Monday, September 08, 2008

Recharging your batteries.

It was an interesting summer.
As many of you that read my blog are aware, it’s been a while since I posted.
This summer, work slowed down. As an independent businessman, this year was much different than last. I have heard from several in different parts of the industry (and other industries) saying they were extremely quiet. Right down the line…printers, staffing companies, photographers, etc. That ugly "recession" word is being thrown around.
Many (including myself) spent the summer hustling to bring in some new work or to find the next gig.

I have always compared this to going fishing.
It doesn’t matter if you are looking to break into this industry or looking for that next great project - it’s all the same. You have to keep casting out lines. Right now, you may have 10 lines in the water and a few fish following. But they may not be biting. Maybe one will bite, hopefully all 10, all you can do is keep throwing out more lines and hope for a strike.
Nothing beats 10 lines getting hit at once, but as this year moves along, the fish seem to be in a holding pattern. They are all waiting. Some fishermen will give up, others will probably starve.

It’s stressful to be in this type of situation. You can make phone calls, you can try as hard as you like, pitch as hard as you can, in the end, there’s only so much you can do.
As the summer went on, my stress started to grow.

Then it hit me. I walked away from a lucrative position because I hated the stress that went with it. Thankfully, I’m paying my bills. I have food on the table and a roof over my head. Why am I trying so hard when summer quickly comes and goes? Many aren’t even at their desks anyway. These are the months when people take vacation.
I switched my thinking. I’m not making progress. I’m simply wasting time.

There’s way more to life than the work that you do. There’s more to life that trying to win all the awards in the world. There’s more to life than waiting by the phone or watching your email. In the end, did I want the summer of 2008 to fly by, and I missed it because I was worried about socking more money into a retirement plan so I can hopefully live long enough to use it?

Screw that!

I have learned once again this summer to simply go with the flow.
You make hay when the sun shines. When it’s slow, you recharge your batteries.

I spent the entire month of August deep in the woods, far away from work.
I hardly watched TV, I made very few telephone calls, I didn’t even shave.
Now I’m home.
Alive and stress free.

I’m going to start casting.

I hope you had a great summer. Tight lines everyone.

Until next time, keep dreaming.

PORTFOLIO NIGHT 6 - The view from the other side.

On Thursday night, I had the privilege of attending Portfolio Night 6 in Toronto as a VIP/guest. To say I enjoyed it would be an understatement. I hung out at the bar with the sponsor representatives and spoke with several young Hopefuls (Students? Wannabes? what do you call people hoping to get in, but aren’t actually IN the business? Let’s go with “hopefuls”) and CDs that passed our way. In the last period, I got thrown in to review some books and chose to do it at the bar rather than sit at one of the tables. I found that this made for a relaxed atmosphere and the Hopefuls opened up easily and weren’t as nervous. Okay, the truth is I had more room and didn’t want to spill my scotch on their books.

I noticed several things during the evening and there were a few memorable moments that I will now share with you.

I was blown away by the number of laptops in the room. When I got into this industry, it was renderings in your book. Marker comps have been replaced with electronic slideshow presentations. This is not a bad thing, I simply found it interesting as hell. I began trying to envision what would be in 20 years.

I noticed there were a large mix of ages in the room. There were 22 year olds, there were 30-somethings. There was no “look” or stereotype of somebody trying to enter the business today.

One of the Hopefuls came over and I asked how it went? She replied “he was mean”. I asked who she saw? Blank expression. She couldn’t tell me. I asked who she saw for the last two reviews? She couldn’t tell me. I found this unbelievable. I would have not only made sure I got their business card, I would have also had the name of their assistant and the best time to call them in their office to set up another review once I had a chance to revise my book. But that’s just me.

Humber copywriting students were the most outgoing and friendly. They were also the ones that stuck around and had (drinking) CDs looking at their books even after it ended and the majority had left the building. I even got an email from one of them yesterday thanking me for looking at her book. Well done (and much appreciated).

At one point I was speaking to a CD that has worked around the world. He told me that in all his travels, Toronto was the hardest city to break into. Where he was offered 4/5 jobs immediately in the United States, it took him 8 months to land a gig once he landed in Toronto and it was a very bumpy road to do so.

One CD informed me that many of the Hopefuls (when asked) mentioned that they wanted to work at one agency in particular. Call me strange but I would have worked at any agency that gave me the chance that evening. Every table held a CD that was worth working for.

Another CD was quite peeved about something he witnessed. He told me he overheard a few Hopefuls waiting their turns (downstairs) telling each other who to see and who not to see. Here’s a bit of advice guys, every person in the room is there for a reason…even a junior who has been in the business for 6 months. They are in the industry. You aren’t. They obviously know what it takes to get in and you can learn something from them.
I had one of the biggest names (at one of the best shops) in Canada come over and inform me that if I happen to see anybody with potential, to make sure I send them their way because they are looking. See that? Even the guy hanging at the bar that evening can help start your career. We all know each other. Next time, if there is a next time, be open minded.

It ended quickly. Once it was over, 90% left the premises like rats fleeing a sinking ship.
My guess is that it was a long day for CDs that came directly from work etc.
There were several there I would have loved to have spoken to (ex-partners, CDs I’ve worked for) but didn’t get the chance.
We stuck around for a bit, I got kidnapped and taken to another club for some more drinks, getting home at 2am.

On another note, two people during the event/evening (including the bartender) approached to tell me I look exactly like the lead singer from “Tool”. I have in fact been told this before. On at least 8 different occasions, I have been asked for my autograph from adoring female fans thinking I am Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor on “Smallville”). After posting this entry, I will have to go onto Google images to see the resemblance for myself.

Congratulations to everyone that made this happen. I can only imagine what goes into making this event a reality every year and you really should pat yourselves on the back.
I will never forget being invited to the first Portfolio Night (the one where I got the date wrong and missed it) so I was quite humbled to be invited again (and especially, asked to review books). Thank you again. Needless to say, I’ll wear the TShirt proudly.

Until next time, keep dreaming.

Wearing all the hats.

It’s been a while since I have written an entry.
When you freelance, not being busy means that you have to REALLY keep busy.
Going into my second year working on my own full-time, I have learned that this way of working in the business has many ups and downs. Truthfully, it really isn’t for everybody.
If you aren’t one to pick up the phone, or work extremely hard at marketing yourself (and convincing people to use your services), your chance of success is extremely limited.

I love being really swamped with work. Creatively speaking that is.
The secret to freelancing is to constantly have projects lined up.
I have learned not to wait for projects to come in and I have no choice but to go out and get them.
This involves a load of prep work that usually (being a creative leaving an agency environment) I have never experienced before.
For a while, I had nothing coming in. I had a few little projects keeping me busy but the horizon was empty. I spent 3 long months compiling mailing lists, putting together my new website, making calls, going to networking events etc.
Thankfully, a valuable inside source told me that agencies were trimming down their creative departments this year so I concentrated all my efforts for a few weeks towards calling and getting in touch with agencies.
This paid off. In February, I worked for 3 different ad agencies. 2 as an Art Director and one as a Copywriter. I have learned over the years that freelancing for agencies is great for two reasons. One, they have the workload and two, I don’t have to quote them on a price. They typically tell me what I will be paid for the project. The downside to working for agencies as a freelancer is that you will be paid around 60 days later and often, you will have to place a phone call to enquire about the status of your paycheque. You also can't promote the work as yours (most of the time) and getting copies for your portfolio is not easy (see my blog entry "The Ghost" for more on this).

Anyway, 3 months of business development (which I have absolutely hated) is finally paying off. I have several future projects lined up, agencies using me as well, but there are still some weeks that are empty. If you need that steady paycheque every two weeks, or you don’t want to spend 3 days on the phone or answering emails and writing proposals, this side of the business is definitely not for you.

Yesterday, I learned that I won a gold and a silver trophy in the 2008 Summit International Creative awards. I’m thrilled.
However, as I have just pointed out, there is nobody besides myself to do all the work that this now involves. I have pushed all my creative projects aside for the next day or two and will now spend my time writing press releases for the industry publications, updating my website's “latest news”, my resume (for agencies), including the win on all of my company literature, creating an email blast to send out and then, erasing all the outdated email addresses that bounce back to me. Not fun stuff. But necessary if I wish to make the most of it.
Meanwhile, I have a bunch of ideas bouncing around for a project I’m working on that I would love to put on paper. It will have to wait. When you wear all the hats, being creative ends up becoming only a portion of the weekly schedule. Something I am learning is the reality of being a freelancer.

Until next time. Keep dreaming.

Working for friends. Part 2.

My last post “Working for friends can lead to battle” dealt with the hazard of working for friends and family.
I stressed that you should always get a contract no matter whom it is you will be dealing with.

There is something however that I did not touch upon, and that is before sending out that written proposal, you should question your client to the best of your ability, know their exact budget, and understand what they expect from you.

