Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lessons I have learned in 2009


Here we are at the end of another year.
What a year.
For the most part, it wasn’t exactly a great one (on so many levels).
The recession hit quite hard, many of my friends suffered (both in the industry and outside of it), some of my clients wouldn’t spend a dime on any form of marketing (even though they really should have), I lost a client (or two) to ridiculously cheap designers, and I had two close deaths in the family (one suddenly) including the loss of my beloved grandfather who was one of my biggest business mentors.
I can’t say I’m sad to see this year over.

At the end of 2007, after my first year of working on my own full-time, I wrote a blog post titled “The year in review and the lessons I learned”

All of these lessons still apply, and here are some more I learned during the great recession of 2009...

The client that says “thanks for the quote. We are getting a few more and will get back to you” will most likely never get back to you.

It seems that if you write a blog post praising somebody in this industry, people will start questioning if you are sleeping with them (I’m still laughing).

If hundreds of fishermen descend on your fishing hole, it’s time to either pack up, try a different bait, or find a new fishing hole.

When they create a movie based on the fact that people have left your industry in droves (see “Lemonade – The Movie"), that’s typically not a good sign.

With that said, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Corny and overused, but still rings true.

Twitter and Facebook are powerful as hell and can lead to amazing opportunities if used correctly.

Don’t worry about snarky, negative idiots on online forums. They are probably huge losers in real life.

A large client that nickels and dimes you (asks for a reduction) on a small invoice is one you should fire immediately.

Get a great paralegal/collection agent working for you. In Toronto, I recommend Jeff Greenberg. For outstanding invoices and the unresponsive deadbeats behind them.

I have said this a dozen times but here it is again… No matter which new client you will work for, get a retainer before you begin any work. If they are serious, they will oblige.

Never act completely taken aback when a woman tells you her age. Especially someone that has brought you in for an interview. Long story.

Know who your friends are. Know which co-workers are on your side. Make sure not to share too much information with those that can easily become your competitors. If they become your competitors, make sure you get them to forget this rule.

Find a great creative partner. Especially if working for ad agencies. I love mine to death (hi Linda) and I’m lucky to have her.

Shake all negative thoughts.

Stop putting up with, and dealing with bad clients and start focusing all your energy into finding some great ones.

Never stop moving forward.

Do not count on anyone that promises you “more work coming”. Sometimes, that could mean “many months from now”. (Go back one)

Stop contributing to design contests and crowdsourcing sites.

Don’t stop reading my rants about design contests and crowdsourcing sites. ☺

This industry (and life) is full of peaks and valleys. Not every year can be a great one. This year was bound to happen after so many great ones.

Life happens when you are making other plans.

Tough times don’t last. Tough people do. (This one’s a favourite to my father).

And (once again)…

Family comes first.
Always.
No matter what.

I think to end this year, I should tell my favourite lesson of 2009. An uplifting story about something I witnessed.

I was in Las Vegas for the 40th annual World Series of Poker (in June) and one night I played in a tournament at the famous Golden Nugget casino.
A player got knocked out (by my friend) in the bubble (the last finishing position before entering the payout structure). The poor guy lost miserably with the best hand. Anyone that plays the game knows the horrible feeling of being “the bubble” when you were just within reach of getting paid.
He shook hands with my friend and shuffled slowly out the door with his head down. You couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. He looked so sad.
About 10 minutes later, he came running into the room jumping up and down and gave my buddy the biggest bear hug with the words “thank you for knocking me out of this tournament”.
When he left the room he sat down (to mope) in the first seat he could find outside the doors. It was the seat of a 5-cent slot machine. After a minute or two of shaking off the loss, and figuring he was already in front of the machine, he put in a dollar bill, took one pull, and won the $6,500 jackpot.

Moral of the story, for every yin, there really is a yang.
And just when you think you are in the worst spot (and your luck is horrible) something great may be waiting just beyond the next door.

Goodbye 2009. Bring on 2010.

Have a happy holiday season (whatever you celebrate), and may 2010 be a great year for you and yours.

Monday, December 07, 2009

I saw LEMONADE MOVIE (yet left extremely pissed off).


A few hours ago, I had the pleasure of watching a screening of a movie that I could personally relate to. Lemonade is about what happens when people who were once paid to be creative in advertising are forced to be creative with their own lives.

www.lemonademovie.com

With so many people working in the advertising industry in this city, I was really amazed at how few came out. I would have bet (especially since the screening was free) that it would have been a packed house yet only around 100 people were in attendance.

At roughly 40 minutes in length, the film was extremely well done. Music, direction, etc., all came together beautifully to tell people’s stories without any unnecessary, boring filler.
It got straight to the point. Everyone got laid-off, got over the hurt and feelings of being unwanted, and moved on after discovering what was truly important in their lives. If you have ever worked in this industry, hell, if you have ever worked in ANY industry, you should be able to relate and it is really worth seeing the film. Many (myself included), left inspired and questioning what would truly make us happy in life?

So now you are probably wondering why I left steaming mad (as my title suggests)?

One word.

Irony.

The organization that sponsored/screened the film (that will remain nameless) made some announcements after it ended. One of these announcements was about an open "website design contest” they will be holding in the near future. The winner of this contest will get $1000.

Just so we all get this straight…an organization that just screened a film moments earlier about creative people being laid off in the ad industry is throwing a contest that de-values the livelihoods of creative people working in the industry.

We all know how I feel about design contests. I could feel the blood boiling in my head. I bit my tongue trying so hard not to explode when the organizer asked if there were any questions?

I decided to confront her when it was over.

I walked up, introduced myself, and flat out asked how an organization can be so hypocritical that they would hold a design contest after screening this film?

Amazingly, her response was “I know, I know” and she tried to explain how they still consider the contest a “good idea”.
I asked her how it’s a good idea? It’s no wonder people are losing their jobs. If every company that needed some creative work decided to hold such a contest (and it seems as if they are), why would anyone ever need to hire an ad agency? I tried to make her understand that what her organization is doing is contributing to the demise of our industry.

She replied with an authoritative “everyone that submits a design will have their link featured on our website”.

This is a classic line that I hear often. It translates into “do all our work for free, and we promise you’ll get a load of business out of it because we know a lot of people”.

Anybody that has been on the freelance side of this industry will tell you that this line is the standard ‘biggest-load-of-crap’ that you will hear often as justification for free work.

There was something one individual (featured in the film) said that stuck with me.

“Companies don’t need to go to an ad agency anymore. There are plenty of people out there that are great at what they do and are not only willing to do the work, they actually love doing it”.

I quoted this line to her. I asked why they won’t consider hiring a great out-of-work designer to build them a website and pay them the $1000? What I got in return was another justification for the contest. “I believe there is room in this industry for both” she replied.

