Thursday, December 07, 2017

We use the word ‘Freelancer’, but I’m a Surfer, Angler, and Gambler.

I have been working as a full-time freelance creative professional since the late 90s. Meaning, I run my own business and invoice everybody that hires me. I’ve worked long stretches and short stretches - on monthly retainers, by the day, hour, and by the project for a multitude of corporations, start-ups and agencies over the years. Needless to say, I spend a lot of time in boardroom meetings where I’m either being interviewed (I look at it more like speed dating because wanting to work together goes both ways), negotiating, or presenting.
One thing that remains constant when you work this way is the ups and downs. The peaks and valleys.
When you’re busy working creatively, you don’t have time to self promote and your funnel can easily empty. When you take on a 3 month long project or agency gig, you will finish with a much fatter bank account, yet might find yourself with nothing lined up to work on next. This is one of the reasons I seek out agencies and firms that can use my ongoing help, and why long-term client relationships are vital to the way I work.
A freelancer that tells you they are ALWAYS busy is either stretching the truth, quite new, or they don’t charge enough.
It’s a surfer telling you there’s never any flat (dead calm).
It’s an angler telling you the fish are always biting.
It’s a gambler telling you they are always winning.
SOMEWHERE along the way, they have encountered (or WILL encounter) a slow period. Somewhere along the way, they were probably worried about a lack of projects to ensure a successful month.
Going back to the title of this piece, as a free agent, I am constantly sitting on my surfboard, watching a bunch of rods, and playing in poker tournaments.
There are GREAT years. There are slower years. This is the way it is. There are years where you are making money hand over fist, the jobs are rolling in, and then, through absolutely no fault of your own, you lose 3 ongoing clients in the span of one single week. I could lie and tell you this has never happened to me, but that scenario is exactly what I encountered a few years ago (to the tune of over 90k in annual billings), and I haven’t stopped working to continuously rebuild.
There are plenty of ways that you can lose a client. When it came to my own experience, one sold the company (and the new owners had their own people), one put their marketing efforts on hold, and one retired and closed shop (this one was bittersweet but left me feeling content that I may have helped play even a tiny role in it).
If you work for agencies, sometimes they also have slow periods or they have JUST enough work to keep their in-house staff busy. If you are at a senior level and earning a decent wage, they may have no choice but to let you go. You can’t take any of it personally because, as they say, THAT’S business. You just have to start looking at your place in it through other mindsets.
We’re Surfers.
The project you were working on has finished, or, as an agency employee, you were just downsized. That wave just ended. Like a surfer sitting on your board in the flat, you’re now waiting for the next wave to come in that you can ride for a while. The question is, will you be riding the next one for a week or 5 years?
Understand that we are ALL crammed together in that water. There are a large number of other great surfers out there waiting to catch your wave. It might be a long stretch of time until you see a wave again, so you might want to explore other beaches or find some smaller waves (side clients) to ride until some big ones present themselves. I’ve had years where the small waves have been a lot more fun and much more financially rewarding than the big and long ones. Sometimes, while riding the small waves, a big one will come along (you win a sweet contract), or an agency offers you an in-house position (I was onsite on a monthly retainer for 7 months last year), but waves and rides WILL always end. Don’t just sit on your board and wait in one place. Look to other beaches. Look for waves, ANY waves, to keep you surfing until new (and hopefully bigger) ones appear.
We’re Anglers.
Looking for people to hire you is like fishing. The more people you meet and connect with, the more baited lines you have in the water. The more baited lines in the water, the more likely you are to hear a reel sing. Change fishing holes (see if other industries can use your services). Throw out constant bait. Improve your online portfolio and tell people about it. Go to networking events. Write an article about surfing, fishing and gambling...
Don’t be afraid to throw out multiple lines. Don’t be afraid to try new lures and bait. Don’t be afraid to raise anchor and switch spots. Always be experimenting. Always be exploring. Always look for new ways to get a fish on the line when they simply aren’t biting.
We’re Gamblers.
Being a freelancer is being an entrepreneur. You can’t be an entrepreneur without being a gambler. Don’t be scared to jump into some games or take some shots at a few bigger tournaments (RFPs). All you are investing is your time and if you’re slow, you have a lot of it. I won a nice-sized RFP with the Government last year and I never believed the odds were in my favour to even make the final table. Sometimes Lady Luck WILL attach herself to your arm.
Every job you apply for is a tournament (usually a huge one). Every single project where you throw your name in the hat for consideration is a game. Every salary or fee negotiation is a hand in play.
When it comes to gambling (and I truly believe that everything in life is a gamble) two of my favourite sayings ring true…“Fortune favours the bold” and “No guts, no glory”.
If you can afford to, find a start-up company that has the potential for success, doesn’t need a whole lot of your time, and work on points. Not for FREE…for a percentage. Be sure to get it in a written contract. You might even find yourself not needing to work that much longer. According to the grapevine, the graffiti artist who painted Facebook’s office took stock instead of payment and is now worth something like 200 million dollars. I’m invested in several different companies under this arrangement. Hopefully, at least one will pay off in spades, but the worst that happens is I have a much fatter annual portfolio to shop around, and the work helped keep my brain focused and sharp.
Don’t be afraid to take on some risk. No risk, no reward. Find different ways to play the game. And it IS a game. Small games lead to people telling you about bigger games. Winning in bigger games leads to a much more relaxed mind if you have a cool streak, even for several months.
I’m all of these, both professionally and recreationally, and have found that the key is to not separate the mindsets and applicable rules.
When I’m working 10 hours a week I’m looking to work 20. When I’m doing 20 I’m always looking to do 40. When I’m doing 40 I’m looking to do 80. And I love 80 hour work-weeks. Seriously, I LOVE them.
I live for the long and high waves. The days when the bite is ON. The wins and cashes. I’m happiest when I’m up on the board, when the reels are all singing, and when my chip stacks are growing.
When the wave finally crashes, the action stops, and the tournament is over, I try to get over it quickly knowing that it was to be expected and I should feel a strong sense of accomplishment.
Next wave. Next hole. Next game. Every new day brings it.
I simply get back out there.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Monday, October 26, 2015