In the aftermath of my last post, it turns out that no matter what I quoted my friend to create his project, it would have been deemed too expensive.
As I mentioned, my quote was 15% of what I normally charge as a favour to the company. Far less than industry standard. This was for concepts and production of 2 direct mail postcards which would be sent to households across the city.

I now understand why my friend went ballistic over my quote.
The creative "professional" they have hired to do the project (instead of me) is charging them…

Are you ready for this?

$200.

$200 from concept to completion. A direct mail piece for a company that has a service which probably earns 5 times that amount in commission off one single customer.

I am speechless.

I was told that my higher quote ruined my credibility.
I’m wondering what kind of credibility you have when you charge $200 for a project of this nature?
The truth is, if this is what your potential client is looking for, then should you even bother from the very beginning?

Let’s now look at this in another way…

You buy a house and decide to paint the entire interior.
One qualified painter quotes you $2,000 for the job.
Another quotes you $100.
Who are you going with?
Would you really trust the guy willing to do the job for $100?
It seems some do.

As Red Adair so eloquently put it..."If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur".

In cases like these, I find it’s better NOT to quote based on the information you receive. It saves you the headaches. Also, you have a choice. You can be known as "expensive but worth it" or "the cheap guy".
Simply chuckle to yourself, say no thank you to the project and walk away. Which is a whole lot easier to do when it's not a family member or close friend.

An aquaintance of mine (who is a very successful designer) wrote me and said “you give discounts to family and friends? You should charge double for pain and suffering”.

Wise words. I will forever keep them in mind.

Until next time. Keep Dreaming.

Working for friends can lead to battle.

As a creative person, you will get asked time and time again to create something for friends and close family members. Somebody opens a business and they need a logo, maybe a business card, a small space ad etc.
Of course, they will immediately call you.

Such was my case recently when a close friend joined a new company.
I was brought in to meet the company owner and they decided they wanted me to produce a direct mail campaign.
I asked their budget and they really had no ideas. So, it was decided that I would simply produce some concepts and we'd take care of it when the time came.

This was a HUGE mistake.

I created concepts for the piece over the course of a week and they absolutely loved it.
They would like to run not one, but two of the ideas.
They asked what they owed me and I gave them my price.
It was 15% of what I would normally charge for such a project (and have in the past).
15%.
They went ballistic.

You would think that one of your closest friends would accept your price as fair. That they would know you enough not to think that you were trying to rip them off with your fees.

My friend questioned me “what do you think you are, an ad agency?”
“You only worked a few days on this”

My head started to boil.

Just so I get this straight, if I take all of my work related equipment, my computer etc., and move it from my home office into some fancy office space downtown with a big view of the lake, hire an account person and a secretary, then I can legitimately start to charge gobs of money? How does this change the quality of the work I produced? Besides, my full fee is only a fraction of what they would pay if they actually went through an ad agency, with me hired on as an art director creating the work.

The “it only took you a few days” is the number one thing that drives me insane in this business,
How many years of experience does one need in order to produce something in a few days that would take a less experienced creative over 2 weeks? Clients always ask why I don’t charge for projects by the hour? It’s simple. If I work twice as fast as a junior, should I make less money?
I like to bring up a story that I love (and I tell often) in regards to this matter and it goes like this…

A man and his child are walking through the park one day and they spot Picasso sketching a picture. The man taps Picasso on the shoulder and asks if he would mind sketching his daughter. Picasso agrees and produces a perfect likeness of the girl in a few minutes.
The man, overjoyed, asks Picasso how much he would like for the sketch?
Picasso replies “$25,000”.
The man (angrily) “But that only took you a few minutes”.
Picasso – “no sir, that took me a lifetime.”

We, as ad creatives and designers, own computer equipment worth thousands of dollars, we have software that costs thousands of dollars, we have many years of experience, some of us at large shops working on recognized brands, and forgetting all of this, people seem to think we have magic buttons that say “make it pretty” and the work simply pops out.
With this in their minds, the conceptual direct marketing pieces I produced (that should increase their sales tremendously) should cost nothing more than a few hundred dollars.
Unfortunately, as they mentioned, there’s always somebody out there that would eagerly produce something for this price.
I told my buddy to go find them.
Upon further discussion, it turned out that he assumed since I was his close friend, I would swallow the entire bill anyway.

Here’s a lesson for you that I have written about before, and I (hypocritically, for the last time) did not listen to my own advice.
I don’t care what you are doing or for whom you are doing it, make sure you get the client to sign a proper proposal outlining EXACTLY what you will be giving them and for how much BEFORE you start putting pen to paper.
Be it your best friend, your aunt, even your sibling.
And save yourself the pain of watching close relationships come unglued thanks to a measly 15%.

The Movie Critic.

This week, I shoveled snow. When I say “this week” I mean literally…this entire week.
My city keeps getting hammered, and I've loved every second of it.

One of the reasons I enjoy working from home is because every day (at some point), I get out for an hour or two for some exercise and fresh air. Usually in the form of a long walk.
Rain, sleet, snow, heat and humidity, I don’t care. I dress for the weather.
To me, going outside to shovel snow for a few hours is better than going to a gym.
So, I worked out all week.

Now, you’re asking where this is going?

After 4 hours of fresh air and strenuous exercise one day, I didn’t really feel like doing much afterwards. I decided it was a perfect night to laze with a movie.
I walked out to my local video store and asked the kid (when I say kid, I mean 23 years old) behind the counter to suggest something.

Being in advertising, I pay attention to (a movie’s) art direction. I enjoy great writing and brilliant cinematography. If it gets me thinking, I’m all for it. I don’t want fluff or something adapted from a crappy TV show. I’m not looking for a movie most of the time, I’m looking for a film.

Back to the kid behind the counter.
His suggestion sucked large.
Yes, “The Matrix” was awesome. “Fight Club” is in my top 5.
But that 23 year old behind the counter may not relate to you…the artsy ad creative.
He’s generally not going to know about something a little bit older, that has great art direction, Oscar worthy performances, one of the first “Sixth Sense” style endings and metaphors galore throughout. A movie that will stick in your head as you ponder it. One that you’ll have to watch over and over again just to catch things you missed the first 4 or 5 times around.

Because of this, I take it upon myself to suggest such a movie to you.

Fellow deep thinkers…
On your next movie night, rent the 1990 film “Jacob’s Ladder” starring (academy award winner) Tim Robbins.

Pay attention, and I mean to EVERYTHING.
Every detail. Every sentence. The wallpaper.
Even the name.

Until next time, keep dreaming.

The Ghost.

It’s 4:00pm on a Friday.

My call-display indicates that the incoming call is from an ad agency I’ve been really pushing to work with. I strap on my phone’s headset and hit the talk button. I’m happy as hell they are calling and I think I can guess why.
Their question is immediate.
“Hi, we were wondering if you are available over the weekend for a quick turnaround project?”
Of course, as a freelancer, I am available for every project. As the saying goes, “make hay when the sun shines”.
The agency sells me on how “quick and simple” the weekend project is. Once I agree and start finding out the details, I realize that I just sold my entire weekend and any plans I had are now changed or most likely cancelled.

This is typically not a problem. Weekdays, weekends, it’s all the same to me. Unless I have some solid plans, I’ll simply take Monday and Tuesday (once the work is done) to do whatever I was planning to do over the weekend. My days of the week are generally blurred.

What I least enjoy about this side of the business is the fact that I work hard but once the project is turned over to the agency, I no longer have anything to do with it.
I equate this to delivering a beautiful baby and then handing it over to some other parents that will nurture it and watch it grow.
Unless I am getting paid to take the project all the way to final production, the agency will usually see my ideas through to completion and in the end, the work will get promoted as theirs. It’s like I was never there.

After this week, I will have completed several projects for 3 different ad agencies this year (2 as an art director and one as a copywriter) and besides the paychecks (and possibly a future mention on my website’s client list), I will have absolutely nothing in my hands to show for it.

Last week I was contacted by a CD who asked why I haven’t put some new work on my website. I had some explaining to do.

As a freelancer, I sometimes feel like I have a secret identity. Besides my viewable work, I also have the secret portfolio. The one that stays hidden unless its appearance is requested.

So, I continue skipping along the freelance path.
I’ll jump back out there with both feet tomorrow looking for a project that I can hopefully add to my website. And of course, this ghost will eagerly await the next Friday phone call.

Evolve or Die.

The holidays came and went and with it, a new year began. 2008 marked my freelance company’s rebirth. A time to clean shop. A time to explore new directions and forks in the road. Out with the old and in with the new.

Truthfully, I was never happy with my website. It was clean and displayed my work nicely but that’s about it. I created it myself after taking a 6-week introductory Dreamweaver course and it didn’t really project the company image that I wanted to convey. There are a zillion advertising agencies and design studios competing on the internet. When I pitch new clients, I want to stand out. The internet is exploding with possibilities and there are many opportunities out there if you know how to market yourself properly. I decided that 2008 is the year that I grab that bull by the horns and hold on tight.