Why is it so difficult to understand that by holding this immoral contest, they aren’t (as they believe) giving an opportunity to recently laid-off creative people. What they are actually doing is taking advantage of their vulnerability.

Lemonade (and those involved in the making of it) - I give you an “A”. I really enjoyed it.

Organization that sponsored the screening - in my books you should really be ashamed. Go through with this contest and you deserve a big fat “F”.

Now, go hire a recently fired creative that can use the money to feed their children.








Thursday, November 26, 2009

Great…Another contest.


On an industry forum, a new spec contest has come to light. Absolut Vodka is holding a creative contest. The winner gets a whopping $500.

Whooptie-do.

$500 from a company that makes millions. Less than the janitor probably makes per week mopping the floors at their corporate headquarters.

Somebody excitedly posted the link (I've changed the name to indicate my true feelings)...
Absolut Bullshit Contest

Those that follow me know how I stand on this subject. But somebody in the industry wrote a response to me on the forum voicing my disapproval…

“This one wouldn't be bad practice for someone with little to no experience in the real world + you get to work on an Absolut Brief so it's not all bad.”


Here’s my response…

It's all bad. How does anyone get into the real world when the real world is the fact that Absolut (and all the others that do these demeaning contests) are taking work away from their agencies? No work = no agency. By contributing to these contests, what you are in fact telling these corporations is that we work for free. Our education means nothing, our money invested means nothing, our time means nothing.

Go call 20 dentists, have them all pitch to whiten your teeth, and tell them that the winner may get a long term client. "May" being the correct word. Or 10 mechanics can try and fix your car, and whoever succeeds, "may" get paid.

In every industry, they will tell you straight out to fuck off (I believe using profanity is appropriate in this situation).

In ours, the majority of us don't do a damn thing. Except for a select few (and don't think we don't rat these companies out to design organizations who in turn, write and bombard them with tastefully crafted nastiness), we continuously (as an industry) take it right up the ass.

And what's absolutely amazing is that many of us take it with a smile on our face.

Sad.

I'm going to write Absolut and tell them to send over a dozen crates of different flavoured Vodkas.

If my friends and I have a great time (over the course of around a month), I will be sure to "mention their name" as a winner in my books on Facebook and Twitter. I'll even pay them a little something for their trouble.

Absolut: Please make sure you ring the doorbell when you deliver.

I'm waiting.

For more info on this subject, please visit
www.no-spec.com

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What the hell are they teaching you?

The other day I had the pleasure of having coffee with a 20 year old advertising student that emailed me asking for some guidance. He was troubled. Not with the industry and its current state but with the school he has attended. A 2 year advertising program at a college that has basically prepared him for absolutely nothing.

I asked him about the curriculum and what he told me left my mouth hanging open.
They are teaching old school methodology. Concept driven drivel on generic products that have been done to death year after year since the late eighties. How original…lets create a new print concept for a hot sauce. It doesn’t matter that 30,000 before you also have an ad like this in their book, or that agencies (in the past) have won numerous awards for this client. You are sure to one-up them.

I asked the student about interactive and what courses he was taking?
Blank Stare.
I asked him about social media and what they have touched on?
Blank Stare.

“This is the problem” he stated. “I don’t think they are preparing us for what we need to succeed in this industry”.

He is right. Advertising today is not about creating a billboard for a hot sauce. Advertising today is about creating what is right for the client. And every one of them is different. If the client is best served by an ad campaign on a social networking site, then you do an ad campaign that will be successful on a social networking site.
They aren’t touching on web design programs? Not even one day on the basics?
Nearly every creative want-ad in the careers section of industry magazines (in today’s market) wants an interactive art director.

Many schools need to wake up and stop taking student’s money with the false promise of careers in this industry. The curriculum needs to be updated every few years with a focus of what is new and what is coming. Not what was and is now going.

According to this student, the instructors also persuade them to take on spec work for clients to help build their portfolios. This is not the first time I have heard this. In a recent comment on one of my past blog posts, the writer states…

“What really frustrated me was how the teachers at my school would encourage us to take jobs from "good clients" at a ridiculous price to "make our names". I think our teachers weren't aware that it didn't work like that anymore”.

To sum up, what I have seen (time and time again) in meeting with graduating students is that many schools are taking their money, the instructors are tired designosaurs teaching what they knew back when they were at the heights of their careers (decades ago), and they are instilling in these kids a low sense of self-worth. The very people that are supposed to be preparing their students for a successful career in this industry are contributing to the demise and immorality that has taken over through spec work, contribution to contests, and working for little to no money with the hope that somebody may take notice down the road.

Very nice.

If I were to teach (and I have thought of doing this many times), my course would focus on real world business preparation. Many end up freelancing (in one form or another) so I would teach them the basics. How to write a proper proposal. How to create a proper contract and invoice. How to prepare for taxes. Things that hold up in this business. I would prepare students for the real world. No sugar coating. I’d even give a lesson on how to collect from a deadbeat client. If I was to have them work on a client, I’d pick some obscure start-up and have them start from the bottom up.

The last thing I would have them do is create an ad for a generic client, in a tired medium, and tell them to get out there and sell themselves short. If you’re going to teach concepts, make the students adapt their work into executions for different mediums available in today’s world. The ad for hot sauce should not just be a billboard, it should also be applied into some form of a promotion utilizing the internet. It should involve different applications and mediums for a complete execution.

Students, research the school you choose. Research how many graduates got hired in their respective field. Research the backgrounds of the instructors. Where do they stand in the industry right now? Choose your school the same way you would choose your spouse.

Very carefully.

Because before you know it, the only thing you’ll be able to do with that hot sauce ad is identify the product easily in the supermarket.

Until next time, keep dreaming.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

If you could follow JUST one person in your creative career…

Everybody needs a mentor.

Recently, I was asked who has had the greatest impact on my career?
Over the years, I have worked with some great and talented people, I’ve learned a lot from several of them, but I don’t think I can really name one person in the workplace that took me completely under their wing. Pondering the question, what I came to realize is that one of my main mentors is actually somebody in this business that I consider a friend. I haven’t worked with her at all. I’ve only met her face-to-face a few times but we’ve just had some great chats over the years and I’ve listened…to EVERYTHING she has to say.

What I learned a long time ago is that this business is not just about the work you create, but also about making the right connections and contacts. Whom you rub shoulders with can be as important to your career as your book. As I have mentioned in past articles, I have found full-time agency work by chatting up Creative Directors at an industry function with a glass of Scotch in my hand.

Social Marketing takes this networking to a whole new level. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. are like being at the cocktail party or award show reception 24/7.
You can introduce yourself to anybody. You can follow their words. You can have many mentors and follow many people.

