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building brands is a team sport

Freelancer graphic designer or boutique branding agency - Which is for you?

Business has been going pretty well, actually.

You’re right where you hoped you’d be after seven years. In the black, start-up debts paid off – a clutch of good, well-paying clients. You reward yourself. Properly. The latest Audi TT looks pretty good in the driveway. You drive it to the office the next day. Causes quite a stir on the shop floor. But hey, you deserve it, you’ve worked hard. And at lunch time, the young intern, running a grubby finger along the front fender asks, “Can I take it around the block to get the lunch order in?” You look at that intern. Started yesterday. Definitely of a nervous disposition. Won’t look you in the eye. Doesn’t seem to have washed this month by the smell of it. A tattoo reading ‘Born Dead’ on his forehead. Did we really take this kid on?

You chuckle, hand them the keys. “Sure, why not?”

Your brand is a unique and individual entity. It is easily dented, in the wrong hands your message can be blurred, misunderstood or ignored completely. So you need to be able to completely trust who you choose to articulate it in the marketplace. Not always so easy with so many vendors clamoring for your contract.

You may be trying to decide between working with a freelancer or hiring a creative agency to execute your work. There’s a view that the two offers are much the same and many think it’s a better decision to go with a freelancer because the costs are often lower. But it’s not, unsurprisingly, as simple as that and you need to hire talent according to your particular situation. Remember, short term savings can cost your big in the long term.

So let’s take a closer look at these two creative options.


The gig economy is revolutionising the way businesses source design talent to work on their brand. The benefits are pretty clear up front. If you find a good freelancer, you know you’re likely to get a consistent result every time. You’re only working with one point of contact. They are usually able to work flexibly and they don’t need to be kept on any kind of retainer. Then of course there’s the cost. You’ll likely pay less for a freelancer than engaging an agency and all the built-in costs that come with it.

Amanda Clark, a headhunter at Best Essays, recently stated: “If you need this type of highly specialized service, then freelance graphic designers are the perfect solution. You don’t have to choose between all-around players who know something about everything. Instead, you will find a person who knows exactly what you want and has the skill to do the job almost instantly”.

So what’s not to like with choosing a freelancer?

Well, a couple of things. Firstly, no matter how good they are, they are just one person. So if they become ill, or go on holiday, suddenly go to another gig at another client - you can be left high and dry. And when they go they take all that knowledge of your business with them and you have to train another freelancer up, which costs time and money. Freelancers can be too specialised. Good at one or two specific jobs, but unable to pick up other tasks or solve day-to-day issues. So you end up wasting time trying to find additional resource to complete the job. And sometimes, you just don’t know who you’re getting. Do they look you in the eye when you talk to them?

Boutique agency

The name can be misleading. A boutique agency may sound like it’s going to fit you out in a fetching red-leather bodysuit. But it is of course a serious proposition. Boutique means small and high performing. It’s your Audi TT again. It is agile and more able to adapt to you timings and work practices.

This flexibility extends to price too because they don’t have the same large overheads of bigger agencies. So you’re getting the same flexibility as you’ll enjoy using freelancers, but with more advantages.

For a start, you get the benefit of a team working on your project. That means you’ll have specialists working on the different aspects of your project, so you’ll probably get the job done faster and more efficiently with fewer revisions. A team is also able to develop a creative idea and direction together, whereas a freelancer working in isolation isn’t able to collaborate in the same way.

Warren Fowler, another contributor at Best Essays, writes:

“Working in groups, agency staff is usually much faster and more productive than a single freelancer. This is particularly the case when you change demands and think of a new idea. In such situations, agencies can adapt quickly and offer alternative solutions to the problem because they have enormous experience with similar projects. They know how their clients think and behave, so they can propose different design suggestions and get the job done efficiently.”

Availability is also an advantage. You can always reach someone from the creative team because agencies don’t allow everybody to down tools at the same time. Customer support is among their top priorities and most companies really appreciate this.

It’s also worth thinking about the level of experience that you’ll be getting with an agency. Certainly many freelancers are highly skilled and experienced, but there’s always the possibility that you could hire someone new to the industry, someone less capable perhaps than a creative who’s been in the business for many years. Ikon for example only works with experienced creatives who have worked at many of London’s top design agencies.

ikon insight

ikon loves freelancers. They are independent, motivated and often some of the best creatives you’ll find. They’ve hoovered up some of the best of them to work for them.

But on their own, freelancers can struggle to build big. To create deep change in the minds of consumers. Because building brands is a team sport.

With a boutique agency like Ikon, you’ll get the benefit of their deep insight and awareness of current design thinking. A freelancer is a lot less likely to be concerned with design trends – they generally want to get the job done and move on to the next client. Ikon has developed its design ethos over several years, so their clients know that their approach will be carefully considered and consistent.

Freelancers are a good option when you need a simple job turned around in a hurry. But when you’re looking to build or maintain a consist brand look and feel and tone of voice, deeper consideration and research is needed. Companies that invest in their brand have fewer obstacles between themselves and their audience. They stand out. They demonstrate to their staff , investors and customers that they care. They proudly express their unique nature. This is the kind of work that’s best suited to a boutique design agency, a business big enough to devote the time and resource needed, and small enough to promise that the project will be handled by experienced senior creatives, not passed to junior teams as in a larger agency because of project pile up and bottle-necks.

Vorsprung durch Technik

So did your Audi TT come back in one piece after the intern took it for a spin?

No, of course it didn’t. But in reality you’d never trust a junior with a senior’s job, would you. The same way you’d probably opt for the broader experience of a boutique creative agency over the specialism of a freelancer.

This article is written by ikon | We are a boutique branding agency – but not in the traditional sense. We have hand-picked a team of experienced creatives across branding, strategy, copywriting, illustration, photography and web development to offer more than just a design service.

We could be the agency for you