Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Good and The Bad. There is no Ugly. by Roger Baldacci

I always wanted to freelance. But with a family and a mortgage, I was afraid to make the leap. Fortunately, I was pushed. And still the net appeared. Someone said full time is the illusion of security and freelance is the illusion of freedom. I think that’s about right. Because you’re never really secure full time and you’re never really free with freelance. That said, I love freelance and it would have to take a special offer to get me to become a full-time commuter again. Here’s what I like and don’t like about freelance.

The bad.
There are some great things and sucky things about freelance. So let’s get the sucky stuff out of the way so we can end on a high note. I was the former ECD at Arnold and ran one of their largest accounts—Carnival Cruise Lines. I had a bunch of people reporting to me. And throughout my career I’ve been in some pretty big boardrooms presenting to really important people with very long titles.

But as soon as I went freelance, I became a junior writer all over again. Even though I am considered a “heavy hitter,” I approach each job like an audition. Because it is. Look, nobody hits the ball out of the park every time. And when you are full time, it’s ok. There’s always another assignment to prove yourself. But when you are freelance and you don’t nail it, you may never get a call again. So the stress I had with managing people, clients and office politics has simply been swapped out for the stress of performing all over again. And when you’re as neurotic and hard on yourself as I am, it’s a considerable burden.

Don’t Run from Running Your Business.
I also hate the business aspect about it. We’re creative problem solvers, not business majors. If I were any good at business, I’d be in finance laughing my way to the bank. So I hate invoicing and time sheets. Time sheets are bad enough when you are full time. But when you are a “vendor” it’s often much more complicated. Many times agencies use vendors themselves to pay you. So you have to do paperwork for both entities.

Since you are running your own business, managing the work flow is something I don’t like. When to take jobs, stack jobs, or refuse jobs. I don’t like to refuse jobs because I’ve got the aforementioned mortgage and two teen girls. I passed on a job in California because I had a sure thing job working remotely. Turns out, the remote job dried up and I missed out on the Cali job. And now the agency probably hates me because it’s the second time I’ve turned them down for the same reason.

My advice is to have an invoice template and fire that invoice off as soon as the job is done. I also open what I call a “job ticket” for every job that lists the agency, project, agreed upon rate, start date/dates worked, who your partner is and any relevant contact info. That way you don’t have to go searching through your email inbox to find out details of the project.

The Dreaded Double Dipping.
Recruiters hate when you do this. But here’s why I do it unapologetically and most freelancers do it if they can. We’re running a business and we have bills to pay. Plus it’s how we all work in this business. Never in my over 30 years in advertising have I had the luxury on working on one thing at once. It’s more like five things with a new biz pitch thrown in on top. This is how the agencies work that hire us. None of the CDs you work under work on one thing either. And if they run one account, there are a million different projects going on all at once.

It just makes sense. The next time you take your dry cleaning to the cleaners, tell them you only want them to clean your clothes only and see what kind of reaction you get.

But be honest about double dipping. If I’m working on something and I get a call or an email about another job, I will tell them straight out, without disclosing any details of course, what I have going on. And if I think I can handle it, I’ll take it if they’ll allow it. I have had people pass on that, and I’ve had people give me the job. Depends on the situation. Keep everything above board and everyone wins. Sometimes they hire you for focus, because they have teams that are strapped with multiple projects so they want a team to focus on it. And that’s fine. My position is, whether I have another project or not, I’m going to give the project 125% because I have to. It’s my reputation on the line. It’s the food on the table.

Will the phone ever ring?
A freelancer friend of mine told me once that just when you think the phone is never going to ring again, it rings with a job. And I have found that to be true. But the uncertainty of the next job can be unsettling for most. It takes some getting used to. I have been fortunate enough to be able to work steady, and establish long term relationships, without having to “man the phones” and pimp myself constantly. The truth is, I should do more of it. But just keep the faith. And in the down times between jobs, get stuff done around the house or volunteer.

Work More, Produce Less
You don’t always get things produced as a freelancer. Many times you “make meetings” with your work. Or if you’re competing against internal teams, internal teams tend to win out. For some, this is reason enough to drive them back to full time. Not for me. I have been fortunate enough to produce a fair amount of work, even directed a series of spots and videos. But for me, doing a great job is what drives me, whether the work gets produced or not. There are a lot of things out of your control, so just try to control what you can control. Your work.

The Good.
Now let’s talk about why freelancing kicks ass. What I like best about freelancing is getting inside different agency cultures, meeting great new people (and old friends), doing your job, then getting out. You are a mercenary. A hired sniper. Kill it, then leave. I like not getting involved in office politics or getting caught up on all the account drama. There have been times when I would present work to the CDs at 7PM, then leave to go drink at the hotel bar while they had rounds of meetings left in the evening with account folks and planners. I don’t miss that.

Manager of One.
I don’t miss the stress of managing people. In my previous life I would sit in “usability” meetings where I was told the percentages of FTEs (Full time employees) being utilized on my accounts. In most cases I had percentages of employees and was told that they were spending too much time on rounds of work and that the agency wasn’t being profitable. So I should just accept the first round of crap ideas so we can be profitable? It was enough to make my ears and eyes bleed. I was also told the amount I could give for raises and it was never enough for those under me. Everyone thinks they are better than they really are (including me) and deserve more so invariably, even giving a good review left many under me unhappy. So the stress and paperwork of managing others is gone.

Now I just manage myself. Which is tough enough on its own, trust me.

What’s Important in Life.
We say it all the time. Family. Yet I can’t tell you how many personal family milestones I have missed because of work. I don’t want to get into them because I will start sobbing. I have cancelled vacations. My family has gone on vacation without me so I could run a new business pitch we didn’t get. I have worked through glorious sunny weekends to get work ready for a client who was going on vacation.

My oldest daughter does track and swimming. My younger daughter does cheerleading. And thanks to freelancing, I have been there for most of their events. I am there to drive them to school and pick them up. I am part of their lives now, at the most important time of their lives and I wouldn’t pass that up for anything. My mother is battling cancer and I have been able to be around for her, to drive her to chemo appointments, etc.

The Big Closing Paragraph
Look, freelancing isn’t for everyone. I thought I would miss the “rush” of being around an agency culture every day. But I don’t. And I get it in small doses when I am inserted into various agencies, then blissfully walk away. There are trade offs to anything you do. The best advice I could give to people who are considering freelance or forced into it, is to just be positive and do your best. Have the best intentions. Be upfront and honest with people. Over deliver. And treat every job like it’s your last. They say in advertising “you’re only as good as your last ad.”  And never is that more true or meaningful than with freelance.

Here is some of my work:

Photo by Roger Baldacci.

To see the rest, visit

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