I have no idea how and when I met Heidi Ehlers, but I knew from the moment I met her that this was one person I would stick close to the rest of my life. In the world of advertising and design (especially in North America), Heidi may possibly be the most important and knowledgable person you could ever know. A former creative herself, Heidi is the owner of BLACK BAG creative recruitment + career management. She’s not just a headhunter, she is THE headhunter. BLACK BAG is about creative talent. Finding creative talent, strategizing careers with creatives, studying what causes the best creative talent to be the best and what causes the hot shops to be hot.

I could go on about her “Diary of a Creative Director” series or “Camp Black Bag” workshops. I could write endless paragraphs about how inspiring she is when listening to her speak, or how many times she has been able to steer me in the right direction. But I will simply end this post with two little words of advice...

FOLLOW HER.

If I could only have one mentor in this world, or if I could follow just one person that I believe would be the greatest asset to my career, it would be Heidi.
I think you should be listening too.

On FACEBOOK: BLACK BAG creative recruitment + career management
On TWITTER: BLACKBAGtweets

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Status Quo

Potential Client:

Hi Ronnie. We would like to use your creative services but we would like to see some ideas and concepts before we give you the go ahead.

Ronnie Lebow:

Sure. And since you are a Dental office (and I'm already here), lets go into the next room so you can whiten my teeth. If I like the results, maybe I'll agree to pay you.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Bald Media…a new launch.


Around a year ago, I was busy putting together a new guerilla marketing company that I believe is fantastic for trade shows and on-the-street product giveaways. In today’s digital world, anything on the street and in the public’s face is great exposure and my company sure does draw attention.

Bald models heads are airbrushed with a company brand, product or service and are unleashed on the unsuspecting general public. Imagine 5 guys walking through a packed shopping mall during the holiday season or handing out product samples at a trade show. People can’t help but look. It only makes sense that my company’s slogan is “heads that turn heads.”

Unfortunately, while I was putting it all together, an advertising agency in New Zealand came up with basically the exact concept for a client, it made some news, and I had proof the idea had potential and I should launch the company. To top it off, a media journalist saw my ad online (searching for the models) and decided that it was an interesting story that simply couldn’t wait to be told. I had no choice but to work through the weekend and get everything ready for its Monday release.

The story broke and the phone started to ring. I had 3 gigs booked right out of the starting gate. I figured my company was going full steam ahead. That’s basically when the economy tanked and the projects quickly got pulled because the clients began to “trim the fat”. Bald Media was simply an extra touch. All the “extras” started getting cut out of the budgets from worried corporations.

I have several friends in the staffing and event planning industry and they saw the same thing with their businesses this year.
So I decided to stop focusing on promoting the company, and figured I would lay low only to launch again when the time was right.
Bald Media will get a company or message noticed. Especially to large captive audiences. It is not only a fact, it is guaranteed.

The procedure of application is also a crowd pleaser. Having the airbrush artist on-site at an event is an advantage as people will gather around to watch the logo/message being applied. In today’s world of limited attention spans, it is guerilla marketing at its finest. With over 25 models of different ethnicities in my roster, I’m always ready to go.

I teamed up recently with my airbrush artist and decided to do a test street run. We wanted to see what would happen and the timeframe involved in the application process. Since it’s my company and I shave my head, it only made sense that I would be the guinea pig.
We did two artistic versions. One, a company logo for a potential client for the upcoming Canadian Poker Expo ("The Maven" David Chicotsky...who has an online poker training institute), and the other, a generic application for Bald Media.

Upon walking out the door and into the street, the results were unbelievable. I literally stopped traffic as cars slowed down to look at me. I had the airbrush artist grab the video camera and run way down the street to capture the reactions and results for posterity.

If it could generate this kind of response within minutes of being outside on a moderately quiet street, I can only imagine the exposure possibilities for a corporate brand in the right setting.

To watch the application video and street test run, please visit the site…

http://www.baldmedia.ca/baldmedia.mov


or on YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-Wfsuywl4c

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Who wants a job?

In my last blog post, I announced that it is time to Abandon Ship.

This did not mean that we should flee the industry, it meant that we need to abandon what we have done in the past and move forward in a new direction.

The design/ad freelance world as we knew it has changed. It is no longer about designing a logo and a fancy business card or producing an ad for your client. It is about offering them the best solution for their business, whatever it may be. A direct mail piece combined with social media or an outdoor billboard with a mobile promotional code, the freelance creative moving forward, needs to think and produce on a much larger scale. The way companies attract clients in the technological world of today has quickly changed.

With this in mind, I am no longer labeling myself as just a creative “freelancer”. I am a creative “brand builder”. In today’s world, if you want to work small and on your own, you need to get over the idea that you alone can offer your client everything they need to grow their business, and you sometimes need to outsource.

Growing up, I watched the older generation (in my life) do multi-million dollar deals on the golf course. They were strictly middle-men. They brought this guy together with that guy and got a piece of the action. I believe that in order to continue working as a freelance creative, we have to follow this route.

If my client needs SEO (Search Engine Optimization), I know somebody who I can bring on board to provide this service. If they need a TV or Radio commercial, I have people in place for that too. And I’m going to make sure that every one of these contacts will give me a piece of the pie for making the connection and bringing them the business.

Going forward, I will continue to do what I love best. Designing logos and creating ads, but I offer my clients more than that. This is what separates me from many “professional” creatives out there. When I am hired, I offer my clients consultation on what they should do (moving forward) to grow their brand. They hire me for my knowledge of the industry and the solutions that are available to them.

Using the same principle I have just described, I have a job offer for anybody that is interested.

Do whatever you like to do every day. Look for a job, paint your house, or spend more time with your kids. I’m offering each and every one out there a chance to make some money. And the best part, you don’t have to do much.

Bring me a client that wants to creatively brand their business and I will give you 15% of whatever profit I bring in. They need a logo? 15%. They need a magazine print ad? 15%. The bigger the project, the more money you will make.

Now here’s the best part…you make the connection, go off and do whatever you want (or even better, go find the next client), and if that client continues to use my creative services, I will continue paying you 15% of all future profit. Find me 3 large clients that are tired of paying over-inflated agency fees, and you may not even have to work this year. I have a rolodex full of freelance professionals in different areas of the industry that can be brought in (as needed) and the sky is the limit as to what we can offer.

I am offering you the position of a commission-based “virtual account executive”.

And everybody and their grandmother can do this job.

Go to a cocktail party and find out that the person you just met needs a new identity for their start-up company?

15%.

Go on vacation and find out that the resort changed owners and is looking to advertise?

15%.

My strategy is this. Why be a creative person who’s always busy looking for the next project when I can focus on working creatively and have thousands of people out there looking for my next project?

While you are out there looking, I’ll be doing the same. Sending clients that I can’t service on my own to others with which I have partnerships.

