Feeling trapped at work? Here's how to make the most of agency life

First of all, I'm not saying agencies in the creative industries are bad. But I know there are many people out there who work at them and aren't happy. I should know. I was one of them.

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Office politics, pressure from above, fighting for promotion, and often slogging for a salary that you know you could improve if only you worked for yourself.

Of course, many of you will be thriving in your agency jobs and loving every minute – this article isn't for you. It's for the people who, for whatever reason, are just not cut out for agency life, and are plotting their escape.

If you've had enough and want things to change, the following tips will help you live to fight another day, or perhaps even make you love your job again.

Change your mindset

Agency life in the creative industries can often be challenging, but it's worth it! You'll learn so much on the job, boost your skills and gain experience and wisdom from those above you. It's an excellent opportunity to get better at what you do.

It will also help you understand how the creative industries work – how to win clients, how to keep them happy, how to communicate effectively, how to bounce back when you've made a mistake, and how to tackle tricky people.

If you hate your job, change your perspective. Understand that you'll naturally have highs and lows, but the hard times will be worthwhile, as they'll be teaching you something invaluable.

Just manage stress levels by ensuring your work/life balance is solid, and you're taking steps every day to relax and unwind, eat healthily and enjoy regular exercise. By having a strong emotional foundation on which to stand on, you'll better handle anything that comes your way at work.

Make the most of it

With the above in mind, learn to appreciate what you've got and make the most of your job. Learn everything you can in the context of wanting to progress up the career ladder.

Ask to get involved at every level of agency life. For example, put yourself forward for pitches. Yes, they might be scary – but standing up in front of potential clients to convince them you're the right agency for the job is one of the best and quickest ways to progress. You'll learn how to sell yourself; boost your communication skills; become a better team player and enhance your overall confidence.

You should also volunteer to put together proposals, take on more responsibility and understand how budgets, resources, team management and leadership work. It will prep you for what lies ahead.

Talk to your boss

If you're still not happy, speak up! Many agencies will allow you to provide feedback, perhaps through regular appraisals. This gives you the chance to raise any concerns.

For instance, you might be unhappy working on a specific client account and may request to be moved onto something else. You might be a designer and want to learn new skills, such as web development. Whatever it is, figure out how you can improve things. One little tip – always try and think like your boss. As in, explain why your suggested change will also benefit the agency, i.e. boosted skills might lead to a broader range of agency services, for example.

Above all, remember this – finding new staff is difficult for any agency owner, especially in competitive creative hubs. Your boss will want you to be happy because they'll want you to stay for as long as possible. If you're fed up, try and find a solution first before doing anything drastic.

Try and last two years or more

If all of the above does nothing to improve things, try and wait it out, so you're at your job for at least two years. People who move around a lot end up with CVs that raise concerns with future bosses. If you've only spent six months here, or 12 months there – an employer might worry that you're flaky. And that won't do you any favours.

In which case, stay patient. Your time will come. You know you want to leave; you have to hatch an escape plan that works in your favour. For instance, could you push for promotion while you're still there, so you can then apply for higher-level jobs when you're ready to leave?

If you do opt for promotion, read the job adverts of the title you're hankering after, and ensure you're ticking all the requirements. The next time you have your appraisal, list all of the things you've achieved, offering prime examples that adhere to the higher position, and your boss won't be able to ignore that you're ready for the next step.

Who knows? After you've progressed, you might find that you want to stay.

Take a sabbatical

If you're already promoted, and you're kicking ass at your agency job, then unhappiness might stem from something you haven't yet had a chance to figure out. A holiday is what you need! Or, in this case, a sabbatical.

Many agencies will be open to the idea of you taking a little career break, and then returning to work one, three or six months later. Only you will know what your boss is like, to understand whether this is a viable option.

A chance to relax, unwind, and travel will allow you to figure out the next steps. (I quit my agency job and went freelance after a trip to Australia. I also came up with the idea for Creative Boom while backpacking around the Greek Islands.) Time away gives you the creative breathing space to chew over ideas and understand where your heart belongs.

Become a freelancer

If agency life isn't for you, then why not go it alone? Bear in mind; freelancing isn't a walk in the park. It's tough. And you'll probably work harder than you do in your agency job. Unless, of course, you've spotted a niche in your local market where demand is exceptionally high, and supply is low (software developers in Manchester, I'm talking to you!).

Although you'll often push yourself to your limits, and sometimes have to work seven days a week, you'll find that all that money is going into your back pocket. And, for the most part, freedom does exist for you. You're your own boss, and you – and only you – can determine what happens next.


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