Freelancing Vs. Full-Time Jobs for Creatives

Learn key differences between freelance or contract opportunities and full-time, “permanent” roles and how to choose which is best for you.

Contracting or freelancing with a company is sort of like dating. You agree to work for a company, usually through a third-party entity, to determine whether or not they are truly worth the full-time commitment. In the fast-paced world of digital marketing and advertising today, the demand for creative professionals at a variety of companies has risen, with high quality content translating into high dollar ROIs for many businesses.

This growing trend has led to large numbers of creative professionals pursuing freelance or contract opportunities, which, unfortunately, has inadvertently led to an even higher turnover rate as well. Nevertheless, contractors or freelancers have become immensely popular within large corporations and even some mid-sized organizations.

Contracting or freelancing allows both the employer and the candidate an opportunity to see whether or not the working relationship is a good fit. For many creatives who have contracted at larger companies before, this can feel somewhat like a long interview process or a “trial-period,” but it can be one of the best ways to get your foot in the door and establish yourself at a company before taking the plunge.

creative professionals meeting at table over drinks

Employers will typically go this route to mitigate risks and save money, as they don’t have to directly provide benefits or other perks that full-time, permanent employees enjoy. However, most agencies do offer some benefits to it’s W-2 employees, but more on that later.

This article is for both current full-time employees thinking about trying their hand at freelancing for a while, as well as current contractors who may be looking for a bit more stability and are wondering what the real differences may be. Or, perhaps you’re a recent graduate who’s recently been presented with a great contract opportunity and you’re like, well, what does being a contract employee even mean?

If any of this resonates with you, then you’re in the right place. So, what are some of the major differences between freelancing and being a full-time employee? Let’s get into it.


Hourly vs. Salary

close up of dollar bills paid to hourly and salaried employees

Contractors and/or freelancers are often recruited by a talent agency that specializes in helping their corporate, agency or mid-sized company clients (typically), fill jobs that require certain skill sets. Because the agency is the entity that finds you, informs you about the opportunity and essentially grooms you to be presented before the client for the job, contractors can often make a little less than their full-time counterparts due to the agency taking a cut of your pay. Look at it as a very long “thank you” to the agency for helping you place you in your role.

Most contractors are presented with a fixed hourly rate when a recruiter first makes contact with the potential candidate. The rate presented to you is typically reduced to account for the agency fee. However, when you take into account that you may have never even known about the opportunity if it wasn’t for the agency, it balances itself out. If and when you are presented with a full-time opportunity at the end of your contract, you are also more than likely going to receive a pay raise as a result of being able to negotiate your own salary going in, and will be paid directly by the company rather than by the agency.

It’s also important to note that many agencies pay weekly, as opposed to the bi-weekly pay schedule of most full-time or permanent employees, so there may be some changes needed for how you handle monthly bills and expenses as a result so definitely keep that in mind.

Contracting is a great way to get your foot in the door at larger companies where it may be a little difficult to get in as a full-time employee without having a stellar reference or some other network advantage.


Do Contractors/Freelancers Get Benefits?

two colleagues meeting in collaborative workspace

Another important difference is benefits. While contractors and/or freelancers don’t get to enjoy health insurance or other perks offered to it’s full-time employees, they can still opt for benefits through the agency. They’re not always as good; however, if you’re relatively healthy and not in need of extensive health care outside of your regular check-ups, this may be a viable option for you.

Most if not all employment/temp agencies now offer basic health insurance packages including dental and vision plans, and sometimes even 401ks and life insurance options as well. Again, depending on your own personal situation and needs, this could be deal breaker for you.

Company Culture

people fist bumping at office

Company culture is at the core of why the business exists in the first place. Before even applying to a job or taking an interview, it’s important to do your research and know the company’s history to get a sense of their overall goals, vision and mission. This goes without saying. However, there are some things that can’t be revealed through Glassdoor reviews or a company’s corporate careers pages on their website.

Contracting or freelancing gives you direct access to a company’s culture and the team(s) you’ll be working with everyday first hand. Company culture is a major determining factor during your job search, and this experience can help you decide whether or not you even want to make the full-time commitment, if and when you’re presented with an opportunity to convert.

If it doesn’t work out or you decide the opportunity just isn’t right for you, you don’t have the same obligations to the company as a full-time employee does. It’s always nice to give proper notice to keep your own personal brand in tact; however, the beauty of being a contractor is that if you wish to simply quit on the spot because the experience is just that terrible, by all means, have at it.

Personally, I would still advise you to keep a good relationship with the recruiter(s) that helped place you there and be sure to keep an open line of communication with them regarding your experience at the client company. They may even be able to help place you somewhere better afterwards, provided the opportunity is available to them to share. After all, this is what they do for a living, so don’t burn any unnecessary bridges if you don’t have to.

Company culture is at the core of why the business exists in the first place. This is when knowing the company’s history and doing some research on their overall goals, vision and mission is essential.

That’s it for this week! Check back next week for Freelancing vs Full-Time for Creative Professionals: Pt. 2 where I’ll be discussing the following topics:

  • W-2s vs 1099s: How contractors and freelancers are paid (entrepreneurial freelancers vs employee contractors)

  • Key differences in how contractors and freelancers vs full-time employees can successfully gauge future growth opportunities
  • Tips on how to present yourself to employment agencies to inquire about opportunities and manage your working relationship(s) with current and future employment agency recruiters

For more info or a free in-depth consultation to help you prepare for your next career move, contact me via email at