Everybody in the circle moving together as one large machine.

This is the future of freelancing.

Brand building.

Who’s on board?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Abandon Ship


Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

- Bob Dylan


It has been a whirlwind of a week.
My blog post about the changing of the design industry "we have become cheap whores" has racked up the hits. Never could I have imagined this outcome when I wrote it.

I’d like to thank ISTOCK for their amazing timing this week. They almost single-handedly proved my entire point.

All the comments, forwarding of the article, tweets, and emails have been much appreciated.
So now what? As the song lyrics above say, it’s time to sink or swim.

With anything you need a game plan. You have to lay out the next course of action.
So I’ve begun doing so. Yesterday I met with an old friend of mine. We used to be DJs together way back when music was new and not “Old School” (as it is called today).
His internet company just made an impressive showing on “Profit” Magazine’s top 50 list, and I figured we should sit down together to discuss what is happening in the future of communications. What he showed me in our 2 hour meeting blew my mind and I feel like the days where I hosted a BBS site from my Commodore 64 should be included in the technological dark-ages.

Hopefully, you will follow along with me as I explore new tactics and options. I have places to go, people to meet, and things I must do in this industry and as my buddy instructed me, the first step is to sign up on “Twitter”. I’ve been avoiding it like the plague but if the guy who is considered a leader in online communications is telling me to start there, I’m listening.

Hopefully you will follow along.
http://www.twitter.com/ronnielebow

Come Monday I’m jumping in head first. The ship as I knew it (and many on it) is going down.

Swim with me.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

ISTOCK now sells logos?

I have a ton of work to do this morning. Yet here I sit, knowing that I must say SOMETHING in regards to ISTOCKPHOTO’s announcement that they will begin selling logos (for lower than standard pricing) sometime in the near future. I’m not even going to bother editing this one because of time restrictions, so if there are grammatical errors on this post, I apologize.

Just last week, I wrote my blog article “We have become cheap whores” and it is still being circulated around the world. I think my timing was quite good because after yesterday’s ISTOCK announcement, I saw it circulate again and we have some huge protests taking place from designers on both sides of the fence.

On one side, is the uproar from people that have made a handsome living over the years in this industry and understand a brand’s worth. On the other, people that welcome the fact that there is possibly a market for whatever they can produce. As one “designer” wrote on the site’s message board…

“WOW, Just GREAT. Now I have a reason to learn illustrator as I have been wanting to for some time”.

Nuff said.

After reading pages upon pages of comments from wannabe designers congratulating ISTOCK for this new endeavour, I realize that in the design world of today, true professional and passionate creatives have become the minority.

Now, here are some facts and questions as to why I sit on both sides of the fence on this idea.

I’ll start with the negative.

First is the most obvious. I charge my “friends and family” $2,000 for a logo.
For clients, I start at $2,500. And I have always been fairly busy. The reason I charge this rate is because I know a logo is NOT in the same category as clip art. In fact, I believe that a logo design is the hardest thing I can produce. I have been known to create award-winning ad concepts in one day, but for the new look of the dental office down the street, I like to give myself around 3 weeks. The client must be researched. I need to know what kind of clientele they are targeting. I need to know how they want to project themselves in the marketplace. I need to know many factors before I put pen to paper. And then I need to explore different avenues and ideas for the client. Often, a logo is born by making a move (while tinkering for days) with a design until I end up shouting “Eureka”. Then I do it all over again for the next concept. Is this whole process really only worth a few hundred dollars?

Remember when you were young, and you practiced your signature over, and over, and over again until you got it perfect? How much would you have paid to have somebody come up with that for you? What if I could give you a signature that got a WOW response everytime somebody saw it? How much would you have paid for that? This is what we do and why we charge more than a few hundred bucks for this creativity.

ISTOCK claims that you should submit your third round of logo revisions that the client rejected. This sounds great. Only there was probably a reason the client didn’t want it. In my mind, the fact that they paid me for my creative concepts means that by selling those concepts I have just cheated them. They paid me handsomely for the work, and now somebody gets to use what they threw away for a small fraction of the cost?

There are also possible trademark issues and the legal expenses that could be incurred to a company if they end up buying something that has been ripped off. You are a company owner, you buy a logo off the site, you create and pay for all the corporate materials to accommodate it, and the next thing you know, some designer in (insert country here) is suing you for ripping off their work. Seems the “designer” that submitted the logo to the site copied it. Now what?

Now we have the factor I fear most. The cheapening of what we do in the eyes of the public and the start-up company owner. “What do you mean you charge $2,500? My brother got a professional looking logo for $100 off one of those sites”. Our service will now be a much harder sell.

Here is why I like the ISTOCK logo idea…

I have created dozens of logos over the years. My clients generally get a minimum of 3 concepts. Sometimes, I give them more. So, lets say I have created 30 logos over the course of my career…that means I would have around 100 designs to submit to ISTOCK. Let’s say I tell ISTOCK to sell them at a maximum rate of $800 each. I get 50% of that (according to what I have read). $400 x 100 = $40,000.

$40,000 and I don’t have to do a damn thing. Like my ISTOCK photo uploads, I’ve already created them and they were just collecting dust anyway. Have I hurt professional photographers with my photo uploads? For one thing, unlike “designers” that will submit logos, I never claimed to be a professional photographer. This is where the difference lies. If my photo has some grain to it, the one downloading it takes that chance. What you see is what you get. As a professional Art Director, I have still hired my fair share of professional photographers for different photo shoots and I have still bought high-end photographs in the $2,500 range for some of my clients. I’m sure logo designs will work the same way.

If you are looking for a professional design, hire a professional. If you are looking for something to “make do”, go ahead and download from ISTOCK. Just don’t be upset when it comes around to bite you in the behind down the road.

What I find most interesting is that ISTOCK sells photos to designers and art directors like myself. Now, they are going to hurt the business of the very people they rely on to buy their photographs. I believe this is called "biting the hand that feeds you".

Here is my take. Sell it for what it is. There should be a biography beside every one of the logo designs on who is submitting them. If somebody (like myself) has an impressive background, qualifications, and numerous awards for their work, they should be allowed to price their designs at whatever they see fit. I may not sell as many designs but I am okay with that. Hopefully companies looking at my work will see that I took the time to create what they are buying. Not that I whipped something together to put a few dollars in my pocket. An amateur with no professional background should not be worth the same rate.

In the end, if the world changes, you can fight it or you can go along with it. I’m still undecided on this one. One thing I do know is this…

I may be a whore, but as I’ve said before, I’m not a cheap one.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Whore Aftermath

I went from writing absolutely nothing for a few months, to not stopping for 3 days. Updating the events from the first blog post, writing email replies to many, and speaking with a few design organizations and industry websites that have followed up.

