• Business
  • 5 minutes

The Difference Between a Freelancer and Design Agency Explained

  • Author
  • Ian Bower
  • Published
  • Oct 27, 2020
5 minutes

The Difference Between a Freelancer and Design Agency Explained

So, you've become a wiz at churning out good looking blog and content graphics by using Canva - awesome! But now you've got another problem - you're the graphic designer for your business! 

That's fine if you ARE a graphic designer - but if you're not then chances are good you're doing yourself a big disservice.

You're a business owner and a content creator - don't you have more important things to do? I bet the answer is yes. So do those things and outsource the rest!

You've basically got two options for outsourcing graphic designs - Freelancers and Agencies. Which one is right for you and your business?

Well, that's what we are going to explore today.

Freelancers and Agencies Differ in 3 Big Ways

  1. Skills and Skill Set
  2. Reliability 
  3. Cost

Freelancers and design agencies tend to differ along 3 axis - Skills, Reliability, and Cost. Let's take a look at all three more closely.

Skills and Skill Set

As we look at the differences, it's helpful to realize that freelancers are individual contractors. You evaluate, hire and work with them on a 1:1 basis. By contrast a design agency is a company that has many people working for them - including (hopefully) a few different designers. 

First of all you need to ask yourself: are you qualified to hire a designer? This is an important question because in order to hire a great designer you should understand a thing or two about design. See if you can you answer these questions:

  • How long should it take a reasonably good designer to produce the caliber of work you expect?
  • How much is your current design project worth?
  • Do you need original artwork or vector design and do you know the difference?

One of the major benefits of a design agency is always going to be that they've done all of the hard work associated with hiring a freelancer for you. We'll explore this theme thoroughly in all three sections but let's look at how that relates to skills and skill set.

There are two factors to consider when looking at skills; the actual skill and experience of a designer and the breadth of their skills.

In other words, how many tools do they have in their tool box and how good are they?

Freelancers come in a variety of skill sets and price points. Some of them are excellent illustrators, some of them can't illustrate anything but are still great designers. Some designers are very fluent in a variety of art styles and design principles, others, not so much. 

why hire a design agency instead of a freelancer

If you're hiring a freelancer - it's on YOU to sort all of this out. This typically means combing through dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of different freelancers, vetting each one, getting sample work created and vetting the art work. 

Ultimately what you want is a graphic design solution (freelancer or design agency) that can handle anything you throw at it, whether that is a blog header or YouTube cover or a content upgrade or website graphics

The fact is - it's going to be very tough to find that in a freelancer. Once you do finally find one with the skills you are looking for you need to maintain that relationship and hope that it doesn't fall apart or it will be back to looking for another freelancer. 

Truthfully - freelancers can be a quick and cheap option for someone who wants a modest upgrade to their graphic designs. It won't take long at all to find someone who is simply better than you are, but if you want high quality custom graphic designs you're going to spend many hours looking for just the right freelancer. 

On the other hand a graphic design agency has already done the hard work of vetting their designers for you. They shoulder the burden of evaluating the designers work to determine it's quality and since they typically hire many designers they don't need to find one "Unicorn" designer with the ultimate skill set - they can rely on a pool of design talent.

advantages of workig with a design agency

A good design agency will have a process and system in place for vetting the designers that they hire (Swipe our process and use it if you'd like). In order to evaluate the skills of a design agency you can check their portfolio or bank on their guarantee and do some test orders (if they have a guarantee). 



  • Take a lot of time to find and vet - typically don't have the breadth and depth of skills needed.
  • Can be an easy solution for slight upgrades to DIY designs .


  • Shoulder the burden of finding high quality designers.
  • Rely on a pool of talent to have a well rounded design offering.
  • Guarantee their work (typically). 


Reliability is the ability to clearly communicate and deliver on expectations, to be there when you need them to be there and to guarantee their work. 

As with skills, reliability and freelancers is kind of a bag of mixed nuts. There are definitely hard working, honest and reliable freelancers out there (Those are the ones we typically hire to be our full time designers at Graphic Rhythm Designs!)

When hiring a freelancer or looking at a design agency, there are some questions you should ask. (Our answers in Parenthesis)

  • How long will it take you to complete the project? (1-2 Days typically)
  • How many revisions can I request? (Unlimited)
  • What is your policy if I don't like the design? (See this link)
  • How are we going to communicate? (We use a project management system)
  • How many other clients do you have? (50+)
  • How long have you been in business? (2 years)
  • How many projects can you handle at one time? (As many as you've got)
  • How many projects can I have active with you? (As many as you need!)

The answers to these questions will reveal their reliability. Avoid freelancers and agencies that limit the number of revisions or active requests you can have. Obviously agencies are going to be more likely to stand by their guarantees than a freelancer - but you should at least get it in writing that a freelancer will return your money if you are dissatisfied.

(Check out a complete list of these questions and the answers here)  


At first blush, it seems like agencies cost more than freelancers - Typically a freelancer will work at a low per design rate ($5-$20 per design). I'll caution you immediately to never pay $5 for a design... unless you truly don't care about the quality of the work. 

In order to produce a design for $5 a designer has to either use knocked off content and dress it up (put your business in peril legally) or they have to produce a low quality design. For it to be worth their time (let's assume their time is worth a modest $10 per hour) they would have to spend only 30 minutes on your design. 