First, I decided on a complete make-over and spent over two months working on my new website. I proudly launched it last week. The question that remained is how to pitch it? How can I get word out that I have a new site and draw attention to it? Something I read while exploring this very site inspired me. In a recent “Ask Jancy” answer, they suggested that one should now look beyond “traditional media” for marketing solutions.

With this is mind, I basically went back to school. I spent a few weeks online, exploring internet marketing. I subscribed to webinars and read blog after blog about this subject. I took a course about doing business online. One thing that kept popping up is “bouncing sites”. There are several sites out there that will get picked up from other sites. A virtual domino effect for your entries. Let’s face it, the more pages you or your company display on Google, the more successful and important you are in today’s world. I started researching the competition. I started researching agencies. Many have not yet even begun to take advantage of this and according to a few internet Gurus, it IS the future of marketing. Don’t advertise your product directly to one audience. Advertise to all. Let people find you.

So I decided to take advantage of all this free internet marketing. The question remained…How should I do this? How should I market myself on the open airwaves of the world wide web?
I went back to the roots and created a 30-second, self-promo “TV” commercial. Nothing fancy. No million dollar production. Just something really simple that explains what I do. I figure, what’s better than a commercial running 24/7 on several worldwide “stations” with free air-time?

At the beginning of last week I sent out an email blast with the announcement of my new site and my promo video. I also uploaded the spot to a few of those bouncing sites I mentioned. I’ve already seen it “bounce” onto sites where I haven’t submitted it.
The same hour I sent the email, an American ad agency (that was on my list) called me with a decent sized project. One hour after that, a new client I’ve been trying to win over quickly signed to create a few ads.
Internet marketing works and I only scratched the surface.
I had a greater response off this quick blast than a direct mail piece I created last year and mailed out at a cost of over $1500.

Lately, I’ve been getting some business off “Facebook”. At my age, there are many old friends and connections that own companies and need work done. Yesterday I went onto the site and submitted my video to a few business groups I belong to. It seems that once you have a video created, you can upload it anywhere on the site and to any group with a simple click of the mouse. As soon as I uploaded it, I started getting hits on my website. Time will tell how this will pay off.

In the next few weeks I will explore these marketing possibilities even further. In many ways, I feel like a junior in new territory again. 2008 is still fresh and I’m slowly taking baby steps down this new path. I’m hoping that by the end of the year, I’m at a full sprint.

Here’s the promo…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sp4jwngm0q8


Until next time…keep dreaming.

Opening week.

Happy new year.
My last post was the first week of December and I’m starting off 2008 with a quick recap.
My first year as a freelancer working strictly from my home-office was a successful one.
I had a variety of companies and agencies sending me constant work however, once the Halloween decorations came down, the workflow seemed to slow down (to a mere drip) for the year.
My biggest client finally hired somebody in-house so my services weren’t really needed anymore (except on a few rush jobs) and a marketing agency that was feeding me projects finished all their print work and started concentrating on the radio portion (which didn't involve me).

This simply goes along with the territory.

This can be seen as a negative or a positive depending on how you look at it.
November came along and I had the metaphoric angel and devil on each of my shoulders. The angel pat me on the back while claiming that the benefit of working on my own is 3 months of vacation time each year (so I should relax and enjoy it), while the other yelled at me that the next paycheque is a while away and I should be working my tail off to get the ball rolling for 2008.
I listened to both of them but the devil seemed to win the majority of the time.

People didn’t really want to talk business over the holidays. Most of my phonecalls were met with a “call me in the new year”.
Interesting enough, I had 2 calls from agencies and 1 from a headhunter each wondering if I was interested in a creative director position. I met with two of them (I always go to hear what they have to offer) but the holidays quickly took priority and one of the positions involved moving to another city so that was out of the question.

On the same note, I also know of an art director’s position to work for an ad agency in Bermuda.
Now, if I was young and had no roots in this city THIS would intrigue me.
Drop me a PM if you are in Toronto and interested (and have over 5 years of agency experience) and I’ll forward you the info.

Back to ME (after all, it’s my blog).
I started doing all the nitty-gritty details involved with running a business…

Making phonecalls.
Getting my tax information organized.
Creating a new website (which should be hopefully launching this week).
Making sure all my marketing materials were up to date.
Creating a PDF portfolio of the work I did in 2007 and sending it out to potential leads.
Entering some pieces into award shows.
Writing an article (which is hopefully going to appear in the next issue of a major industry magazine).
And finally, networking.

Networking is the absolute best way to promote yourself. No matter what business or industry you are in. Full time, freelance, it doesn’t matter.
I used to buy tickets to the industry award shows just so I could walk up (with a drink in my hand) and schmooze with creative directors. I even got hired full-time at an agency once because of this. If they like your personality in a social setting then you already have one foot in the door.

I went to 3 of these events. One took place in a nightclub and to my delight, it had a poker table (my favourite hobby).
So I sat at the table and rubbed shoulders with Presidents and CEOs of companies while we played and exchanged business cards. I sometimes even lost purposely just to put a big smile on their face. I guess you could say I played the game AND played the game.
As an extrovert I find these events very enjoyable.
It's like speed dating but for business.
Now I’ll have to wait and see if any of it pays off.

6 weeks of solid legwork with no immediate results.
I really, really have a new appreciation for account people.

As I type this I have been cold calling all day, following up with all the business cards I collected. Thanks to voice mail, I think I spoke in total to 2 human beings.

That’s the only problem with having a good year. You have to follow it up with a better one.
And the ugly word "recession" is starting to get thrown around again.
I have my work cut out for me.
As they say in the business world...“feast or famine”.

If anyone knows of an agency in need of a freelancer, you could always save me some time.

Here’s to 2008.
Hope it’s a happy, healthy and prosperous one for all.

Until next time. Keep dreaming.

The year in review and the lessons I learned.

It’s been almost 1 year since I made the jump and left a cushy office environment to work from home full-time. For those of you that are just tuning in, my first blog post "A New Beginning" was the start of this career fork in my road.

I find, on this last week in November, that everything is slowing down.
This is the time of year in the business world where interest in the upcoming holidays prevails over other matters.
In the past, I’ve always taken pleasure in hearing the first Christmas carol because it means I would have a more relaxed schedule in the next 6 weeks.
As a freelancer, I have to admit, it’s an anxious, unnerving feeling.
Even though it has been a successful year for me, I’m not as relaxed because of all the questions running through my head…

Did I meet my goals and expectations this year?
Were my clients happy and will they come back?
When will I get my next paycheque?
Etc.

I guess what I have to do is simply accept the fact that by not being on a payroll, I have a bit of time to kill at the end of the year. I have tried quite hard to get the ball rolling in the past few weeks, and there is some potential for some upcoming work, but for the most part, I have been met with the same answer…”We’re winding down…call me in the new year”. So, it seems that I’m really working on my schedule for the second week of January at the moment.

I’m going to spend the last month of the year entering some pieces into award shows, burning backup DVDs of work and all the personal video I shot this year, and hopefully improving my website and business materials.
I also have the I-Tunes gift certificate I received from this website as an award for this blog. I-Tunes just released the entire Led Zeppelin collection so I’m finally going to spend some of it. Once again, I thank you. It was great to be recognized in this manner.

I’d also like to thank many of you for writing me personally. I got emails from all over the world originating from this site with questions, comments and even praise.
Winning an award for the work you do is great. Having strangers tell you that you have inspired them is even greater.

So, I guess the only thing left to do before I hit the holiday party circuit (and its free-flowing single malts), is to tell you what I learned working from home this year…


When it comes to business (and for the most part, life), there is typically no such thing as “a sure thing”, no matter how sure it seems.

A high paying rush job will always come in after you’ve committed to a lower paying rush job.

Have some respect for your account people, it’s not an easy job.

The project you spent all night on won’t be needed or looked at for at least 2 days.

The client that calls you needing a quote because they want to get started right away will then sit on your proposal for a month.

The new client that sounds like they will be a pain in the ass will in fact be a pain in the ass.

A 45-minute walk outdoors at lunch each day is great exercise (I lost 20lbs and I’m a small guy to begin with).

Charge the client that wants a discount because they “know people and promise that you’ll get more work out of it” the same as anybody else.

Do not keep all your eggs in one basket and if you do, make sure you take very good care of that basket.

Your hobbies and relaxation time are as important as your career.

Spec creative contests are unethical and undervalue our profession.

A client you enjoy working with is worth its weight in gold.

Nothing in the world is more enjoyable than being at home the moment your child gets back from kindergarten armed with a painting they made for you.

Free press-release websites and online listings are powerful marketing tools.

There is no such thing as rush hour in the city of Toronto anymore. It’s always rush hour.

Get everything in writing, and signed, even if you're doing a project with your best friend.

People driving through my neighbourhood don’t seem to care about stop signs.

Have your business card on you at all times. Even at the Supermarket.

The internet and it’s forums are like drugs. Make sure you limit your intake and don’t let them take over your life.