To everyone that submitted comments and praise in regards to the article and the info it contained, I thank you.

This was never about me. I was merely pointing out facts. And after speaking to the RGD (who have really been amazing in regards to all of this), this isn’t about them either. They seem as genuinely concerned as we are, are investigating, and I for one commend them greatly for it.

This was about the state of our industry. This is about the freelance website that doesn’t care about standards or guidelines. They only care if they get a piece of the action. No matter how low it may sink.

This is about the employer in Toronto that believes $2.00/hour is fair pricing for what we do.

And most of all, this is about ALL of us putting our foot down.

Somebody said that we should form a union and I should be the Jimmy Hoffa of this industry (minus the unhappy ending to that story). And truth, if I knew I could change things for the better I would seriously consider it. But we all know this is not possible.

I could write a blog post (keeping names out of it). I could bring the situation to your attention and hope you get something from it. That was about it.

All of this has to do with you.

I have turned down many jobs this year (and lost several others) because I have stuck to my guns. I will continue to stick to my guns. I’m not interested in competing with those that feel that $2/hour is acceptable.
I poured a lot of sweat into getting to this point in my career and I’ll be damned if anybody is going to have me cheapen that. Make some concessions because it’s a rough economy? Sure. No problem. You need a logo, website, corporate materials and a direct mail postcard? I’ll throw in the postcard design for free. The rest will cost what I believe it is worth.

Why? Because if I’m not getting paid what it is worth, I’d sooner do something else.

So now what do we do?

Do we sign a petition stating that none of us will work below minimum wage?
Do we all agree on a standard pricing guidelines? The Graphic Artist’s Guild of America has a book like that.
Many don’t follow it.

As we discovered this week, even the organizations have their work cut out for them to regulate what their members are up to.

It’s entirely up to you as a professional creative.

Do you want to keep giving away your work or not?

If there isn’t anyone willing to do this cheap work, we’d all be in great shape again.

I’ll be the first name.

I solemnly swear as a professional creative to not cheapen our industry by working for wages (or contributing to anything) that I feel, de-values us as a whole.

I swear to keep up the fight.

Ronnie Lebow.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The cheapest whore of all.

Yesterday I wrote a blog post titled “We have become cheap whores”.
Although I knew it was good, I didn't realize it would spread like wildfire around the world with kudos coming in from people not only in our industry, but other industries as well.

Photographers, art directors, web designers, people in film editing, even accountants felt the need to write me on this one.

I woke up this morning to approximately 167 emails praising it with a hundred other additional comments (all positive except for one) on different websites. People have been forwarding the link.

Now, some new information has come to light.

As I mentioned, 5 proposals were submitted for that $2/hour project.
The one Canadian proposal belongs to a designer who is a recognized member of both the RGD (Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario) and a Professional Member of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada.

Please feel free to write both organizations (as I have) and stress how you feel about their members contributing to the destruction of our beloved industry. I mean, aren’t they the ones that are supposedly adhering to strict values? If THEIR members don’t give a crap, should anybody?

I have nothing left to say. I'm just shaking my head.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

We have become cheap whores.

For those of you that have been following me, you may have noticed that I haven’t written in months. I’ve been extremely busy. Not so much in the industry (and workwise), but with life.

I have traveled extensively this year. I had family affairs on 2 different sides of the world, I got sponsored and played against the top pros in the World Series of Poker (and made a final table in a large casino tournament while I was there), and I was a guide to 8 men on a canoe trip to North Ontario.

The list goes on.

My point to this is that I had a LOT of time to think. About my place in this industry, about the future of this industry, about what I want to do for the next 10 years.

This week, I turned 40. A milestone. The age where I’m (supposedly) going into my top income bracket yet here we are in the middle of a deep recession. Work has been relatively slow. Friends in this industry have been crying to me. Clients have feared spending money, and all the unemployed have been whoring their services as freelancers.

Yes, that’s right. I said it. Never in all my years have I seen the competition so fierce. Never have I seen people give their services away for so little.

I recently had a client tell me that they found someone to do their monthly direct mail/postcards for $20. The worst part is that this client asked me if I could beat that price (and this is a client that makes over $20k+ in commission per sale).

Are you seriously kidding me? Can I beat $20? Needless to say, I walked away. Quickly.

Our profession has become tainted in the eyes of many thanks to $20 designers who pump out crap with pirated versions of design software.

To an uneducated client, we are all simply Mac Monkeys. To their understanding, what we do is relatively easy. Crowd-sourcing sites, $99 logos for sale, and design/advertising "contests" have quickly cheapened this once-great artistic profession. “I don’t need to pay for one professional, I can hold a contest, and pick a winner from thousands of entry submissions”.

I got into this profession after growing up with Mad Men. I’m not talking about the hit TV show but those same people they portray. I wanted the single-malt scotch in my hand at 4:00pm while I wristed up a concept at my drafting table (and believe me, I experienced this at more than one agency). I sketched naked models for years just so I could nail a pose correctly. I then went to art school for 4 long years and did it some more. You had to be a trained artist to get into this business. I penned an article years ago about my ode to my dying craft entitled “I love the smell of rubber cement in the morning”.

Times changed when the computer came into play. For better and worse. It did however, allow me to land where I am at this very moment, working from a home office.

With the Blackberry, my business changed even more.

I have taken advantage of all the freedom freelancing has to offer. I walk my kids to school in the mornings, I take vacations whenever I want, I go grocery shopping in the afternoon, and all the while, I’m connected to clients, potential clients, project notifications, and my entire virtual office thanks to the little mobile device attached to my belt.

Looking for work and pitching for projects has become a little too easy.

Many design schools became businesses. It’s not so much about the craft anymore, it’s about how many “professionals” they can churn out. Once these “pros” come out, they look for work. Any work. Competing like rabid stray dogs over scraps on a bone.

Name me one single industry where somebody can simply buy some software, hang up a sign, and call themselves a professional without any prior training or work experience?
I see it in our industry every single day. And to many businesses and their owners in today’s economy, we are a dime a dozen.

Recently, I got notified from a freelance work site regarding this listing…


Description:

The graphic designer will be responsible for the conceptual and creative design for a variety of marketing pieces including: permanent and temporary display renderings and concepts, posters, POP material, on-line advertising, tradeshows, newspaper and magazine advertising, among other printed applications. The graphic designer will also be responsible for some project management responsibilities.

Skills Required:

•Develop and design concepts and renderings ( 2D & 3D) as per client request

•Manage multiple ongoing projects with frequent and tight deadlines.

•Work closely with various personnel to complete and manage a project through to completion.

•Strong at conceptualizing, a problem-solver, and creative presenter, coupled with excellent written and oral communication skills.

