Branding Agency vs Freelance Brand Designer: Which is Right for Your Business?

Freelancer typing on her laptop. This image introduces the blog post 'Branding Agency vs Freelance Brand Designer: Which is Right for Your Business?'

By Nine Blaess | 4:47 min

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    So you’re planning to hire a branding expert?  I know, deciding between a branding agency and a freelance brand designer can be a real challenge. Is it worth paying the extra for an agency?

    In this blog post, I’ll walk you through the pros and cons of each option. I’ll also introduce you to a third alternative—the freelance collective—and give you valuable tips to help you make an informed decision.

    By the end of this article, you’ll have a clear understanding of what to look for in a branding partner, ready to take the next step in building your successful brand. So, let’s dive right in.

    What to Expect From a Branding Agency

    A branding agency can offer a wide range of branding services. Agencies often conduct market research, develop brand strategies, create a brand identity, and provide ongoing support.

    Pros of Working With a Branding Agency

    Thanks to a team of experts with diverse skill sets, a branding agency can create a custom visual and verbal brand identity that is 100% aligned with your company’s goals and values.

    For example, let’s say you’re a small business looking to launch a product. A branding agency may start the project with market research to understand your target audience’s preferences and needs.

    Then they might develop a comprehensive brand strategy that positions your brand and differentiates it from the competition.

    Based on this foundation, they can create an identity representing the brand’s unique values and personality.

    Outsourcing branding work to an agency can give businesses a fresh perspective. Since those agencies constantly work with new companies, they often have lots of industry insights.

    Smaller companies or start-ups missing the resources to conduct market research or develop a comprehensive brand strategy in-house might benefit from working with a branding agency.

    Cons of Working With a Branding Agency

    While working with an agency has many benefits, there are also some downsides to be aware of.

    One major drawback is that the wait time to begin your project is often longer, and the cost can be significantly higher compared to working with a freelancer.

    Additionally, larger agencies have different teams handling different aspects of the project, such as strategists, designers, and copywriters. This can quickly result in miscommunication and information gaps.

    What to Expect From a Freelance Brand Designer

    Hiring a freelance brand designer can be a more cost-effective and flexible option for businesses. 

    Pros of Working With a Freelance Brand Designer

    Freelancers typically have lower rates because they don’t have high overhead costs such as rent and salaries. Freelancers can also tailor their work to meet the specific needs of your business.

    Let’s assume you’re a small business that needs a logo. A freelance brand designer can work with you to understand your vision for the logo and create a design that matches your brand’s aesthetic.

    Since freelancers work independently, you’ll have direct communication with the designer and may have more flexibility in adjusting the project scope and timeline.

    Cons of Working With a Freelance Brand Designer

    There are some potential flaws to working with freelancers. One such downside is that freelance brand designers may require additional guidance since they do not have the support of a team to consult with.

    Additionally, some freelancers may not have strong project management skills, which could lead to poor communication or missed deadlines.

    Another issue is that many freelancers specialise exclusively in visual identity design, which could leave you to handle other important branding elements, like writing the brand strategy or brand voice guidelines, on your own.

    But …

    That said, finding a freelance brand designer with experience in these additional areas is possible.

    For example, I have developed a process that begins with a brand workshop, followed by research (though not as extensive as that of a branding agency). From there, I create a brand strategy document that serves as a roadmap for the rest of the project.

    In addition to visual identity design, I also develop rules around brand messaging, which can be readily shared with a copywriter to ensure consistent messaging across all channels.

    Finally, I offer ongoing support to my clients for all their branding and marketing needs.

    While I don’t claim to have it all figured out, I’ve found with this approach I can help my small business clients most effectively and sustainably.

    Did I mention that I often collaborate with a web developer to build client websites? That brings us to a third option.

    Consider Working With a Freelance Collective

    A freelancer collective is a group of freelance experts who are already used to working together.

    Pros of Working With a Freelance Collective

    You typically hire them individually as freelancers, but you get the best of both worlds: the prices and flexibility of a freelancer, plus the interdisciplinary expertise of a branding agency.

    For example, let’s assume you’re a small business that needs branding and a website.

    A freelancer collective can provide a team of experts with different skill sets—such as a brand strategist, a designer, a web developer, and a copywriter—who work together to create cohesive branding and a website that represents your business in the best light.

    Cons of Working With a Freelance Collective

    The only downside I can think of is that management can become a bit messy. This may lead to longer project timelines.

    Criteria for Selecting a Branding Professional

    Whether you choose a freelancer, a branding agency, or a freelance collective—there are several factors you should consider to make the right choice for your business:

    Experience and Expertise

    Make sure the designer or agency has experience working with companies in your industry and can create high-quality designs for your brand.

    For example, if you need packaging design as part of your branding, an agency focussing on digital and websites may not be the best choice.

    Portfolio

    Take a look at the portfolio to get a feel for the designer’s design style and aesthetic. Make sure the work matches your vision for the company.

    Not every designer can design in all styles. Neither should they have to.

    Communication

    Choose a designer or agency who is a good communicator and willing to collaborate with you. This can avoid frustration down the track.

    Process and Timelines

    Inquire about the design process and timelines and make sure the designer is organised and meets deadlines.

    Personality

    Finally, you should look for a designer with whom you get along and who understands your company’s goals and values. 

    In my eyes, this is probably the most important aspect. Just like in life, some people just get along better and that’s when the magic happens.

    By delivering high-quality branding work, the right branding experts can help you form a brand image that resonates with your target audience, stands out from the competition and contributes to the success of your business.

    As Steve Forbes said:

    Your brand is the single most important investment you can make in your business.

    Whether you hire a branding agency, a freelance brand designer or a collective of freelancers ultimately depends on your specific needs, budget and timing for branding your business.

    References

    Title image by Kaboompics

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    Nine Blaess

    Hello, I’m Nine. I blend strategy and design to craft engaging brand identities and websites that celebrate the uniqueness of each business.

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