Writing a blog is a very enjoyable recess.

The clock runs quickly. In an office, it was always “I can’t believe it’s only 2:00pm”. Working from home, it’s “I can’t believe it’s already time for dinner.”
Life goes by fast. Real fast. I can’t believe an entire year has flown by.

And finally, Family comes first.
Always.
No matter what.

Have a happy holiday season (whatever you celebrate), and may 2008 be a great year for you and yours.

Until next time. Keep Dreaming.

PAY THEM ALL.

Since we were old enough to leave the house without our parents, many of us worked at a variety of jobs to earn some extra spending money. We marveled at the little bank-book we were handed when we deposited our first paycheck, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of purchasing something for the first time without the help from mom and dad.

My first job was as a paperboy for the Toronto Sunday Sun at the tender young age of eleven.
Those Sunday papers were damn heavy. I had two routes, one through the streets of my neighbourhood, and the other, in a “government assisted” building not too far away.
If you want to toughen-up a kid, make him shake down people in the projects for $2 each week.

That first job was followed by a number of other jobs, until I finally landed in this industry that I chose for my profession.

It was a busy time and there were many changes going on in the industry. I went to school for four years and in that very first year upon graduation, many of the skills that I learned were about to go out the window with the introduction of computer design programs. One thing seemed clear, CDs weren’t about to take a chance at that moment on an inexperienced kid.

Drastic times call for drastic measures and I dreamed up a clever little idea. I approached some of those agencies again and told them that I would be willing to work for free, to gain some experience. They had absolutely nothing to lose.

One agency took this chance. It was a tiny shop where I got my start. I sat all day with the two seasoned partners, brainstorming on an office furniture account, listening to them bicker over the concepts like an old married couple while I sat at the drafting table drawing up layouts with an array of markers. It was a load of fun.

The partners felt that even though I offered my free service, they should at least buy me lunch and we went out every day to a different restaurant.
About a month into this arrangement, one of them dropped a bomb on me that would forever change my life.
“I was out at an event last night and was mentioning your situation” he began.
“A reporter for the Toronto Star is going to do a story on you and how you are working for free to break into your industry”.

It seems what I was doing was unique at the time.

My story ended up on the front page of the Sunday “Business” section later that month and my phone rang off the hook. Several different industries came calling but thankfully, I was able to take advantage of this new found “fame” by securing my first paid position as an Art Director for a much larger agency working on clients such as “Burger King” and “Budget Rent-a-Car”.

Since that day, no matter how grateful I am that I became a part of this business, I have always felt a sense of remorse. A deep disgust with myself that I was part of something that I believe, has become a plague in this industry. Unpaid internships.

When juniors come looking to get into this business, many are at a point where they are ready to leave the security of their parents for good. They are renting their first apartments, they are dating, partying, buying their first cars, doing everything that comes with a hefty price tag.

We should be ashamed for taking advantage of them.

As I have grown older and wiser I have come to the conclusion that no matter what type of work you do, you deserve to get paid. If you dig a ditch, you get paid. If you deliver pizza, you get paid. If you create an ad, you should get paid.

What kind of self absorbed, egotistical, "holier than thou" industry are we that we believe that working for us is a gift? Something that these kids should appreciate and savour until their three months are up and we send them back out in the street, no different than a drug dealer that gets them heavily hooked and then cuts them off.

We’ve all seen these kids. They call and email us every day. “Please take a look at my portfolio. I just finished an internship at “XYZ” and need advice so I can get back in…I HAVE to get back in”.

Of course, they are also completely strapped for cash because they just spent the last three months working for free, paying their expenses out of their savings, and haven’t had a second (while they were trying to impress) to do something else to make some much needed money.

It saddens me. And I will forever be sorry that the industry has embraced this practice.

Because of this, and going back to my conclusion, when I hire a junior to work with me (which is a rarity), I pay them. Period.
I’m a very small fry in this industry. Not some multi-million dollar ad agency making a tidy profit off the sweat of these individuals.
If I can afford to pay them, everyone else can too.
Let us change this horrible practice. For good.

As a kid, even some of the known prostitutes and drug dealers in the projects tipped me for delivering their papers every now and then.

The fishing trip.

As a freelance creative working from a home studio, I have a lot of creative work to do. Unfortunately, I also have a ton of NON-creative work to do. You have to keep constantly on people. I work in my office with a phone headset wrapped on my head. I'm either dealing on the phone with current clients, or looking for more clients. Looking for new clients is the part I dislike. It's a never ending search because you never want to be left without eggs in your basket. This is why I always appreciate working with agencies and marketing firms that bring me the work.

A friend of mine who's a corporate salesman just left his job with a major player last month.
We went for lunch a few weeks back and I told him that now that he's off, we should take a day and go fishing together on an autumn lake.

Later that week we are in a boat in North Ontario, in full rainsuits on a perfect, crisp, overcast, still, misty, drizzly morning.
It's early on a quiet Friday, the leaves are in full colour, the fish are biting, and we even watch a deer swim straight across the open lake.
Not a sound that day except for the light rain falling on the water every now and then.
He mentions that it doesn't get any better than this.
I look over at the relaxed smile on his face.

That's the exact moment when I decide to drop the bomb on him.

"Ever thought of going on your own and making your own schedule?
Here's an idea...you keep doing your sales thing, bring me clients and I'll give you a percentage of all the work I bill them."

Now, I've written about this in my blog in the past, if I had 3-4 of these guys working to bring me new business, directing potential clients to my website, from whatever location they want, virtual account people...it would be beautiful.

He quickly agreed and we continued fishing. We never spoke a word about it again that day.

I'm meeting with the first client tomorrow.

Until next time. Keep Dreaming.

Enough with the SPEC Contests already.

Today I am seriously angry.
It turns out that our leading industry magazine in this country is turning 100 years old.
100 years of being the voice of our profession.
This morning, I logged onto their website to read the daily news and staring me in the face was something I could not believe.
They are promoting their anniversary by holding a logo spec contest.

I felt like I was slapped in the face.
All my trust, all my respect is now gone.

How can a magazine that speaks for us, that stands for us, turn it’s back and promote an unethical competition that undervalues our profession?

As designers, we get paid for our creative skills. If every company had a contest like this when they needed some creative work, we may as well hang up our hats.

No professional designer with some self-respect should take them up on this opportunity.
We have years of schooling (and thousands we have paid in tuition).
We have expensive computers with design programs (that we once again paid thousands for) and we have years of experience under our belts that we would use to design their logo. All for the chance for them to print our artwork in their magazine, pat us on the head and say “nice work”?
Disgusting.

A colleague of mine, Neil Tortorella of “Tortorella Design” (Ohio, USA) says it best…

“Would it make sense to ask your mechanic to work on your car for free? Would you look him in the eye, with a straight face, and tell him that his compensation would be the ability to have his work shown to others as you drive down the street?

Would you offer a neurosurgeon the “opportunity” to add your name to his resume as payment for removing that pesky tumor? (Maybe you could offer him “a few bucks” for “materials”. What a deal!).”

100 years old. And still they have much to learn.

Suits with a pair.

I often meet with people that have various positions and titles.
Usually, we end up speaking over breakfast at the mid-town restaurant of my choice while the waitress pours endless cups of coffee.
The majority (that aren’t potential clients) are various industry people.
Freelancing copywriters wanting to team up on projects. A print broker pushing his company. a web company looking to merge with a creative specializing in print etc.

In all my years of full-time freelancing (going on 8 now), I have met with dozens and dozens of creatives that have recently left the security of an office environment.
But the other day, I got an unusual call. I say unusual because these phonecalls are few and far between.

A suit has left to strike out on his own.

For a freelancing creative, this is the call you wait for.
The Holy Grail of opportunity.

Creative people get into this business to do creative work. Period. We love working in an agency environment where scores of people with MBAs are working their tails off to bring in more projects. We are not business people by nature. We simply want to create.
Someone doing this part of the business is worth it’s weight in gold.

When a creative strikes out on their own, either by choice or because their agency swan song has finally played, they have no choice but to become a business person or they will fail miserably.
Because of this, suits have an incredible advantage over us.
They are already business people. They have the knowledge (and usually the contacts) to make gobs of money on their own. Yet, by my observations and experiences, they are also the last to try such a thing.

Why is it that some can bring in millions of dollars a year in projects while working in a cubicle for an agency, yet believe they can’t bring in $150,000 on their own from the comfort of their living room couch?
Besides the fact that they have much longer careers in an agency environment than creative people, maybe it’s that they just don’t want to.

Maybe us creatives take this chance more often because we are more laid-back types. We don’t care for the rat race in the same way. A sunny afternoon with a sketchbook in the park, conceptualizing for a client, is a fantastic way to make a living. Martini lunches, golden handshakes and power suits (although nice) are not part of our make-up.
We need creative freedom. And what better way to have creative freedom than to have complete freedom? Therefore, eventually going out on your own in many ways makes sense.