•Superior understanding of print processes, pre-flight management, and burning files for archiving and distribution

•Must be a quick-thinking, decisive and resourceful team player with the ability to distinguish good design from mediocre.

•Strong organizational/time management skills and ability to understand client needs.

•Succeed and thrive in a highly business/creative environment and take constructive/corrective criticism well

Qualifications:

•University degree/College diploma in graphic/industrial design

•1-3 years of design experience

•Proficient in a MAC and PC environment

•Proficient in 3D software a MUST.

•Strong knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite - Illustrator, In-Design, Acrobat/Distiller, Photoshop


Okay, are you ready for this?

Seriously, are you ready?

You may want to brace yourself.


Pay is $2.00 an hour.

No, there aren’t any zeros missing.

Once again, a University degree, 1-3 years of experience, all those requirements (including extensive knowledge in 3D software), and this complete asshole believes that $2.00 an hour is an acceptable pay rate.

I could make more than that by humming into a kazoo in the subway station for 10 minutes.

This job is not in India, it’s not in some third world country. It’s right here, smack dab in Toronto, Canada.

I was furious. I answered the employer in the project question board with the following...

“I believe you have entered the pay field incorrectly as $2/hour is an illegal wage in the province of Ontario”.

What happened next made my blood boil. I was immediately banned from the question board on the website for “derogatory and/or sarcastic comments”.

I wrote an email asking the site how I could be banned for bringing up the legalities of the situation? They responded with the following…

“Regarding the amount posted for this project - as this is a global marketplace, there may be professionals willing to complete this project. Cost of living, and therefore pricing, varies across the globe. While project amounts of $250 or $300 may not seem like much to you, it may be the equivalent of $1000 or more in another country. Also, someone just starting their freelance career may be willing to complete this project. As long as there are professionals willing to complete the project, we do not intend to deny them the work. We certainly cannot force the entire community to abide by the standards of one group or another.”

Seeing as this is a job which appears to be on-site work in Toronto, I replied back, stating the legalities again and that it appears the site has no problem making money on illegal business practices and slave labour.

I quickly got my privileges back.

It is time to take a stand to save this industry. How? I don’t know. We never had standards or set pricing guidelines. We never had a union and for the most part, we have too many out there that are hungry.

The first step would be to stop contributing to Crowdsourcing sites and “Contests” promising us fame and fortune based on our winning designs. They are simply taking advantage of us, our talent, our thousands of dollars in software and equipment, and they de-value what we do for a living.

As the site replied, “As long as there are professionals willing to complete the project, we do not intend to deny them the work”.

We must stop being willing to do the work.

The next step is to start educating our clients. Make them understand that conducting research on their company, conceptualizing and producing an effective look/brand for it (and all the other associated materials etc.) should not cost less than the 2 uneducated guys nailing new shingles on the roof of their house.

Branding a new business and unleashing it into the marketplace should not cost less than a new set of brakes on one’s car.

Until we can get this through their head, we are going to see many more ads seeking trained professionals for these pitiful wages. We are going to see the profession we love become something that just isn’t worth doing anymore.

Going back to my beginning, what do I want to do in the next 10 years? Besides working creatively, I want to make some changes. Stay on top of these things. I want to see all of us getting paid what we are worth.

I don’t know how to go about doing this, I don’t even think it can be done. I just know it HAS to be done.

Because as I type this last sentence, there are now 5 proposals from qualified designers for the $2.00/hour position.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The "Out of our minds" promotion.

2009 is the year of the start-up. Or so it has seemed by the numerous requests for corporate identities that I have received this year. Many recently laid-off people seem to be skipping the job hunt and opening shop instead. For years I have had a minimum rate for logo design projects. This year as well, only I have lost several projects to starving designers now offering bargain basement pricing and the growth of “crowdsourcing” sites.

I thought long and hard about this problem and the question that kept nagging me. How can I sweeten my proposals to ensure I win them? Was I willing to take a pay cut? Sure, if I had some help.

The idea hit me one day like a load of bricks. I even had a name for it.

Offer 2 professional designers for the price of one. Even better, I’ll offer the client 3.

I emailed two very professional and seasoned freelancers I know, Brad Choma and Denny Kurien, with the invitation to meet over breakfast.

I shared my idea with them, we discussed it for 2 hours, and left with a partnership.

The “Out of our minds” promotion was born.

Working together, yet separately, we are offering a unique promotion to any start-up for the duration of 2009.

3 professionals working independently on the look of your brand, for roughly the same price you would typically pay for one.

We will share the final concepts with each other and polish them as a team before presenting the client with 6 finished identities to choose from.

Unlike the Crowd-sourcing sites that can see thousands of amateur designers competing by submitting logos in the hopes of having their design selected, “Out of our minds” is unique as it immediately brings 3 extremely seasoned professionals to the table. The client doesn’t have to spend weeks going through thousands of entries in the hope that one stands out.

We research our client’s business. We speak to them directly and we’ve all been working on some of the world’s most recognized brands for a very long time. Anybody starting a business has to have a strong identity in today’s market. They need a look that stands out from the crowd. We’ve just made getting one not only much easier, we’ve made it extremely cost-effective.

3 Professionals, 6 concepts, one low set price.

$2009 during 2009.

www.outofourminds.ca

Sunday, May 31, 2009

When life hands you lemons, go for the jugular.


The last few months have been an interesting ride. A scary ride. You know when you receive an email from a known working creative director asking if you need any help, that things can’t be too good.
I have many friends in this industry and many of them are not working at the moment.

I have spent the last 3 months creating and executing a game plan. If you read my last blog post about my website going down and the email blasts I created to follow it, this paid off well and resulted in several projects that I am currently working on.
I believe that when this economic slump is finally on the upwards swing again, those that have prepared and put all the correct pieces in place will reap the rewards.

Many of you that read my blog (or know me) have figured out that my biggest passion in life is Poker (I’m heading to Las Vegas to play in a World Series of Poker event in a few weeks… fully sponsored).
Many of the lessons you learn in that game carry forward to real life.

I have won a lot of big tournaments because I understand that when the big stacks are showing weakness, that is the perfect time to go after their chips.
Right now, big agencies are hurting. REALLY hurting. This has been the perfect time to meet with their clients and show them some much cheaper alternatives for their creative needs. This game plan has been taking up the majority of my time. I have not only received some projects from one or two of them, I have also been referred to others in their rolodex and have 6 meetings next week with the heads of different companies.

I also figured out that during bad economic times, some of those recently laid-off will skip looking for a new job and instead take a shot at starting up a new business. I have been targeting these people as well. I am currently working on two large corporate identity projects and have several more waiting to sign. I also had a serious idea for a promotion, brought two other people on board, and we will be launching this week.
If all goes according to plan, you will hopefully read about it in the industry press.

