A Freelancer’s Manifesto

Ask a roomful of creative professionals why they freelance and you’ll get a wide array of answers that boil down to one of two reasons:

  1. They were forced into it by the economy and freelancing beats starvation
  2. They couldn’t stand working for “the man” anymore and decided there had to be something better “out there”

Whatever the reason, more and more people are freelancing. Sure, we could have picked a more “respectable” career path that’s more or less recession-proof, but we’re a passionate group of people who are driven to do what we love—create. Working for ourselves allows creative freedom, flexibility, and the opportunity to meet some great people along the way.

Of course, while blazing your own path, you’re bound to hit a few speed bumps, so here are some of my observations from the trenches.

Just do it. Yes, I re-purposed that line from Nike, but it’s true. Freelancing is not for everyone and you get out of it what you put into it. I frequently say that I spend as much time marketing myself as I do actually doing the work. While I still want a full-time permanent position, freelancing is helping me gain the experience I need to get the job I want.

It could be worse. So many companies regularly demonstrate how little they value creativity. A few examples:

  • The company that’s looking for a bilingual copywriter with at least 8 years of agency experience and a portfolio that contains national brand experience. The pay is $20K. I wish I was making this up.
  • The advertising agency that has a CEO who micromanages the entire organization, and undermines the entire creative department by submarining their efforts and pitching his “vision” instead.
  • The Creative Director who is extremely quick to tell team members why their ideas suck and/or won’t work.

Is this a company you want to work for? Me neither.

Your ass is the one on the line. Once you start freelancing, you don’t have a Creative Director to answer to and to be the buffer between you and the client. Step up your game—do some truly amazing work and develop a solid relationship with your client.

Be selective. Tons of freelancers are taken advantage of. Clients claim that the check is in the mail, but they don’t actually pay. Writers are often faced with potential clients who need a ton of copy written, but they’re only willing to pay what amounts to pennies for each piece. Know who you’re working for – do they have a good reputation? Do they follow through on their promises? Is this a client with whom you would be proud to be associated?

But be Practical. Maintain your creative standards, but keep in mind that ideals don’t put food on the table or keep the electricity flowing. Sometimes, you have to take assignments you’re less than thrilled about.

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