Back to my phone call.
A suit (I freelanced for in an agency a million years ago) has left the agency world to strike out on his own. He has left with some clients in tow and is going after some more. He will need creative work done on an ongoing basis. On each project, he will give me the budget for the creative. I don’t need to give him an estimate and lose to the lowest bidder, I don’t need to do anything but wait for the briefs and do the work. For a creative person, what could be a better working arrangement? I now have a runner bringing me empty white canvasses and some subject matter, while offering me money to do whatever I want (that’s of course, on strategy).

Account people have stress, they have the higher-ups watching their every move, the office politics, the creative teams stuck on 12 other projects, and even their dry cleaning bills because they can’t come in wearing jeans and a T-shirt.
For simply going out to breakfast with a client, or by making some calls from the location of your choice, you can make some serious money by outsourcing the work to a freelance creative. Once your client appreciates the work, they will continue calling you. You pass along the project information to your creative person, and wait for the concept JPGs to arrive while you book a round of golf for the next day…or make some more phone calls.

I have known many creatives that went on their own and had to give up.
I have never known a suit that did the same and didn’t succeed.
Thankfully, my business thrives because of some of these gutsy individuals.

As the saying goes…”Fortune favours the bold”.

So ask yourselves…how many companies (worldwide) needing creativity are out there?
How many qualified and talented creative freelancers (with the same agency experience and background as you) would bend over backwards to have you working with them?

How many suits willing to take a chance?

My Summer at the Supermarket.

This summer, I was hired by a Marketing agency to work on several projects in an area that I am not too familiar with…Supermarket promotions.
I learned that it is as much art direction as graphic design so it really appealed to me…and I would never say no to a bunch of large projects that fall into my lap. Especially when I have the opportunity to learn something new.
The clients were huge names. The products as well.
I felt like I spent the summer back in school.
It turns out that there is a huge difference between print ads and promotional pieces...even if they both fall under the category of "advertising".

It has been proven in studies that in order to stop a consumer dead in the aisle, everything we learn from the print advertising side basically goes out the window when it comes to this type of work. Large chunky fonts and colours that would make most art director’s cringe are a must when it comes to creating these ads. At first, I tried to produce layouts that were sleek and clean.
Then I learned that white is horrible at attracting attention in a bright Supermarket full of different products.
The more colour the better. Purples, greens, reds, bright yellow fonts etc.
If you can make it what we in the advertising world call “a dog’s breakfast”, it seems to have more stopping power to those racing a shopping cart down the aisle.
What it boils down to is this…you don’t whisper to the Supermarket consumer, you scream at them. “DON’T BUY THAT ICE CREAM, BUY THIS ONE. You can save money and win a DVD player”.

Last week, I was scanning my shopping list at the Supermarket, when out of the corner of my eye something quickly caught my attention. It was one of the promos I worked on.
I learned how to make an unfamiliar category work.

Variety is supposedly the spice of life.
I tend to agree. Especially when you can learn something new and get paid for it.

Until next time. Keep dreaming.

The great gig in the sky.

It is now Tuesday morning and I am still thinking about this past Saturday night.
Usually, when you anticipate something for months it has a tendency to disappoint but this was not the case when I experienced Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd fame) cover “The Dark Side of the Moon” live at Rogers stadium in Toronto.

I believe I have seen all the great acts live in concert at one point in my life but none of them held a candle to this show. It was by far the greatest musical performance I have ever seen.

You are probably thinking, why is this appearing on an advertising industry website?
What the hell does one have to do with the other?
It’s all about creativity and the power we have. Music, like advertising or any other form of art, has the ability to hold its audience. To seize control of the listener and invoke in them a wide range of emotions.

Simply listen to the song on the album...“The great gig in the sky”.
One song.
One single song that emits every emotion known to man.
Joy, sorrow, anger, ecstasy, etc. it’s all there.
It seized control of an audience of over 30,000 and nobody spoke a word during its performance. The deafening standing ovation wasn’t even close to as powerful.

If only we could somehow manage to do that with our ads.

Retire? Why?

There has been an interesting discussion in the forum lately regarding how much money one would need to put away for retirement. In fact, I belong to several forums and this topic was brought up on another one as well.
It got me thinking...at what age would I want to retire? The answer that I keep coming up with is simple.
My answer is never.

I entered this business always knowing what I wanted to do. It wasn’t like I woke up one day and thought “hey. I should go into advertising and design”. I knew since I was a kid where I was going. I knew that drawing and creating were going to be my life.
During high school, when people stressed out about their marks and getting into University, I was attending nude drawing classes (the models, not me) and working on my portfolio. Art school wasn’t just an idea in my head, it was my destiny. My stepping stone to a career in this business.

Later, after working hours at the agencies where I was employed, I was constantly bombarded with requests to create a logo for a company, a mural in a comedy club, a poster for a charity function etc. I took on every project I could get my hands on. I more or less still do. Everything I got into trouble for at school (daydreaming and drawing on my desk) makes me a very decent living and I have always enjoyed the vast variety of different projects.

I love the thrill of signing a new project. I get a high when the client tells me they absolutely love what I created for them. I feel a sense of completion writing “paid in full” on my client’s invoices. And most of all, I take great pride in seeing my work in a magazine or on the side of a building.
To me, retiring is when you have a crummy desk job that you can’t wait to bail from.
When you’ve spent 35 years watching the clock.
When you can’t wait to tell your boss to bite the big one.

I look at it like this...

Does a painter ever stop painting?
Does a musician stop making music?

Why would I ever stop doing what I’ve always done?
It’s in my blood.

I don’t want to worry about retirement. Right now all I want is bigger and better.
A bigger fishing boat and to constantly play better golf courses.
And as I age, bigger and better clients.

Until next time. Keep Dreaming.

The puzzle builder.

It’s been a little while since I have written an entry.
I had 2 weeks of severe food poisoning which basically knocked me out.
I have to admit, as bad as it was, there was some good to come out of it. I have shed the majority of my winter pounds and now, once again, look pretty decent in a bathing suit.
But back to the life of a freelancer...

Work went from being insanely busy up until May to slowing right down to a trickle. I spent most of the month doing some stuff around the house that needed to be done, playing a few rounds of golf in the mornings and making a bunch of cold calls in the afternoons.
For those of you that do this on a daily basis (cold-calling), I don’t envy you one bit. It really is a tedious and exhausting process.

I also find that creatively, I’ve been jumping around a lot. I went from creating a bunch of ads to doing promotional work, and as of this month, I am mostly creating logos for companies and doing a bunch of graphic design. If you truly only want to do ads, freelancing is probably not for you. You basically take whatever projects you can get but this has never bothered me. I like the variety. I’d rather be getting paid some decent money to go sit at the cottage with my laptop and design a corporate logo in the evenings than be stuck in the city working on an ad in an office environment.

Recently, somebody asked me what I do for a living? I used to say (working as an advertising art director) that I brainwash people.
I have since changed my answer. When people now ask, I now tell them that I build (jigsaw) puzzles.
No matter what I am creating, this metaphor stays the same.
The client sometimes gives me the pieces (the copy, the logo etc.) and my job is to put the puzzle together. Some puzzles are rather small, some are very large and they all have one thing in common...there is no picture as to what the final looks like on the lid of the box. It is simply a blank. I have to figure that part out.

I don’t really know how much work I will get in the weeks ahead. I have had one client tell me that I am in for a very busy autumn. This is the beauty of freelance work. I’ve been told that fall is going to be crazy yet my summer (right now) looks like it could be somewhat slow. Truth is, I’m toying with the idea of taking the majority of the summer off.
The fact that I have that option available to me makes me realize that going out on my own has some tremendous benefits.
Now, bring on the sun.

Until next time. Keep dreaming.

Creativity and other ventures.

Creative people have creative ideas. This applies not only in our profession but on the side as well. Sometimes these ideas can swell so big inside your brain that it keeps you awake at night as you mull over the details. This was the case with me over the last few years. A small spark ignited in my head and eventually festered into an inferno.

I loved high school. I had the time of my life. I graduated in 1988 which means my 20th anniversary is coming up. I always thought to myself, wouldn't it be incredibly cool to throw the party?
Not just a party but THE party. One that people would talk about for years to come.
Living in Toronto, I attended a mix of schools growing up (both private and public) as well as a few summer camps, so my friends during my late teen years were spread out in several of the different schools in the city. Because of this, I decided that if I was going to throw a reunion, I’d want to see everybody. Not only from my school, but everyone that graduated that year.

My idea started with focus groups...discussions amongst my friends who all looked at it with a sense of excitement.
One night not too long ago, I sat down and created an ad for the event. This followed through to creation of the website.
Just one question remained…how would I spread the word easily and free of charge?

Just over a month ago I found my answer. The gates flew open.
An internet networking site that everybody was talking about. It made the newspapers recently because even members of Parliament were logging in during work hours. The newest holy grail of communication. A virginal advertising medium that could be used effectively and for absolutely nothing.

