Justin: Not when I was starting out. Once my projects got bigger, having an agent became very helpful. Especially with the paperwork and initial negotiations.
Being represented doesn’t guarantee you work. Being able to acquire clients and manage them without an agent at first will teach you so much about being a freelance illustrator. Having this experience yourself will let you value and understand exactly how much an agent can do for you.
Alison: I agree, for the first ten years of my career, I represented myself. It was a very steep learning curve, but an important lesson in learning first hand how the design process works, what expectations are in regards to communication with agencies, relationships with the client, quoting, negotiating and getting meetings to show your work.
If you are personable, outgoing and well-organised, it can be a really good idea to represent yourself at the start of your career. Looking back, I think I did quite a good job of getting around all the ad agencies and making as many connections and opportunities for myself as possible which led to my portfolio padding out nicely over time. It does take time though so don’t expect overnight miracles!
However, when admin started to take over, and limit the time I could spend working creatively, I decided it was time to get an agent. Having a good agent means that you are supported, not taken advantage of, and helped when it comes to deciding which projects are good to take on and which ones aren’t. An agent also takes care of the legal side of working for commercial clients which can be a great relief at times when a job isn’t running as smoothly as it should be.