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.