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How does your studio operate?

I've been freelancing for a design agency for 18months. The agency specialises in print design for Theatre and Arts in the UK.

Now as 99% of the productions we work on are Arts Council funded, they always have very very tight budgets, and tight budgets means i'm allowed very little time to work on each project (sometimes as little as 8hrs to brand a new company production and produce 2 pieces of print - this includes 3 or 4 initial concept ideas, all client correspondence and all amends over the course of a week.)

Although the clients and projects allow for some really creative approaches that at the start i get very excited about... in reality when the clock starts and i'm having to log every 15minutes spent on the project, everything feels rushed and ends up looking half finished!! I'm currently trying to compile a portfolio of work and am amazed at how little work i've produced at this agency i'm proud of. So much so in fact that i've started to 'finish' projects in my own time to the standard i'd liked to have been able to in the first place before compiling my portfolio.

I was just wandering if this sounds like a reasonable moan or wether it's just the sad reality of how a design business operates in the real world? I always dream of working for a creative agency that have the budgets at hand to allow projects and ideas to be explored and develop over a decent amount of time... I guess the bottom line is i want to be proud and satisfied with the work i produce, and get involved with projects i can really get my teeth stuck into rather than rush through.




Active Member

Firstly welcome to Design Forums!

You mentioned at the start of your post that you're freelancing for this agency, what's the situation with this, is this your only freelance client? Is it effectively working for the agency full-time?

I wouldn't say that all agencies have such strict time constraints, as you said yourself this is the nature of this agency due to the type of clients they have on their books. I can understand your moan regarding logging every 15 minutes of time, as I had the exact same system at an agency I used to work for, it can be incredibly frustrating, and for me having to log every 15 minutes made me feel like I couldn't be trusted to manage my time, and it also put a great deal of added pressure on being creative with ideas.

As for your portfolio it sounds like you're taking the right approach in taking these projects to a stage you're happy to display them in your folio, I would be doing the same. Other than that is there potential for you to move your freelance work away from being reliant on this one agency and try and find other agencies that have bigger budgets and timescales for projects?

Hope that helps in someway as I know how frustrating it can be!
I couldn't work like that, it really would interfere with my day too much. I went on a Time Management course recently and one of the things they suggested was to log every 15 mins over a month and then look back at it to see where you are spending too much time, and where not enough etc. Good idea in theory but after two days I stopped as it was doing my head in.

When freelancing for agencies, I find it often is panic stations and very time pressured, but it's pretty often the case that if they are not under pressure deadline wise, they wouldn't bring you in, in the first place.

Most places I do work for in-house will ask me to e-mail them at the end of the day how many hours I spent on each piece if I'm working on multiple tasks. That makes it easier as you can just jot a start and finish time as you go during the day.

'Finishing' projects in your own time for you folio is prob a good idea as it's a shame to discount the work because it wasn't finished as you would have liked.
Hi Greg -

Yes, in effect i'm working as a full-time freelancer at this one agency and have been for 18months. It's my choice to remain as a freelancer and they haven't questioned this yet.

The whole idea of getting a portfolio together online is to evaluate where i am in my design career and maybe think about approaching some new agencies withbigger budgets and timescales like you say.

Although a lot of our clients are very reputable and initially open to some really exciting design ideas, they often come to us with the smaller productions that have less money to spend as they know our agency is happy to take these little projects on that often require very fast turnaround. This of course results in me having the golden opportunity to conceptualize and design a campaign for a client or company whose print work i've always admired but ultimately not being happy with the results as i've had a ridiculously small amount of time to spend on it.

The whole 15minute time logging like you say is extremely frustrating!! It really has a huge effect on my performance and i spend most of my energy worrying about the clock ticking away instead of focusing on being creative...



Junior Member
15 minutes is very tough. Lawyers get down to 12 minutes I believe (but they aren't human are they?!)

I left my last job because the agency was too fussy and picky about time - and that was hourly billing! It can be very stressful and you wouldn't be alone in saying it can get to you.

Working on things in your own time is a bit off. Have you talked to others at your place of work about this? Are your management sympathetic or a bunch of losers? The answer to that question might affect the choice on whether you stay or not...


Active Member
Allen said:
Have you talked to others at your place of work about this? Are your management sympathetic or a bunch of losers? The answer to that question might affect the choice on whether you stay or not...
You beat me to it Allen :)

It would be worth talking to the agency about this issue, it may be that they don't realize that monitoring time in such a detailed way is distracting and counter productive, or it may be that the time system their using is just something they've always had (handed down from previous people at the top) and not something that has been questioned?

Whilst it's easy to understand the business side of logging time for billing, there is the counter side to that which can put extra pressure on the creativity as already mentioned, as a freelancer I personally prefer logging hours spent on a time sheet, usually completed at the end of the morning then the end of the day. Having said that the majority of my client projects are per project pricing rather than hourly rates.


Staff member
15mins, I have test renders that take longer than that, so what do I put down for the 15mins, I was sitting in front of my pc twiddling my thumbs while it was doing all the grunt work :confused:

Now obvioulsy I use my time better than that, I have more than one pc, but that 15min timetable just isn't viable for my main type of work, I try to give a price per project within x days.


I had an hour timetable... that was hard enough when I worked for Aquent.. that was difficult... and a few years ago so i'm hoping that Aquent dumped it for just a day one :)
It is an interesting point about expectations working for a 'big agency'. I remember when I first starting working for an agency after an in-house job, thinking great I will have bigger budgets, more 'creative time' etc. In reality you never get the time you would like on projects.

Some agencies are better than others when it comes to giving you 'headspace' but I think as a freelancer a lot of places are much more aware of the fact you are costing them £X amount per hour/ day compared to if you were a full time employee. Therefore you are held more accountable for your day to day/ hour to hour output.

If you can build up any of your own clients outside of this company it may help. It may be easier to deal with the day to day rushed agency jobs if you can balance it with projects where you are in charge of your time.


Active Member
RussellHall said:
I think as a freelancer a lot of places are much more aware of the fact you are costing them £X amount per hour/ day compared to if you were a full time employee. Therefore you are held more accountable for your day to day/ hour to hour output.
That's very true, the probability is that the freelancer will be costing them a fair bit more than a full-time employee of the agency, so I guess they are more aware of trying to get the 'most design for their money' for want of a better phrase! I still agree the 15 minute interval time keeping is a step too far!
common guys the posts are too long...............it's hard to read pls make it shorter!
If the pay is good then you should do what is needed but stay on top of the situation.
Also welcome to DF!
Lol, too long? The guy needs to get his point across man, I have seen posts which are waaaaaaaay longer!


I do a fair bit of spillover work for an agency in Australia but the downside is that they contact me when they realise that they can't do something because of time constraints on them and that means its all panic, frothing at the mouth and very very tight deadlines!

It just goes to show that there are agencies out there which suck at time management....and this still surprises me!

I mean really- a lack of planning on their part should not constitute a loss of money on yours!