I don’t freelance because I’m an asshole.
Here’s why I really do it, Jon Dietrich.
I was psyched to read a story with this for a headline: The Age of the Creative Asshole is Over. Because that’s something I wholeheartedly believe. And I loved every word. Right up until the last sentence: “Now collaborators win. And assholes? Well, assholes freelance.”
While I appreciate the author edit: [Edit: There are many talented, non-asshole freelancers. I rely on them daily. They just have more company now.] I figured I’d tell Jon and the rest of the world why we, or at least I, really freelance. It’s not because I’m a non-collaborating asshole. Actually, the opposite is true.
- We don’t want to work with asshole creatives.
When you’re not an asshole, you don’t particularly want to work with one. Like Jon, I’ve seen my fair share of creatives who think that acting pretty much any way they want is their right, that unwillingness and inability to collaborate are “quirky,” and even the hallmarks of a good creative, that great work is defined as much (or more) by its cool factor as its potential to get results. Working on my own ensures that I don’t work with those creatives. I choose to care about results. I choose to be collaborative. And I choose to work with people who think the same way. I never have to worry that tomorrow the door will open, and in will walk someone who feels threatened, who doesn’t want to share information, who only wants to work on ideas s/he originated, and who doesn’t know how to put the client or the business first.
2. We don’t feel good about agency overhead.
When clients got my work through an agency, they paid for the Boston offices, Friday beer parties, and executive salaries. I was limited in how much time I could put to a project because the person who negotiated the engagement needed to make his numbers. And often was unaware of the time involved in strategically-backed, thoughtful creative work. When a client gets me as a freelancer, they pay only for my most informed, efficient, time spent. Rounded down not up.
3. We’re entrepreneurial.
When you work at some of the most innovative, entrepreneurial businesses around, it’s only natural to get that entrepreneurial bug. I look at the leaders I’ve been lucky enough to work with as an in-house creative, and I can’t help feeling “I want to build something!” What does that do for clients? It puts us in the same boat. I understand the urgency of building their business, because I’m building my own. I understand why every client touch matters. It matters to me too. I understand why they’re perfectionists. I’m a perfectionist, because my own reputation is on the line and my business is built, like theirs, on referrals and repeat customers and goodwill. There’s something at stake for me, personally, with every job I do. And it shows.
4. We don’t want our good ideas watered down.
At an agency, my ideas are reviewed by a creative partner, account person, and depending on how the business came in, sometimes senior-level executives who have minimally or not at all touched the business. As a freelancer, I send my best ideas out in their purest form, and collaborate with the client to make them better.
5. We don’t want to write reviews. Or go to meetings all day.
Seriously. I’ve spent an entire day, eight hours, writing reviews. And filling out time sheets. And running from meeting to meeting. As a freelancer I spend more time having ideas, working, and being in the world.
6. We don’t want to pull wasteful all nighters pitching business we often don’t get.
Pitching business as a freelancer typically looks like having coffee with a friend. A proposal is short, and based on what I heard first hand from the client and what I know I can do for them. At an agency, I’ve been in pitches that involved internal teams of 20, all nighters, and squabbling about what work to show. Pitches we often lost.
7. We like to be busy. And in control of our busy-ness.
An agency can go through deep dry spells. Triggered even by the departure of one client or a turn in the economy. As a freelancer, a turn in the economy supports my business. (See, “bloated overhead,” above.) If I want to get more work, I reach out to people whose businesses I admire. I don’t have to pre-qualify them by their billings or wait for an RFP.
On the negative side, no one pays for my vacations. But on the positive side, when you work with fewer assholes, you need fewer vacations.
[Edit: There are some great, forward-thinking, informed agencies out there. I’ve been lucky enough to freelance for some of them.]