The Business Models of Freelancing and Design Agencies and Who Can Start Their Own Business

by Rikke Friis Dam | | 8 min read
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When you’re looking at going freelance or starting your own design agency, you’ll want to understand and examine the business models and the different types of work available to you before you start. This will help you understand and define what you intend to do with your business and how you will do it.

We would like to share something with you about the freelance business models today.

The Business-to-Business Model

Freelancers and entrepreneurs are a varied bunch. They come from all walks of life. Some start their freelance and entrepreneurial careers part-time while working in high-powered office jobs. Others start working full-time from home. Some freelancers and entrepreneurs are skilled masters of a single trade; others branch out into many disciplines throughout their career.

However, freelancers and owners of design agencies all have one thing in common. They sell their own services to other businesses. It is a business-to-business (B2B – or B-to-B) model. It’s what makes freelancing and owning a new design agency with only you (and perhaps a partner) different from straight up entrepreneurialism, which also includes selling services to consumers. When a business sells products or services to consumers, it’s a business-to-consumers model (B2C – or B-to-C).

When you choose to work as freelancer or create a design agency, you will conduct business with other businesses (B2B). It’s a very specific business model in which the final product is you and your work. We’ll use the term “business owners” for both freelancers and owners of design agencies.

Author/Copyright holder: SHurley619. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 3.0

Elance was one of the most popular freelance brokerage sites on the Internet – it has since become part of Upwork and no longer exists as a separate entity. Upwork is also popular among new design agencies.

Growing a Freelance Business into a Design Agency

Of course, it’s possible to start as a freelancer, grow the freelance business and become something different in the long term. The Number 1 freelancer on Elance in Writing and Translation for the last three years has been a company called Coqui Prose. It was started by a former corporate executive, Sarah Ratliff, who quit her high-powered job in the US and moved to Puerto Rico to start a farm. When she realized she needed a little income coming in to supplement the farm work, she started freelancing.

Today, she has many other freelancers working for her. Her business dominates the medical writing niche on Elance and farther afield. But she began by selling her own talents and services.

Balancing Entrepreneurism and Freelancing

Many freelancers are also entrepreneurs involved in traditional start-up businesses. They balance freelance work and regular jobs (to pay the bills and keep a roof over their heads) with passion projects. Both of the founders of the Interaction Design Foundation (IDF), Mads Soegaard and Rikke Friis Dam, studied and had full-time jobs when they founded the IxDF.

It’s important to remember that freelancing and starting your own design agency is all about what you can do and what you can provide. Freelancers and owners of design agencies who make a success of their careers have skills and talents that the market will buy, and most of the time—though not all of the time—those skills and talents have been gained through a combination of education and work experience.

Work from Home or from Honolulu?

You should also know that freelancing and B2B entrepreneurship does not mean that you have to work from home or that you have to be a digital nomad. Many freelancers and entrepreneurs open their own offices and work from a business location. It’s also worth noting that you can always use co-working or shared office space to keep costs down in the beginning. Heck, you can even use your local coffee shop. The only thing that all freelancers and owners of new design agencies have in common is that they sell their own services.

Author/Copyright holder: Pixabay. Copyright terms and licence: CC0

Freelancing for digital professions and initiating a design agency simply requires a computer, software and the Internet – where you do it from is completely up to you.

Who Can Freelance and Start their Own Design Agency?

Freelancers and design owners come from all sorts of professional backgrounds, but some of the most popular types of work involve:

These fields are all open to freelancers and B2B entrepreneurs and offer plenty of opportunity for work.

In short—as long as you have a saleable skill, you can go freelance or start your own B2B business.

Author/Copyright holder: Bambi Corro III. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-ND 2.0

Plenty of designers are freelancers. There are lots of options for you to work the way you want to without working for someone else.

The Take Away

Freelancers and entrepreneurs are a varied bunch. They come from all walks of life. Some started their freelance and entrepreneurial careers part-time while working in high-powered office jobs. Others started at home when they decided that living on social security was too much to bear. Some freelancers and entrepreneurs are skilled masters of a single trade; others branch out into many disciplines throughout their career. However, freelancers and owners of upcoming design agencies all have one thing in common. They sell their own services to other businesses. It is a business-to-business model (B2B – or B-to-B). It’s what makes freelancing and owning a new design agency with only you (and perhaps a partner) different from straight up entrepreneurialism. It’s a very specific business model in which the final product is you and your work.

Starting your own business will give you a new sense of freedom. Voltaire, the French writer, said: “Man is free the moment he wishes to be.” Are you ready to start your own business now? Would you like to be a freelancer, or would you rather open your own design agency?

References & Where to Learn More

Hero Image: Author/Copyright holder: Rikke Friis Dam and the Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-ND.

Freelance Statistics 2015: The Freelance Economy in Numbers, Ben Matthews.

Voltaire, Brutus Act II, Scene 1: “L'homme est libre au moment qu'il veut l'être.”

Business To Consumer - B To C.

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Dam, R. F. (2018, May 29). The Business Models of Freelancing and Design Agencies and Who Can Start Their Own Business. Interaction Design Foundation - IxDF.

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