Creative Matters: Freelancer, Design Studio or Agency?

It’s the 1,000/10,000/100,000 Dollar question.

Marc Posch
Jan 15, 2017 · 5 min read


Choosing the right creative service provider for your business can be a challenging task, especially with the options that are available today. Just google “design firm” and you will get over 300 million results. However, one question business owners often have is, “What’s the difference between a freelancer, a design studio and an agency?” All these businesses offer pretty much the same work: Logo Design, Branding, Websites, brochures… However, depending on the branding or marketing objectives, the different structures and staff create a huge impact on the budget, the process and the outcomes.

Freelancer: A One-Man Army

This is where to look when you just need a logo or a flyer and your marketing collateral is due tomorrow. With a freelancer or consultant, you have immediate access to his or her time and services because you communicate directly with the person in charge of the work. However, there is a catch working with a single person. Vacations or prior commitments can create a conflict when you need work done. In addition, a freelancer may be good at one or two things but will have a difficult time fulfilling all your needs, especially in the critical “brand building” phase. A good web guy/gal may be good at building your site, but rarely understands your business goals and creates a brand identity that reflects this. A typical budget for a freelancer who is starting out is $500-$1,000, while a more experienced consultant can charge up to $100K. Paul Rand, the iconic designer, received $100K for the Next logo he designed for Steve Jobs in 1986.

The Design Studio: Lean, Agile And Effective

Most design studios are characterized as niche companies focusing on specific services: Branding, web design, SEO, etc. That’s usually where they are good at. However, rather than offering the full range of services like agencies do through their staff, studios subcontract out various elements of a project, such as copywriting, coding or photography. Collaborative work between agencies and studios occurs regularly. And the internal processes, accounting, availability and experience levels also set studios apart from the freelancer.

The creative studio is ideal for small to mid-sized companies with a CMO but without an in-house creative team. They are often hired on a retainer basis, as well as per project. A typical budget for a design studio is in the $5,000-$20,000 range, but again those are just a rough ballpark numbers to allow a comparison.

The Agency: Full Service, Full Circle, Full Price

When you think of an agency, the term One-Stop-Shop or Agency on Record comes to mind because these businesses provide a wide range of services. Agencies tend to have a larger team of 50 or more employees, allowing most of the work to be handled in-house rather than outsourcing it to a third party, as a studio would do.

Typical agencies are Pentagram (hello Paula, hello Michael!), Landor or Ogilvy, just to name a few. Most of those firms maintain offices in various countries, which makes them good candidates for international clients with the need to communicate with consumers across borders. Marketing agencies of that caliber offer a wide range of services, from public relations, media buying, research to creative design work. Within these firms the client also has access to a range of professionals from art directors, writers and brand strategists.

In many cases, an agency is hired on a retainer basis, as well as per project. With a full-service agency, your brand and messaging is kept consistent throughout all mediums, even on a global scale. A typical budget for an agency starts at $100K — $500K and can easily go up to $10 million or more.
The new Accenture brand identity that was designed by Landor Associates in 2000 came with a price tag of $100,000,000.

The Right Fit

Each of those solutions can be a good fit for a company looking for a creative services provider, and every relationship has its benefits and shortcomings. Of course, budgets also dictate the dating process here. In general, the agency with its overhead and full-time staff has to ask for higher compensation than the one-man shop. That’s why a freelancer/consultant usually works with a start-up (on seed level), or a small company with only a limited budget.

The studio however is a good candidate for a small business that already has established itself in the market but needs creative services to launch a new product or to freshen up existing offerings. With an agency on the other hand, a client can be assured that multiple people — even teams — are working on their behalf, and that there are layers of accountability for the final product.

Accomplish Your Branding Or Marketing Objectives With Someone You Can Trust

We are a branding and digital marketing studio (see how I avoid the label agency) in Los Angeles, a small team of creatives and production experts that works with local, national and international clients in the tech and manufacturing sectors. If I had to use a classification for ourselves I would call it a hybrid between a freelance consultant and a design studio. We are big enough to be effective, and small enough to care.

»The best advice that I’ve gotten is that no matter what industry you are in or service you provide, your number one job priority is to assure the client/customer that nothing will go wrong and that you will take care of everything so that they can sleep easy at night. At the end of the day, that’s what all customers want to hear. Clients don’t necessarily hire the best firm, they hire the least risky firm. In essence, you’re not selling design, you’re selling assurance.« — Chris Do, Business Coach

Marc Posch, Brand Consultant, Creative Director. Swiss born, German raised, LA based.

Opus Brand Consult (Los Angeles, Munich, Paris). As a strategic brand consultancy and creative firm, we help startups and established businesses navigate and grow in the age of Digital Transformation. Contact us: +1.213.446.7986

Opus Creative Group (Marc Posch Design)

Creative Business Consultants.

Opus Creative Group (Marc Posch Design)

Creative Business Consultants. We help tech and manufacturing companies with brand development and marketing (Los Angeles/Munich/Paris) +1.213.446.7986

Marc Posch

Written by

Brand consultant, designer. Swiss born, German raised, LA based. Phone/text 213.446.7986 (PT)

Opus Creative Group (Marc Posch Design)

Creative Business Consultants. We help tech and manufacturing companies with brand development and marketing (Los Angeles/Munich/Paris) +1.213.446.7986