Working for an agency can boost your freelance earnings - as long as it also works for you. We look at how to get the best service
1 Find the right agency
"Look for people who specialise in your field," says Nigel Coleman, a recruitment consultant for agency Judd Farris. "Look for ads in trade magazines and use websites, or just call and ask for the person who deals with temp work in your sector. I'd recommend picking two or three agencies."
2 Keep your CV up to date
"I like to see specific experience of projects referred to with details of how big they were," says Stephanie Coombs, principal consultant at Hays Montrose's Brighton office. "It should say what the value of each contract was, because there's a difference in managing a site for a project worth £4000 and one that's worth £4m. If there are a lot, pick three that give a good indication of the work you've done. But be honest: there's no point telling your agency you've been a manager if you haven't, because you'll be found out.
"Sending regular updates to your CV is also of help, and ensures the CV is primed and ready to go whenever you need a job. It need only be a paragraph now and again."
3 Meet your agent
"We can act as a representative for you much better if we know you as a person rather than just deal with your CV," says Coleman. "Go in for a face-to-face meeting with the person who's going to be representing you and talk about what you want to do, and maybe even the companies you want to approach."
4 Put a price on yourself
"It's important to talk about money right up front," says Coleman. "State an ideal rate but also a minimum rate. Be honest and realistic so that you don't end up going to an interview for a job that doesn't pay what you want."
The best way to improve your rate of pay, says Coombs, is to do a good job. After all, it's in the agency's interest that clients are pleased and you should be rewarded for that.
"If they've done a good job for me and I've got a bit more money from the client because of it, then I'll make sure it's passed on to the temp," says Coombs. "I'll pay the people that do a good job so they stay with me, because when clients come back to me they quite often ask for the same guys again."
On the other hand, she warns that being too greedy is in nobody's interests. "It's no good saying they want more money if it's going to lose us both the contract," she explains.
5 Keep in contact
"We don't get much time to fill each job - it's the person who is uppermost in your mind when the job comes in that you're going to ring," says Coleman. "If you last spoke to someone two weeks ago, they won't be at the front of your mind when the client phones."
But he warns that there is a fine line between communicating and being annoying. "You don't need to ring every day - some people do that and it can get kind of scary. Once a week is fine."
Coombs agrees: "If I'm spending all day talking to temps, I'm not making any calls to clients on their behalf."
6 Keep the agent informed
If you do say no to a job you're offered, tell the consultant why you turned it down, to avoid wasting their time and yours. "Be honest about why you said no," says Coleman, "so that they don't put you up for another similar role."
7 Do a good job
This will get you a reputation as someone the agency wants to send into a client's company, says Coombs. "Keep the client happy. Be there on time and be professional. If the contract's not right in some way, let your agency know but be patient until they can replace you with someone else. Don't just walk off site in a huff.
"When I'm choosing people to put forward for a job, I go on the track record that they have built up. We get a reference from every job and talk to clients on a weekly basis."