My point to all this is that you should keep your chin up. All is not hopeless.
Nothing is easy. Nothing happens overnight.
It’s all up to you and the steps you take now.
You can’t give up. You can’t take no for an answer. You knock on one door, it slams in your face, you move on and knock on the next one. Eventually, one should open.

If I told you it has been an easy ride, I would be lying. It has been the hardest grind of my career so far. 16 hour work days with nothing to show for it but alot of talk and promises. Thankfully, some of them are starting to come through.
I could be back to square one tomorrow. But I don’t believe in giving up.
As we say in the game of Poker, you have to constantly be mixing up your game to win.
And right now, there are many opportunities to come out of this thing a winner.
Fortune favours the bold.
Go get them Tiger.

Until next time, keep dreaming.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Shop Closed.

The last week has been one of the worst in my freelance life.
For the first time in my career, I felt an unbearable feeling of dread. That sick, queazy, stomach
turning stress that almost made me physically ill.

Last Monday, I lost my website.

The Friday before went extremely well. I had some new work I created (for Nestle Canada) launch nationwide.
To a freelancer, the day something goes live is the equivalent of Christmas morning.
The main way to gain new business is to always be promoting yourself. When you create the majority of work months before you are allowed to show it to anyone, you look forward to the day you can finally announce it.

I sent an email blast showcasing the new work on Friday to my contact lists... agencies, clients, potential clients, friends and family etc.
Friday afternoon was spent deleting the emails that bounced back (and it seems there are many during this economic downfall) and writing thank-you follow-ups to those that responded with compliments. I also sent off a few proposals for some potential business.

The weekend came and went.

Monday, I had to run a few errands and at roughly 11:00 am, I was standing in a Home Depot aisle with a full cart when my phone rang.
A close friend and colleague called me to deliver the news.

“Buddy, I hate to tell you this but I was just about to forward your email to somebody when I noticed it’s completely blank. I checked the internet and your site is gone. It also says your domain is no longer registered in your name, and it expired today.”

I left my full cart right where it was and bolted from the store.
I also believe I would have beaten Mario Andretti on the road back to my house.

Now, I’ve been in a lot of emergency situations in my life (where I had to remain level-headed) but my adrenaline was pumping so hard that I had to slow down for the operator at the hosting company to understand what I was talking about.

It turns out, years ago, I had a web-savvy friend offer to register my domain name and do all the dirty work involved with the process. He had several email accounts and for some reason, he registered it under one of them that he no longer uses (instead of mine). This combined with an expired Visa card number means that my site didn’t automatically renew itself and went into what is called “Redemption”. Redemption is the equivalent of internet purgatory.

Getting your site out of redemption (once my friend uploaded forms transferring emails/rights complete with government issued identification) takes 5 business days. That and hours (upon hours, upon hours...) on the phone making your way through different people, managers, and departments.

The good news, I eventually got my site back.
The bad, everybody opening my promo email on Monday got a dog’s breakfast. Anybody I sent a proposal to with the invitation to check out my website, would have seen nothing.

I equate this to advertising a big weekend sale in my store, only to get there in the morning when a large crowd starts to gather and realizing that I have lost the keys.

For one week, I was completely shut down.
Imagine how you would feel if you had several big creative directors scheduled to see you and you just lost the only copy of your portfolio.
THAT was the feeling.

There is however, a positive spin to all of this.
For every yin, there is always a yang.
Thanks to the mess-up, I was able to send out my promo twice. Double exposure.
My first basically became a teaser (a really lousy one). My second was an apology for the blank email followed by the promo once again.
It did its job rather well and I was more than pleased with the response.

There are several lessons to be learned from all of this.
The most obvious is that I will ALWAYS make sure everything related to me is in my name and my contact information is up-to-date.
The other is just a reminder that without a website in today’s world (or any form of internet exposure), a business is nothing. It has no clout.

My door is now open.
It will remain that way.

Feel free to browse.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It's a dog-eat-dog world.

It’s now over 4 months into 2009 and I have noticed that compared to the last economic downturn, it seems that there is complete anarchy in our industry.
Many creatives have been downsized, and they have now jumped into the freelance pool.
Competition is fierce.
Back in 2001, when I became a full-time freelancer, websites where companies can search for RFPs (and pitch against 80 others for each one), or online sites promoting ads and logos for sale (for a mere $99) did not exist like they do now. Anybody with a computer today can go after a project. And it seems as if they are.

The main challenge facing our industry today is that there is no structure. We don’t have set rules and guidelines. We don’t have any form of a union. You don’t need initials after your name anymore to be considered. Many with hacked versions of Photoshop consider themselves “professionals” and have opened shop. The computer (and the design programs) was supposed to make our job easier. What it actually did was destroy a profession that was once well-respected.
A free-for-all has ensued, and companies/clients are taking full advantage of this.

2 days ago, I saw an RFP for a project on a worldwide freelance site. The client wants a 1000 page booklet revised and designed. The entire budget is $250. Sounds crazy right? Last time I checked, there were 8 proposals already submitted for it.
8 designers/firms from around the globe thought this budget was worthy of their time.

Seeing things like this has always infuriated me. For those of you that read the forums, I have spoken out about spec contests where designers submit free work for the chance to win prizes/money. I would be lying if I say I haven’t participated in this type of work myself in the past (the winning 2010 Vancouver Olympic logo is very similar to the Inukshuk version I submitted) but eventually, I came to the conclusion that these “contests” are nothing more than requests for free work, which undervalues our time, effort, and our profession. No other industry has this kind of crap going on, yet for some reason, we allow it to continue.

A few days ago, I was competing for a large design project against another designer. The client contacted both of us by day’s end on Friday (after work hours) through email to tell us that we were selected as the final two and he would be making up his mind over the weekend. When I called first thing on Monday morning, I learned that my competition had already submitted 8-10 concepts. The client was thrilled, decided to use one of them, and I was out. 8-10 concepts, and they worked all weekend without a signed contract. How does one compete with something like this? I have two choices. I can play this silly game, or I can simply choose not to and at least lose with my dignity intact.

Recently, I went out for breakfast with a good friend who was the Canadian representative of a Stock Photography company. He was recently let go after the company decided to close the Canadian division. He asked me what I thought about websites where advertising creatives (or anybody that considers themselves one) can submit ad concepts with the hope that a client will purchase them. I told him it undervalues what I do for a living. He then asked me if I have ever contributed any photography to online photo sites?
I have. I dabble in photography and have actually made some decent money by contributing to one in particular. He then responded with “Why do you think I am now out of work?”
He was right. It hit me like a hammer. I am an absolute hypocrite. I had no problem submitting my work to a site that undermines professional photographers with cheaper pricing, yet I complain about sites that do the same on my end.

