company was paying - and surprise, again it was $25/hr!
Hmm, do you get the feeling that ALL of the jobs this agency sets me up with will only pay $25/hr? I do...and I know that the company's/clients are willing to pay more but the agency will keep me at the $25/hr. so they can make more.
I am a little slower than most people so it took me a while to figure out what was going on here - this is what you need to be aware of when working with one of these agencies...
- I told the agency that I would be "content" with making $25/hr
- The agency (I found out) actually bills the client at between $100-$150 an hour (of course they should be making a profit, but wow, that's a big profit)
- The agency's goal is to get me out there to work at the lowest rate I'll accept so they make more money per hour. If they negotiate a deal with a client paying them $150/hr and get a designer to work for $25/hr, they are making $125/hr...wow!
The fact of the matter was the agency made it seem like my pay was based on how much THE CLIENTS were willing to pay, and that's simply not true. The amount the client's were willing to pay had very little to do with what I was offered, I was offered what THE AGENCY was willing to pay - which was the lowest I would accept.
I could go on and on about this but the bottom line is, when you're sub-contracting with an agency or another creative freelancing firm, understand that it's a business relationship. These agencies are out to maximize THEIR profits (and there's nothing wrong with that), they're goal is not to make you rich but to make money for the agency...and despite how friendly they may appear, they often don't have your best interests at heart.
Of course you may get lucky and find a great agency - I am not saying they're heartless or bad to work with, but no freelancer will ever become rich from just doing sub-contracting work.