With most agencies, including Graphic Rhythm Designs, you have to sign up for a monthly subscription in exchange for design services. Graphic Rhythm Designs starts at $299/mo, which is less than most other agencies, but it is still higher than buying four $10 designs per month from a freelancer. 

why hire a design agency instead of a freelancer unrestricted plan

So, let's do a cost comparison assuming that you publish four blog posts per month. Let's assume you'll pay either $299/mo for Graphic Rhythm Designs (or another agency) or $10/Design for a freelancer. 

Let's go on to assume that the minimum number of designs you will need is 3 per blog post (blog header, plus two blog graphics). If you're reading this article, I am going to guess that you're tired of using stock photography for everything and want actual custom graphics. 

So far, for these 12 Designs you'll pay $299 through an agency or you'll pay $120 to a freelancer - great deal on the freelancer so far. 

But there are hidden costs of a freelancer you need to be aware of:

Hidden Cost #1 - Cost of Acquisition 

Remember - finding and hiring a great freelancer takes a lot of time and a lot of trial and error. Typically you'll try out a few freelancers before you find one that you are happy with. Often times, they will expect to be paid for these try outs. Assuming you contact 5 Freelancers before settling on the best one, that's an addition $50 bringing the total to $170.

Hidden Cost #2 - "Timing Out" Cost

"Timing Out" is what I call it when you've used up all of your "Revisions" with a freelancer. If you check freelance websites you'll see that the designers typically limit you to 2 revisions and charge you more money if you want more than two revisions. 

If you have to pay an additional $5 for 1/3rd of your designs because you need a third revision then that will cost an additional $20 - the total is now $190

Hidden Cost #3 - Wasted Effort Cost 

When you hire a freelancer (and even most agencies) they consider themselves your "hired gun". You tell them what to make, and they make it. For better or worse. This creates a problem when what you really need is a branded approach. 

As the brand owner and content creator you are likely still in the "must publish content" mode. You are used to grabbing a stock photo, slapping some words on it in Canva and publishing the post. If a freelancer can do even slightly better than that - it's a home run right? 

Not exactly - because a design agency like Graphic Rhythm Designs can do a LOT better than that. We aren't just a hired gun - we are a consultant. Our first act of business when you become a client is to develop a brand guideline which we will use across all of the designs we do for you. 

This means that each blog post conveys the same look. And most importantly - wherever your audience comes across you on the web, they will instantly recognize you because your YouTube, Pinterest and Facebook graphics will all look like YOU. 

An example of effective design consistency is the guideline followed by Ramit Sethi. For more details on the importance of design consistency in your brand voice, click here.

I can guarantee that your freelancer is not going to be thinking on a brand level - so if you decide to hire one make sure you download our brand guidelines and use it to communicate your brand image to them. 

If you do wind up with a collection of miscellaneous images that don't match, eventually you are going to need to redo them all. In the interest of fairness, let's say you just need to redo the blog headers - so that's an addition $40 - Total is now $230

Hidden Cost #4 - Cost of Missed Opportunity

Even though we're comparing a monthly rate of $299 with the freelancer rate of $10/design, let's not forget that with a design agency you are going to get way more than 12 designs back every month! 

The least you should expect back is 20 designs at other agencies and up to 50 designs at Graphic Rhythm Designs. (See how we compare here) 

The net result is that suddenly you will see a TON of opportunities to use branded design content - Infographics, content upgrades, social media graphics and web graphics all come to mind! 

How do we put a price on that? Well, it just so happens there IS a price on it. With Graphic Rhythm designs you get 50 design credits per month. Let's quickly look at how those credits would break down. 

Custom fully illustrated blog headers (4) x 2 credits each = 8 Credits 

Custom blog graphics (8) x 1 credit each = 8 Credits 

You've only used 16 credits so far this month or 32% which means the actual cost of your 12 designs is only $96 with Graphic Rhythm Designs (and probably similar at other design agencies!) 

Of course you can't just pay us $96 - you'll have paid $299 and you'll utilize that bandwidth to create a fully branded experience for your audience. 

This has the net effect of making your designs more affordable and more valuable at the same time - as we discussed in this article about attractiveness bias, studies show that brands that look better tend to perform better financially. 

Honestly at this point I have no way to value how much better going with an agency is than freelancer from a cost perspective.... I think you get the point though right?


  • Freelancers seem cheap at first but tend to be a poor overall value 
  • Agencies provide a lot more value while staying cost competitive 
  • Agencies offer protections from dissatisfaction (unlimited revisions, guarantees)

So What is the Best Choice for You? 

Depending on where you are at right now in your business hiring an agency may not make sense. You may be better off putting in the hard work of finding a reliable freelancer and hoping for the best. 

If you want to know for sure if your business is ready for a graphic design agency then take our quiz here... if it turns out you ARE ready for a design agency then we think Graphic Rhythm Designs is the best out there (obviously) 

You can compare us to other agencies here or you can check out our rates here.

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  • Ian Bower
  • Ian is the owner of Graphic Rhythm as well as other businesses that revolve around design, copywriting and Amazon marketplace selling. He's an expert in communicating persuasively and loves helping business owners and digital agencies breathe life into their projects and ideas.

    He values generosity and attention to detail and strives to make sure these values are apparent in the services he provides and the businesses he owns.

    When Ian isn't working, you can find him outside hiking, camping and spending time with his wife and children

  • Ian is the owner of Graphic Rhythm as well as other businesses that revolve around design, copywriting and Amazon marketplace selling. He's an expert in communicating persuasively and loves helping business owners and digital agencies breathe life into their projects and ideas.

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