My idea became a reality.

Yesterday, the site went live. In the first half hour I had 20 people sign up. By days end, over 50. Fifty 38 year old professionals in a wide array of positions and companies. Naturally, I also placed a link to my company website. The hits spiked on that site too…and this is exactly the target audience I want.

Today is the morning after and the sign-ups continue at an incredible pace. I have until the New Year before I take the next step. In the meantime, I’m going to go with the flow, sit back, and watch the idea that started as a little spark inside my head hopefully blaze beyond my wildest expectations.
I may be in for a serious ride. Only time will tell.

www.88reunion.com

The Power of the Press Release.

You entered some work in a competition/award show and you won. You have just taken on a new client. You teamed up with a new partner or joined a new agency. Maybe you left an agency. What do you do? You tell the world about it.

In today's day and age, the internet is a very powerful marketing tool for your business and your brand (the brand being you).

Free advertising is the best advertising and nothing is better than your website and contact information travelling across the globe while you sleep. One press release can increase your name or company visibility on web search engines by several pages. The more pages you have with your name on it, the more important you look.

It seems like a tough thing to do but it is in fact, the easiest way to get you noticed.
There are many free press release sites online that work...and they work well.
You simply fill in the information and they do the rest.

Some free online press release sites...

http://www.free-press-release.com/
http://www.prlog.org/
https://www.prleap.com/

Now go and start making a name for yourself.

$300 goes a long way.

This morning I went to my mailbox and found a fancy envelope with my name on it.
It was from an award show across the pond and contained a beautiful, glossy, die-cut brochure announcing a call for entries.

Now, having done a few pieces that I am proud of this year, I decided to log onto the site and check it out.

I looked at the list of judges and they were quite impressive. I looked at the rest of the site and was leaning towards entering a piece or two until I checked out the entry fees.

What I saw turned me off immediately. $300 in American currency for a single entry.
Now, some may call me cheap but I am beginning to understand why we don’t see more work from “the little people” being entered into award shows.

In reality, besides the power of a winning entry’s press release, I really don’t see the need to pay $300 USD to have somebody tell me they like my work. I liked my work. My client liked my work. Hopefully, if I did my job well, the general public liked my work.

I started surfing the web and found that for $300 USD, there are plenty of ways I can skip the shoulder pat from someone else and reward myself.
A flight to Vegas is roughly the same price. So is the new barbeque I was looking at.
I can enjoy a day playing the top golf course in Ontario for less money. I can spend a weekend at a spa, or once again jump out of an airplane to feel that rush I obviously crave. There are hundreds of things I can buy or treat myself to with that kind of money.

I tossed the beautiful brochure in the recycling box. I think that for now, I’ll skip this type of show and continue entering smaller ones that make more sense.

In leaving the agency scene behind, I am beginning to accept the fact that I will probably never see an award on my shelf from an extremely prestigious show. Even if I created work that I feel could have a chance, as a freelancer, I will forever find it hard to pony up the cash to enter the piece. In my mind, I might as well take $300, walk over to a casino’s roulette wheel, randomly pick a number, and lay it all down.
Unfortunately, I am beginning to understand, that’s just not me.

Until next time. Keep dreaming.

Rest in Peace.

This morning I found out one of my favourite clients had died.
I had worked with Hans to brand his business in the last two years creating everything from a logo for his company to ads for various trade publications.

In your career you will work on a lot of projects. Some of these will be for large corporations and some will be for small business owners like Hans was.
I have always found it quite satisfying to help a small guy get his name out there and watch his phone start to ring because of something I created for him. Great clients that are a pleasure to work with are quite rare and losing one is hard in many ways…both personally and professionally.

I got a call right before Hans died from a family member who was trying to tie up any loose ends. He called to find out if I was still owed any money. Even facing death Hans was concerned about his business relationships and not leaving anyone hanging. A true old-schooled gentleman.
I will hopefully attend the funeral this week and say goodbye to not only a great guy, but one of the greatest people I have ever had the pleasure to do business with.

I WON...yet I failed.

Today I found out I won another creative award.
A bronze in an international show.
Thousands of submissions from twenty-three countries were submitted and my piece scored among the very best.
The judges consisted of professionals from shops around the world. Shops like TBWA, Ogilvy & Mather, etc.

It’s a bittersweet win.

We place so much value on awards in this industry. We try so hard to create work that stands out. Work that others look at and wish they had created. Work that gets noticed.
I did that.

However, this was not my goal. My goal was to design a piece that did what it was supposed to.
Bring in some more business.
I had never attempted something like this before. My projects have always come through word of mouth. I decided to experiment and see if this would be money well spent.

Not too long ago, I placed a forum topic on this website asking for help. I asked in a poll what would be the most effective way to advertise myself as a creatve freelancer.
Should I take out an ad in an industy magazine? Should I make cold-calls? Should I send out a direct mail piece? The latter was the one that the majority recommended and agreed upon.

My piece was a self-promotional postcard. A surgically-clean design sent to 1000 companies informing them of my services.
I bought a large, updated list from a (hopefully) reputable company and narrowed it down to companies I would want to target. Companies that typically need creative work done.

It took a few weeks to produce. Coming up with the concept. Art directing the piece. Finding the perfect shot. Tweaking it over and over again. Checking and rechecking my list with the names and addresses. Getting the labels right and placed perfectly on the postcards. Stamping each one by beautifully aligning them in the top corner. A real work of art. I sure thought so. Everyone that I showed it to thought so. It seems a jury of my peers thought so too.

The result?
I’m still waiting.

This should be proof to everyone out there that just because something wins an award doesn’t necessarily mean that it worked. Our jobs are not to win awards. Our jobs are to create a piece that does exactly what it was meant to do. Win business. Sell product. Make us and our clients money.
In this instance, I believe that I failed.

However, some good can come from all this.
I will now turn it around and make it work in another way to hopefully achieve my original goal…to win the attention of individuals and companies that may want to work with me.

I will take advantage of the very reason we bother with these award shows.
It’s not simply all about the work. It’s not about how much money we made our clients or how much product we moved.
It’s all about us.
The award will be added to my resumé and in the next few days, I will send out a press release informing the world of my win.
I will shamelessly promote my self-promotion and once again let the world know about me and my services.

Hopefully, this time, the piece will generate some work. That is all that I really care about. That is what I originally set out to do.
But while I’m waiting, I can make room for another shiny trophy on my mantle.

Until next time. Keep dreaming.

Artists and Businessmen.

Recently, a forum thread appeared and it was titled "A hunded little ad fucks".
The following question/statement came up...

"I’ve looked at the portfolios of hundreds of agency websites and see the same thing, 90% of the work they’ve done is just pedestrian work, ranging from good to just okay. But then I come to the creative forums and read repeated comments about Ads and CDs only looking for creatives who can come up with the “CONCEPT”, and I’m like, “Okay, maybe I’m missing something here."


Here's was my response and thoughts on this...

Agency CDs are always looking for the "Concept".
Kids that are new to the business only care about the "concept". The concept is what they teach in school because that is what CDs are looking for when they are hiring.
There is a very good explanation for this and why 90% of the work that is produced is "pedestrian".

There are 2 sides (in my opinion...and all of this is strictly my opinion) to this business. The "artist" side and the "businessman" side.

A large percentage of the stuff we work on is mainstream. We don't admit it but it's true. Work at any agency and you won't be creating ads everyday that are award worthy (even though we'd like to believe so).
We try to push the envelope as creative people but the majority of our clients are very conservative. They have reputations to protect, and sometimes old school values and ways of thinking. Also, the salespeople are usually not creative people. They don't see things from our perspective. To them, "outside the box" means we strayed from their usual formula and moved their logo to another corner.

Now granted, every now and then we get the odd piece approved (miraculously) from these clients that warrants attention from our peers and award juries, but there are many proven formulas that work and drive sales that we usually have to stick to.

For instance, right now, I'm creating something that will go in a supermarket environment. My client knows through studies that certain colours and fonts we must stay away from. Certain looks attract the consumer and get them to make the purchase. I will not win any awards with this type of work but I will drive sales for my client. This is (bottom line) what the sole purpose of my job is about.

Another example...it would be difficult to win awards creating an FSI for a client like a big-box superstore. However, they are a client that repeatedly advertises so as a "businessman", they are a great client to have.
I know that if I create an FSI for a huge boxing day sale, it will bring people into the stores in droves and I will sell millions of dollars in product. As a businessman, I'm thrilled.
As a client, they are thrilled. Awards in this case don't mean much. As an advertiser, I'm doing my job. And I'm probably going to be able to buy that Porsche I wanted.

Then there is the "artist" side.

The part of us that is highly creative, we can't simply do this "pedestrian" work all the time. We need to free the artist in us. We need to create. We need to push boundaries. We need to be expressive.
This is why agencies look for "dog walking clients".
They allow us creative freedom. A martial arts studio has no reputation to protect. They have no strict branding. You simply need to bring people in by making them think that this place is kick-ass. You can have alot of fun with this type of client.
These clients (as businessmen) earn us very little in the way of revenue.
What they do is bring us attention.

