What’s the difference between agency clients and direct clients?
When you start a freelance writing business, you have a lot of questions. Some of those questions typically include:
- Where do you find clients?
- How do you work with them?
- What do they expect in terms of revisions and how you deliver the work?
- How do you handle payment?
Even months into your freelance writing business, you might ask yourself such questions. That’s because there’s no ONE answer.
Some clients are very clear. They’ll say, “We need x by y. We can pay you z, and we want you to deliver via Google Docs. You can invoice us at the end of the month or upon delivery of content.”
Others expect you to have your own processes.
The fact is, the process and expectations vary between agency clients and direct clients.
In this article, I’ll share some insights on the differences in the agency vs. direct clients so you can have an idea of a typical scenario.
Agency Clients vs. Direct Clients — Is One Better Than the Other?
In a word, “no.” One isn’t necessarily better; they’re just different. Agencies, as you probably know, come in all shapes and sizes. Some are a two-person outfit and some are the Mad Men-style of lavish offices and staff.
Most are in-between, and most work with freelancers at least occasionally.
In a perfect world, agencies handle client communication and project management while you focus on writing. You send in the copy, and they pay you. You don’t even need to speak with the client, much less handle the invoicing or marketing yourself.
It’s a beautiful thing.
The direct client is, like it sounds, your client directly. You handle all the communication, project management, writing, and invoicing. You make more money (usually), but it’s also more work. Plus, there’s the marketing yourself to get the client in the first place.
I enjoy working with both types of clients.
For me, it’s more about the connection between me and my primary contact, how organized they are, the topic, and other “soft” factors. I have an agency client for which I get to work on bigger brand projects than I’d get on my own. For example, I just did a recent white paper project for a hospitality brand. They’re also highly organized, pleasant, and pay quickly.
Now that you have a little insight into the differences between agencies and direct clients, let’s get into what you can expect.
Process or Setting Expectations
I wrote another article on this recently for B2B Writing Success. It’s that important. In my experience, when client relationships go well, it’s because everyone knows what to expect.
That’s why I’ve gotten a little obsessive about establishing processes and expectations right from the beginning.
Agency clients usually have this handled. They’ll send a detailed client brief explaining what they want from the copy, any SEO keywords, key talking points, writing resources, and a deadline. They usually outline their payment terms, including the rate and how to invoice and expect payment. (More on the getting paid part below.)
On the other hand, your direct clients are probably not quite as buttoned up in this way. This means you may need to create your own briefing document for them. I have a template I send to every new direct client. It includes the proposed keyword term and working title. Then, I invite them to fill in the talking points, provide any subject matter expert for an interview, and other writing resources.
Sometimes, the project is not that defined yet. In which case, the client often needs someone to help them determine the job you’ll do. Such a task can be a paid project unto itself.
After years of freelance writing, I’ve found the greatest success when creating an “offer.” Whether it be a Site Audit, a package of blog posts, or optimizing web copy, any of those are a clear offer a prospect can grasp and say, “yes.”
Otherwise, you can be in for a world of frustration as they say, “Yeah, we think we need you, but we need to do this other thing first.” Sometimes they DO need to do that other thing first, but often they don’t know what to do, so they do nothing.
Getting paid is essential. It’s likely a large part of why you’re a freelance business writer. It’s also important to have the payment conversation earlier rather than later. It’s part of setting the expectations. You want to make sure you’re in the same ballpark, budget-wise. You also want to know by which means the payment will happen and when.
A while ago, I did some work for a German company (I’m from the U.S.), which was a direct client (sort of). Another freelancer contacted me. I asked for a deposit, and he paid it via PayPal. It was simple. Until I finished the work and invoiced for the balance. This is a legacy company (100 years old), and they couldn’t conceive of the PayPal scenario. I offered direct deposit and credit cards as options, but they couldn’t manage that either. Fortunately, my original contact paid me and dealt with it himself. Now, that’s the first time I’ve run into such a situation, but I share this with you as an example that it’s helpful to identify by which means you’ll be paid.
I’ve even seen writing ads that offer payment in Bitcoin, so there are many ways to get paid, and you need to decide what you want to accept.
What About Deposits?
If you’ve been hanging around freelance communities for long, you know everyone is a fan of deposits. They’re an indication of the client’s seriousness, and they help your cash flow. Plus, deposits are common with smaller businesses.
However, with a larger company (100+) employees or an agency, it’s less common to pay a deposit. Plus, I’ve never heard of an agency paying one though they might on a large project. In most cases, larger companies and agencies expect you to bill them upon delivering the work.
In these instances, it’s expected that you complete the work and bill them, then wait 30 days for payment.
There are exceptions. I’ve recently started working with someone who pays upon receipt — in as little as 15 minutes or 24 hours. From my experience, she’s a rarity.
Now, if it’s a big job of about $3,000 or more then I’d ask for a deposit. But for a couple of blog posts, I’ll typically invoice after I send them.
Hopefully, this gives you an idea of what you can expect working with agency vs. direct clients. One isn’t better than the other. It all comes down to setting expectations and your preferences. Many freelancers I know have a mix of agency clients and direct clients. If you’ve worked with both types, do you have a preference? Let us know below!