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Ask Lawrence: What is the Best Way to Work Across Multiple Recruitment Agencies as a Freelancer?

18 Aug 18:00 By Lawrence Akers

Lawrence Akers Freelancer Recruitment Agencies

When you step into the world of freelance, you will want to consider what different revenue streams you can invest your energy into and build a relationship with. 

Your revenue earning options

There will be some clients that you find yourself and build a direct relationship with, which is great because it means you can charge your full rate - although it also means additional administrative work for you, especially if you, unfortunately, pick up a client who isn’t keen to pay you within your payment terms.  Trust me, I’ve heard many horror stories from freelance creatives who have spent weeks or even months with a client only to find that it is almost impossible to get payment out of them.  Nothing kills a small business faster than cash flow difficulties.

The other option is, of course, to build relationships with recruitment agencies. I’ve personally always felt it was wise for a freelance creative to build a professional relationship with 2-3 recruitment agencies. This is simply down to the fact that most recruitment agencies are going to have clients who are extremely loyal to them, and you wouldn’t want to miss out offering your skills to an organisation simply because you felt it was easier to stick with solely one recruitment agency.   

Additionally, as with any job interview, when you register with a recruitment agency, they’re really not in a position to absolutely promise you any work. Of course, they’re certainly going to do their best to find work for you, however, it is always going to come down to what opportunities exist and the strength of the relationships that they have with their clients.  The registration is really the opportunity for them to gain some insight into what skills you have to offer and to consider what clients they’re working with your skills and experience might be a match for.  In some cases, it might be many, and in other cases, it might be none. Without that opportunity to meet and explore first though, they’ll not be in a position to tell.  It’s also a great opportunity for you to ask questions around the kinds of clients they work with and the kinds of jobs that they have coming through to determine if you’re a right fit for them too.

Ultimately, if you register with around three recruitment agencies, you’re increasing your chance of a good flow of work coming through depending on the skill set that you offer.

The difficulties with working across multiple agencies

This is how the majority of recruitment agencies work.

Our clients will come to us to tap into the pool of freelancers that we have in order to save them having to go in search of the talent that they need.

Likewise, candidates will come to us in the hope that they will get a foot in the door with the clients that we have a relationship with.

It’s these relationships that allow recruitment agencies to keep their doors open.  So how does a recruitment agency protect these relationships?

Prior to presenting you to any of their clients, a recruitment agency should ask you for their permission to represent you to that client. What this means is that they’re going to introduce you to one of their clients and they will manage that relationship for a set period of time to follow; generally 12 months, but in some cases, it may be less. This simply means that if the client wishes to engage that creative in any way, it needs to go through one of the recruitment agencies services.

There are exceptions to this though; if the freelancer has approached that client directly, or has given permission to another recruitment agency to represent them, then they will be unable to do that. This is only fair; if they’ve done the work to build a relationship directly or if a prior agency has an overlapping relationship, then they have every right to ‘own’ that relationship for a period of time.

This is where difficulties can crop up though.

Consider this; what if you gave your permission to an agency and didn’t hear anything back only to hear from another agency a few months later asking if you would like to go to that client?  You won’t be able to accept that invitation as you have already given permission elsewhere.  You might say, ‘so what, I’ll go with the new opportunity’ however that is incredibly risky because should the prior agency find out, they would be completely within their rights to invoice the client, which won’t look too good for either of you, as well as burning your bridge with them. You would be wise to respect the agreements you’ve signed and let that agency know that you’re unable to accept as permission has been given elsewhere.

I’ve had some freelancers share their frustration with me when they discover that they’re unable to be represented due to giving permission elsewhere however people need to accept that these situations are going to happen.  It is a risk vs reward situation. When you’re presented to a client, you may not be right for the opportunity that was on offer at that time, however, it is these agreements that help to ensure you may be considered for opportunities further down the track that more be more suited. It does mean that you’re locked out of working with any other agencies for that client though during that agreed time period.

In short, there are always going to be real pros and cons worth considering when you’re being asked for permission to represent to a client.

How do you minimise this?

When you’re being asked for permission to represent, explore with your consultant about the opportunity.  Is it a real job?  How many other people are being presented forward for it?  What kind of relationship do they have with the client?  How often do they get work from them and what kind of roles have they had come through recently?  Explore, ask questions and use your intuition to determine if it feels right.

If you agree and give your permission, keep track of who has represented you where and for how long.  There is nothing more embarrassing than giving your permission to an agency only to discover that you’ve actually given permission to another agency six months earlier and had forgotten. Again, it just doesn’t look good when that happens and can cause some serious headaches for all parties involved.

If a recruitment agency presents you with a long list of clients and you offer permission, ensure you follow up with them about where the presentation is at. I’ve had some freelancers in the past decide only to work with one recruitment agency because they’ve been convinced by that agency that this is the ‘best way forward’. Really?  So, how soon should you expect work from them? What happens if you don’t get anything from them? Who do you get mad at? The recruitment consultant that convinced you of that or the client who wasn’t interested in your details that you gave permission for? I’ve actually had people turn down work from me because they ‘only want to work with one agency’. Is this really the best way to further your professional career and earn an income?

While it is a reoccurring theme in my blogs, it is important to stress once again that we are all our own brands. We are all responsible for how we are perceived professionally.  We are all responsible for the experience people feel when they engage with us. We are all capable of doing business with organisations in a considered, ethical and friendly manner.  Part of that also means being across all of the terms and conditions we agree to when we work with various organisations.  In my experience, there are actually very few recruitment agencies here in Melbourne within our space that would be seen as ‘cowboys’, and the vast majority are respectful of the agreements they make with the candidates who work across multiple agencies. They need to be because stuffing that up is only going to resort in freelancers talking to each other and sharing their negative experiences, and I’ve had quite a few candidates tell me theirs. Word does, and will, get around. 

By everyone working respectfully, you can ensure a successful freelancer lifestyle benefiting from the services of multiple agencies.

Lawrence Akers
Digital Recruitment Consultant - Creative Recruiters
m: 0421 660 395

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