In this business, the most important thing you can do for yourself (and your company) is win awards because awards bring attention.

Awards allow us something worth it's weight in gold (excuse the pun). The power of the press release. The press release gets us noticed. It puts our name out there.
It gets people talking. It gets our agency in industry magazines. It gets us hits on our websites. And the best way to get this recognition is by winning. We can only usually win by being "Artists". Winning makes us look important. It sets us apart from the rest of the competition and gets the big-box superstore clients to take notice. So we can go after their business.

Young creatives only grasping the Artist side never make it long in this business. They do great work and then have to move aside for the new batch that will work cheaper and longer hours. The ones that understand the game and become businessmen, have very long and prosperous futures. I can name several agencies in Canada that opened when the artists became businessmen (and women).

So as a businessman (and CD), When I hire, I'm looking for artists. The "hundred little ad fucks" as it was put. The ones that can do great work and also win awards, which I will then PR the hell out of, so I can put my agency's name all over the map, to do what I am here to do...win pedestrian clients that constantly advertise and make tons of money.
Both for them and for me. By sometimes having to contain the artist in me and use formulas that have been proven and work.
A happy client that sees results is a client that sticks around.

To sum up...
Be an artist and you'll get in the business and make a name for yourself.
Then learn to be a businessman and continue doing what you love, but with a lifestyle that many would envy.

It's just one of those days.

Here I sit, during the middle of the morning in the middle of the week, staring into space, wondering what I should do?

Truth is, I don’t feel like doing much of anything. I’m in a total funk. I’m fighting a nasty head and chest cold that hasn't allowed me to get much sleep and has drained me of any desire to make a phone call, work on anything, or try to conjure up some new business.
It’s all part of the joy of having kids. As soon as one of them comes home sick, you’re eventually doomed.

I'm not thinking much about work at this very moment. I have 13 projects that are in limbo right now. Some are in for French translation (for the Quebec market). Then there are the others…the clients needed them “yesterday” and of course, after pulling a few all-nighters, they have sat on them for 2 weeks because they “just haven’t gotten around to looking at the proofs yet”.

They should all get back to me by 3:00pm on Friday telling me they need the final changes done, the files burned to disc, and sent to the printers or uploaded to FTP sites etc. by the end of the day.

What do you do on days like this? I could watch a movie. I could creep around on Facebook.
I could put $20 on my VISA and join a few cheap online poker tournaments.
I could shop for music on ITUNES with my $250 after winning the IHAI March blogger’s prize (thanks everyone) or shop for deals on Kijiji (what an awesome site).
I could even read a good book.

But I really don’t feel like doing anything.
As one of the lines in one of my favourite songs goes…

“I like watching the puddles gather rain”.

Every once in a while, you simply need a day like this.

Until next time. Keep dreaming.

Tax Time and Freelancing

This is the time of year that I receive emails asking how one goes about filing their taxes as a freelancer.
(Do I need to get a T4? etc.)
It’s really quite simple. While freelancing, did you invoice the company you worked for or did they pay you the same way as a full-time employee and automatically take the taxes from your pay?

Hopefully you invoiced them. And hopefully, you kept every receipt from your purchases for the entire year.
Everything you spend money on during the year is a potential write-off. For example...your car, the gas, parking, insurance, a portion of your home, your meals, even your newspaper and cell phone are (potential) write-offs.

For those of you just starting to freelance or opening your own business, it’s really not rocket science.
Each month, start a new envelope. Nothing fancy, just a regular #10. Throw all your receipts for the month into the envelope. At the end of the month, separate the contents into categories (parking, gas etc.) and add up the totals. Write the totals on the front of the envelope.
At the end of the year, you simply take the 12 envelopes and add the category figures onto a spreadsheet.
Then add up and include your income and all other expenses. Anything and everything you spent money on (rent or mortgage payments, car insurance, hydro, etc.) Put these totals onto the spreadsheet as well. As a rule of thumb, when in doubt regarding a purchase or a payment you made, simply add it to the spreadsheet.

Finally, you have to get yourself a great accountant. Not mediocre. Not one of those kiosks that open in the malls this time of year. A private accountant that has been around the block a few times (you can even add his bill from this session to next year’s spreadsheet).
In my opinion, there are 3 things you should never cheap-out on in life...bedding, shoes, and a great accountant.
Think of it this way, you wouldn't hire an average designer to work on your business so don't hire an average accountant. Their job is to save you money so it's worth it to pay a little more for someone that's great at it.
Bring the accountant the spreadsheet. They will use their expertise and figure out what you can and can’t use.

That’s basically it. It takes a little getting used to but is one of those things that will become a normal part of running your own show. I really believe that this should be taught in every school regardless of the industry. Even as a one day lesson. Why it’s not has always puzzled me.
Hopefully this has helped.

Until next time. Keep dreaming.

Hey Man...YOU SUCK.

“It takes courage to be creative...” - E. Paul Torrance

These words ring very true.
I’ve been waiting for it - the first anonymous post on my blog (funny how they never sign their names) telling me how much they hate my work. I’m quite surprised, not because I actually received that type of response, but rather because it took so long for one of them to appear.

The poster targeted one ad on my site in particular, and I find this quite funny. The ad they told me they thought was terrible, won bronze in an international show. CDs from known shops around the world liked the ad enough to award it and anonymous thinks it’s “The worst ad he has ever seen”.

Of course, he is entitled to his opinion. Everyone is. No matter how much we like to argue this, our business is a form of art. Some will like your art, some won’t. You can enter a piece in one award show and it will win and in another it won't. This is the norm.
I remember many years ago, while shopping my portfolio around town, a CD told me that my book wouldn’t cut it and I would never find a job in the industry. The very next day, I was hired at a better agency after the CD told me he thought my book was one of the better ones he's seen.

With that, I learned to simply develop thick skin and let the negativity slide.

Personally, there are only two things I care about...what my client thinks and if the ad sells his product.
I never entered this business to win awards. They are simply a bonus. I also never entered it to please others in the industry. I entered it to make money. Period. Both for the client and myself.
Not all award-winning work achieves this goal. And sometimes, ads that aren't deemed award-worthy have achieved excellent results and have made the client millions of dollars.

Now, back to the poster’s comments...Isn’t it sad that we work in an industry where our peers love to belittle us? Can you imagine this in other industries? How about in the medical profession...
“Hey man, you suck. That surgery you performed yesterday was terrible. How did you ever get hired? You should go back to dissecting frogs you hack”
When you look at it this way, it sounds ridiculous. That’s because it is.

I actually want to publicly thank Mr. Anonymous. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I respect your opinion. I don’t agree with it but it is your opinion. And like I said you are entitled to it.
However, if you think it would upset me, you are wrong. I’ve been in this industry a long time (you’ve never seen my agency portfolio because I can’t feature it on my site) and it’s not like I’m quitting anytime soon. Do you really expect me to hang up my hat because you don’t like my work?
If anything, your comments benefit me. Like the quote at the beginning of this post, it will only make me try harder. It may take courage to be creative, but it takes a weakling to trash talk somebody while hiding behind an alias.

Until next time. Keep dreaming.

When your creative staff take vacation...who's your backup?

This is the time of year when the golf courses open, people make the trek up north to open the cottage, and employees everywhere start planning their summer vacations.
As a freelancer, this is not my favourite time of the year. It’s a limbo period. Like a skier in late November waiting for the first sign of snow, I am patiently waiting for the first (advertising agency) phone call wondering how quickly I can make myself available.

People take a vacation at some point during the summer. Usually taking an entire week off. As a freelancer, it can be a very busy and profitable time of the year. Having learned from years past, I try not to make any solid weekend plans in the summer that doesn’t involve my laptop because the telephone usually rings on a Thursday afternoon, with a CD asking me to come in to be briefed on Friday morning, so I can have concepts or layouts for Monday.
Why many agencies wait until the last minute before calling someone in I will never understand, but many times I have specialized in this last minute, weekend scenario.

This year I have decided that instead of sitting back and waiting for the phone to ring, I want to let the agencies and CDs know that I will be available when their staff are away in the months ahead. However, I haven’t pitched creative directors in a very long time. They have somehow always found me.

So here I sit, wracking my brains on how to proceed with this plan. The following are my thoughts on what I should do...

Send out an email blast.
Personally, I hate spam emails. The last thing I want to do is add one more to the mix. They probably won’t get opened anyway.

Mail a creative postcard.
It may work well. It could also simply get tossed into the Blue Box after I spend a few thousand dollars on it. Then there’s a month of work finding the addresses and proper names for the labels to go along with it.

Make cold calls.
My least favourite way, yet probably the most effective. It’s so much fun spending hours talking to voice mail.

Place an ad in an industry magazine.
It will cost as much as the postcard, maybe more, but will reach the masses quickly.