I’ve decided it is simply a dog-eat-dog world.

I’m considered to be on the expensive end as a freelance creative. However, compared to an ad agency (from where I came) I am an absolute bargain.

I’m going to shut up and stop complaining about these bargain basement designers with their spec-work that have been wooing my potential clients with their incredibly shameful pricing. I no longer consider them my competition and they can do whatever they please.

Submit your logos to these $99 sites. Open up a chain of ad sites where companies can download amateurish concepts for pennies. Work your tail off on 50 projects with the hope that somebody uses one of your ideas. I don’t care anymore.
I will now use this same philosophy and strictly go after bigger fish. The clients that want a cheaper alternative to their expensive agencies. The clients that are used to spending big bucks on their projects and are now feeling the economic pinch. I can easily do much of what they need for a lot less. I’m being undermined so I’m going to take it forward. This is my new goal. To undermine those above me, not below.

Until we get some form of organization and rules as to what constitutes a professional, or a set of guidelines that we all adhere to on what should be standard rates and fees in this business, it seems at the moment, in this troubled economy, the cheapest guy will most often win.

Large agencies are in trouble, I’m in trouble, we’re all in trouble. The industry as we knew it has gone down the drain. Try explaining your rates to a clueless potential client whos “cousin knows somebody who designs stuff with a computer” that quoted him $100.

We need to stand up as an industry and say “no more”. To do something and improve what it has become. A governing council if you will. If a client wants something legally produced, it has to come from within the organization. Without it, companies will continue putting out RFPs for $250 and expect this to be an acceptable going rate.

Are my thoughts realistic? No. It’s an old-school way of thinking and it is WAY too late. But I would rather starve than see my education, experience, and credentials worth less in the eyes of a company owner than the guy that serves them their morning latté.

If we’re going to go down, I for one, will go down gracefully.

Until next time, keep dreaming.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Freelancing during the recession.

My name is Ronnie Lebow. Back in 2001, I became a full-time freelancer because I was sick and tired of packing up my desk every time the agency I was working for lost a big account. Thanks to the economic spiral after September 11th, it was really my best and only option.
I figured, if I’m going to be in an industry where there is no sense of job security, I may as well be a free agent. I already had experience from working full time for almost 10 years, and I also understood how to sell to clients having been in many boardrooms. So, it only made sense to me to go out and find my own clients and stop relying on “here-today and gone-tomorrow” agencies to provide me with a paycheck. I guess you can say that I came to the conclusion that nobody ever really gets rich working for somebody else*.

Flash forward to today.

I’ve been writing articles about my freelancing experiences for several years now and contributed to this blog where I have continuously stressed the fact that this economic storm was coming. Of course, there are many in the industry that thumb their noses at freelancers and consider them not only unworthy, but as those that simply couldn’t “make it”.

My how the times have once again changed.

In the last month, I have received so many emails asking for freelancing advice that truthfully, I am actually starting to despise them. People losing their jobs, people about to lose their jobs. Many scared individuals wondering if becoming a freelancer is also their best and only option? Somehow, I have become the expert that everyone is turning to and I thank you all for it. I truly appreciate the fact that I have become a considered expert in an area of this industry. However, you can kind of understand that I would rather these “freelance” emails come from agencies and companies looking for my services than from those that will end up out on the street as my competition.

So, for those of you now in this boat (or thinking about it), I’m going to (once again) be a nice guy and offer a few bits of advice.

Some agencies do in fact need freelancers at the moment. I am working for one in particular that has kept me very busy. However, the agencies that are thinking about firing staff will keep on a few to handle the work/clients they still have. They don’t need you right now. They may need a freelancer at a later date when things start to pick up. But probably not at this very moment.
My guess is that they are also being inundated with calls from those recently laid off. If you are not already on their roster, you may want to forget this route. You can put your name on their list. But there are a hundred others on it as well. Very rarely do I call agencies looking for work. Most often, they find me.

The one question I get asked the most is “what should I charge”?
There are a dozen factors to take into consideration. What’s your level of seniority? What will you be working on? Which agency/company? Etc. Etc. Etc. I like to find out immediately what their budget is for my services. It changes often. If you are hoping for a set rate/price, and are unwilling to budge, you won’t be working much.

Companies (if they are smart) MUST advertise right now. Your mission is to find them and convince them of this. This is in fact a full time job.
The most important thing I can tell you is this…NOTHING in this business is overnight. If you get a client interested in your services, expect at least 6 weeks (or more) before something is signed and you begin. To put this into perspective, I’ve had a few proposals out since August and I am still waiting to hear if I have a go-ahead. Waiting is absolutely normal. In the meantime, keep going. Keep looking. The proposal you have out there has more of a chance of not going ahead than proceeding. So try and put many out there. I like to equate this to fishing. Keep throwing out baited lines. The more lines you have out there the better your chances. Eventually, one of them has to land a fish. The fisherman that relies on only one rod is going to starve.
Also, keep in mind that once you finish the project, expect 30-90 days before you receive final payment. If you need some immediate cash, insist on a retainer. In all my years I have NEVER received a retainer from an agency. With other clients I insist.

There will be months where nothing happens. If you can’t handle this fact, freelancing is not for you. It took me years to finally understand this. Please read my blog post “Recharging your Batteries”. Develop a serious hobby. You’ll need it. It will help take away from the stress of having nothing going on and hopefully to help find some new contacts. I hand out many business cards on the golf course and at the poker tables. Sometimes these introductions work out, often they don’t. But one thing is certain, you must ALWAYS be selling yourself. If you are shy, or are not good at striking up conversations with strangers, get over this hurdle quickly.

And last, some of us have been preparing for this for quite some time. Think it’s coincidence that some of this industry’s top people evacuated their posts to start up their own companies? Rather than slamming them in the industry forums for having the massive kahonas to take such a leap, you really should have been paying attention to the fact that the rats were fleeing the ships.
Becoming a freelancer is exactly like starting a business. It may take months and even years to get the ball rolling and keep a continuous supply of eggs in your basket. Sometimes, no matter how good the last year was, you will be back to square one and must find new eggs to fill up your basket. It can be extremely rewarding. It can also be a very rough ride.

For those of you thrown recently into the unemployment pool, I’m going to tell you straight out how it is for I have NEVER sugar-coated the truth. Many of you are going to drown. Prepare your game plans. I lost a lot of friends (in this industry) in the last economic downturn.
The light at the end of the tunnel is that when all of this blows over, when things start to really pick up again, there will be jobs that need filling.

In the meantime, I thank you all for your emails and leave you with this final statement as we head into a long downward slide…

Every man for himself.

Good luck.


*This statement does not include those that originally joined a start-up company called “Google”.