Resources & Presentations 
How to Build a Subcontractor Partnership With an Agency


Three people holding a discussion at a whiteboard

BrandExtract's Chairman, Jonathan Fisher, offers his advice for building a subcontractor relationship with a branding, marketing or advertising agency in order to earn more freelance work. Whether you're a designer, writer, photographer or other special services provider, learn how to get noticed, get hired and increase the amount of work from your agency clients once you're in the door.

Transcript of "Get More Work: How to Build a Partnership With an Agency"

Get More Work Lessons on building a subcontractor partnership with an agency
Your Goal: Get More Subcontractor Work from an Agency

The Subcontractor/Agency Relationship

  • Marketing agencies can be great partners for subcontractors due to the large volume of work they handle
  • Third party partners might include: Photographers & videographers, Technical writers, Software, application or web developers, Illustrators, Film and sound editors, Print shops and more 
  • However, outsourcing is also a risk for agencies
  • Freelancers are often considered “unknowns” in the process
  • Agencies need assurance of your: Good reputation, High quality of work, Reliability 

So how do you get noticed and earn that first opportunity?
And once you’re hired, how can you increase the amount of work they send your way?

Step One: Gain Recognition with a Potential Client

Prepare yourself for success

  • Perfect your value proposition - why should they hire you?
  • Practice reverse referral marketing - Update your digital presence across LinkedIn, Facebook, networking groups, your online portfolio, etc.
  • Build relationships in the industry - Join professional associations and attend events (seminars, happy hours, lunch and learns, etc.) 

Be pro-active

  • Research their vendor introduction and approval process
  • Ask what conferences and industry events they attend
  • Follow and comment on the agency’s social updates to stay top of mind
  • Demonstrate genuine interest and insight - i.e. ask questions during conference Q&As
  • Share relevant knowledge, preliminary reports, trend studies 
Step Two: Understand the Mindset and Decision Criteria of the Organization

Understand the Organization

  • Do you “really” understand what they need or want?
  • Find out who they are currently using and why
  • Do you know if they are open to new or different?
  • Ask questions about how the organization prefers to work
  • Stay current on their news releases and social updates 
  • Do you know how they are weighing their decision criteria?
  • Ask what skills and qualities are considered most important when hiring subcontractors
  • Learn how they prefer to pay
  • Find out if they are centralized in their purchasing 
Step Three: Get Hired

Do Your Homework

  • Know which person you want to ask for when you call
  • Review bios on the company website to get a sense for who to contact
  • Note: It’s okay to reach out to a few people at the agency, such as the Creative Director and a Project Manager, as long as you are up front and not trying to work around one or the other 
  • Review the agency’s existing work - Which clients have they have been working with? What styles of work do they tend to choose?
  • If you are contacting the agency, you should already be confident that your work will be a great fit and be able to articulate why 

Share your portfolio

  • The quality of the work needs to be a good fit for the types of clients that the agency works with
  • Be prepared to give current examples of relevant work
  • Example: If you did the information architecture for a website, invite your potential client to explore the live site

Specialty Services

  • If you provide specialty/niche services, recognize that the agency may not need your work right away
  • You can still send occasional samples or links to your portfolio when you add new, exciting work
  • Make it easy for them to contact you when an opportunity arises 

Get Hired - Connections

  • Leverage your connections: relationships are everything
  • We source most of our 3rd party partners through our existing network
  • We call people we trust and ask if they know anyone good for what we are looking for
  • Every job contributes to your credibility - your past clients may help refer future work 
  • If you don’t have an established relationship with the agency, use LinkedIn to determine if and how you are connected to the decision makers
  • If you have a mutual contact who can recommend you, see if they are willing to make an introduction 


  • Be too aggressive
  • Don’t set meetings without consulting with the client about their availability
  • Example: We have received emails like: “I will be in your neighborhood tomorrow. I will stop by at 7am.”
  • If you don’t have a personal relationship with your contact, this can come across as pushy, demanding or inconvenient at best
  • Don't rely on lists for information
  • Lists may be outdated, inaccurate or not applicable to what you’re offering
  • Always do your own research about the best person to contact 
Step Four: Increase Work Once You’re In the Door

Increase Amount of Work

  • Ask directly
  • Share what you are doing for other clients and how it could apply
  • Avoid termination language in your contract or establish a multi-year agreement
  • Position yourself as a “supersub” - offer exclusivity or volume discounts
  • Establish momentum programs (if I, will you then)
  • Get in front of the client: set up a performance review or project post- mortem discussion 
  • Act as a partner and collaborator
  • We hire our 3rd party partners for their expertise: it’s the best way to keep us coming back to you
  • Ask questions to understand the brand or project we are working on
  • You have resources, knowledge and skills we may not even be aware of: Tell us what you have vs. just giving us what we ask for 
  • Provide value adds - offer training or education workshops, attend conferences and share takeaways, etc.
  • Make helpful introductions if they are looking for someone outside your space
  • Participate in a shared philanthropy effort: If your client agency is offering pro-bono services to a worthy organization, ask how to get involved as an in-kind sponsor
  • Diversify your contacts on LinkedIn: For example, if you normally reach out to Senior Designers at agencies, try connecting with a Project Manager 
  • Help promote your client: The benefits are mutual: you get to showcase work and your client gains coverage. Be sure to know your client’s policies on sharing specifics about your role in the work or how they position subcontractor partnerships

Nurture the long-term relationship

  • We like our subcontractors to treat us like we treat our clients
  • Make the effort: come for in-person visits to review recently completed work
  • Work around our timelines and schedules as we are also accountable to our clients

Stay connected

  • Example: One photographer knows we have an employee happy hour in the office each Friday after work. When he completes an interesting project, such as a new photography book, he asks if he can bring it over with a bottle of wine and share it with us.
  • This works to stay connected because he’s making an effort to fit with our culture
  • Plus, we get to see his more conceptual work, so we can really see how he thinks 

Build trust. Get work. It’s all about the relationship.