Shamelessly paste my website/portfolio link at the end of this blog post.
www.lebow.ca/ronnie

It's a start.
See you this summer.

I'm sorry, how much?

The other day, I got a phone call from the president of a company to come in and discuss the opportunity to create a corporate identity package for them. I researched the company beforehand and it turns out that they are a multi-million dollar company, with offices in other cities.

We sat down in her fancy office and she told me what she was looking for…a logo, stationery in the form of business cards and letterhead, and a company website.
I wrote down all of the details and then while still looking down, asked the most important of questions “what is your budget?”
She answered immediately, matter-of-factly “$500”.
I continued writing, still looking down at my pad of paper, and with a chuckle asked “no, really?”

Silence.

I stopped writing, I looked up. She wasn’t smiling. She was serious.
I capped my pen, I told her what she would be looking at for just the logo, her mouth dropped open, and with that the meeting was basically over.
Now, this was not somebody that was trying to get me to work for pennies, this was simply another client that had absolutely no idea what something like this should cost.

$500 to create all that material. For hours of concepts and endless revisions. For a web presence and a card they will be proud of, to hand out to investors worldwide. This same person probably dropped more than that this week on their Mercedes’ oil change and tire rotation yet for some reason, my time, experience, and the entire look of the business that is their very livelihood is worth less. I have never understood this rationale.

Do they really think that we simply push a button and out everything comes?
To my knowledge, computers do not yet come with magical buttons on the keyboard that read “logo”, “make it pretty” and “this instant”.

I often hear the same thing in these meetings...”my friend’s neighbour’s kid has a computer and can do this for $500 so why are you asking much more than that?”
I always answer with the same story. It is a favourite of mine...

One day, a man is strolling through the park. He spots a famous artist sitting on a bench busy sketching.
He comes over, introduces himself and tells the artist he is a big fan of his work and asks if he could please quickly sketch him? The artist agrees and sketches the man. It takes about two minutes. He hands the man the drawing and the man is pleased. It is a perfect likeness. He then asks the artist “how much?” to which the artist answers “$8,000”.
The man is furious...”$8,000?, but that only took you two minutes”.
The artist looks at the man and answers “no sir, in order to produce that in two minutes, it took me a lifetime”.

Graduating Rejects.

It’s almost the end of the school year and once again, dozens of kids without a clue are emailing and calling me looking for work. I can’t believe some of the phonecalls I receive. Today I answered the phone to the worst display of phone etiquette I have ever experienced. It went like this...

“You have any positions available?”

Me: That depends, what are you looking for?

“Production assistant, layout, art director, copywriter, designer, whatever”

Me: Ummmm.....you’re calling a freelancer.

CLICK.

What the fuck?
What academy of social misfits did this reject just graduate from?
First of all, how about a “hello”. If no hello, at least try to throw me a pleasant sounding voice instead of the gruff bark I answered to instead.
Do I have any positions available? Yes, you can come over and clean my fridge. I have some snow that needs shovelling. Go get me a friggin coffee. Never once did he ask who I was, where I was, or if he even had the right number.
What amazed me even more was the fact that he had no biases on what he was looking for. Production assistant to copywriter? Wouldn’t that be like calling up the Board of Education and telling them you’d like to clean the gym and if the vice-principal position is available, that’s good too?
How about the courtesy of a simple thank you and goodbye?
I shook my head in disbelief and shrugged it off.
Another call. Another day closer to the graduation of the class of 2007.
Another day closer to that guy wondering why nobody was willing to give him a chance.

A confession.

I have decided to come out today.
After many years I have decided to admit that I am a serious addict. I have been for a long, long time. In fact, it started when I was around 5 years old. I had a serious Coke addiction. As a child in the 70s, I was vulnerable. I watched a commercial with the catchy tune “I’d like to teach the world to sing” and I was hooked. I needed more. A daily fix. I started watching television religiously. Not for the shows but for a glimpse of the peace-on-earth-singing hippies with long hair drinking Coca Cola. My addiction was further fuelled by the environmentally conscious spot featuring an Indian looking out over Manhattan and crying for what we had done to his homeland.
Years went by and I dove deeper and deeper into my advertising addiction. I scribbled ideas and storyboards all over my desk at school and my work suffered because of it. I couldn’t wait to get home. I would stare transfixed at the television until bedtime, flipping channels endlessly on the converter. I sank each evening into a zombie-like state. “Ancient Chinese Secret”, “Where’s the Beef?”, “Hold the pickles hold the lettuce…”. If TV wasn’t available I would flip through magazines for a quick fix. I discovered that I could feed my head with billboards and a subway car was the equivalent of a crack house. By high school I knew where I was going and what I had to do. In order to seriously feed my addiction I had to take it to the next level. I had to graduate from addict to pusher.
Upon graduation from ad school I sank to the lowest level in an addict’s life, I’m ashamed to admit it but I whored myself to dealers around town for free to feed my addiction. Hope was just around the corner. I had a large dealer offer to take me under his wing. He brought me in and showed me the ropes. I became a full-time pusher. We usually stayed up until the wee hours of the night, sometimes for weeks, preparing our product until it was ready for the street. Times were good. People were getting hooked everywhere. The computer brought it to a whole new level. It was so good that a new breed of addicts were easily becoming pushers and coming on to the scene. Competition hit us hard and my mentor left town. Last I heard he moved out to California and set up shop to push on a much grander scale. I moved up the ranks, pushing for some big dealers. They were usually just as hooked as I was although I have met some over the years that had enough and left to get clean, or they were persuaded to do so because their addiction was so strong that they forgot about their families. As of 2 years ago I realized that if I went solo I could provide the same product to the masses at a much cheaper rate. I feel that the guys running the game today are getting too big and greedy. Sometimes when they aren’t paying attention I move in and sell to their clients. I’m hoping they’ll deal with me exclusively. Maybe eventually I”ll take over the neighbourhood and become a kingpin. An addict can only dream.

A New Beginning.

This morning, after going through my usual daily routine of showering and eating breakfast, I poured myself a shot. I have never done this before but it seemed like the right thing to do. It’s not every morning that one wakes up and decides that today is the day they will change their entire life.

The vodka was ice cold from the freezer, just the way it should be.
I raised my glass high in the air and toasted myself…"L'Chayim".
For those of you that aren't Jewish, "L'Chayim" (in my opinion) is probably the greatest "Cheers" worldwide. The translation from Hebrew is "To Life". After all, is there anything that we should be celebrating more while hoisting a glass? Is there anything more important?

Which has brought me to my decision.
This year, I had trouble celebrating my birthday. I kept asking myself, is this it? At 37, after acquiring everything I could ever want in life, am I stuck simply working in the same old way until retirement?

I’ve worked on everything in my creative career. In every medium.
I put in almost 10 years in ad agencies (on many prestigious clients) climbing the ranks to the position of senior Art Director, and I’ve worked for 5 years on the client side in a large corporate communications environment. For those that really don’t know me, I started working at the age of 11. I have a very strong entrepreneurial spirit. I have always been able to make money and even ran an extremely successful disc jockey company when I was in college.

So, I’ve been freelancing in-house for one of the world's largest companies (as a Creative Director/Senior Designer), 3 days a week, for the last 5 years. 2 days a week, I worked from home on other clients…and it’s been great. I’ve even won a ton of awards during this time (8 internationally (including a gold), and two consecutive first-place finishes nationally, beating all the multi-million dollar ad agencies and design studios in Canada that participated). I’ve been published, I had the Dean of a foreign University contact me to use an ad campaign I created in their curriculum. It’s all been good. But recently, around my birthday, something has been bothering me.

Today, after my celebratory drink, I went in and ended my in-house contract. I walked away.
I told them if they need me, I'll be available at home by the project.
I walked away from a guaranteed paycheck.
I'm gambling with my life and I just pushed all my chips on the table.
No more office structure and politics. No more 9-5. No more fighting heavy rush-hour traffic. I don’t want to relate to the “Dilbert” comic strip.
Life is too short to not enjoy going to work every day...to not take chances and say "what if?"
If I don't go out and freelance full-time, on my own, playing by my own rules, at this age, I'll never do it.
After playing serious poker for the last few years, I learned one very important thing...
FORTUNE FAVOURS THE BOLD.
I want more. I want to concentrate mostly on advertising creative and logo design.
I want to go shopping when the stores are empty. I want to be at home in a great mood when my kids get home.
I want to play golf when everyone else is at work. I want a flexible schedule and the ability to decide what I am working on, from where, and for whom.
The future is completely virtual. I can work on a laptop from the cottage, while on vacation, or at midnight. The sky is the limit.
So I'm starting new.
My goal for 2007 is to find clients that see the value of hiring a creative guy with tons of agency and corporate experience without red-tape, bullshit, or overhead.
As of January, I'm back to hustling business full-time.
I’m regenerating my entrepreneurial spirit.
It’s time for excitement in my career once again.
I'm ready.
Here I come.
To Life.