Your new cheap (STOLEN) design can land you in trouble.

Im a designer. A real designer.
Meaning, I take pride in coming up with unique and original solutions for my clients.
I am very protective of the work I have created for them and I don
t take kindly to others stealing it for themselves.

There are laws.
This is not the wild west where anything goes.
Why is it, in 2015, people think that they can take whatever they want off the internet, repackage it, and sell it cheaply to another? They don
t believe theyll get caught?
To go with this question, how is it that people believe that they are getting unique and customized work from a designer that only charges $5?

Many years ago, back in the early 90s, I designed a logo for a Toronto Comedy Club named Comedywood.
Because the most iconic symbol in this city is our tower, we (the client and I) decided that the character behind the logo should feature such.
I sketched and I sketched and I sketched some more, and eventually, I created the final piece that hung large in lights, high above a popular shopping plaza in this city where the club was located. It was well known. If you look closely, you
ll see that the lines in the logo arent perfect and theres a lot of unevenness because I didnt use computer vector arches and graphics, I freehandedly cartooned this logo using a pen.

s mind boggling is that for some strange reason, it is the most ripped off logo that I have ever created.

Thanks to reverse Google image search, I am able to find instances where this logo has been stolen and recycled on an ongoing basis. I
ve even seen it featured in a (foreign) designers portfolio. And as I mentioned, believing that this is not a free-for-all, I personally follow up on each and every one of these copyright infractions.

I usually start with a polite note of
you are using my work without permission so please remove it and only ONE time have I received an apology.
Usually, the answers I receive are
F you, WTF? and my all time favourite which happened to me this week your problem doesnt lie with me. It lies with the designer I hired”.

Actually, legally, my problem DOES lie with you as you are publicly using my work and showcasing it to promote yourself and/or your services.
But, I don
t believe the world is full of intelligence or those that fully understand the rules, so (as a nice guy) Im willing to let this one slide.

However, my problem right now DOES lie with the designer. He
s the one that tried to pass off my work as his own.

Want a logo for $5? You get what you pay for.
But don
t be surprised if you get a call/letter/email from the designer who actually created it, or even worse, a lawyer stating that you now owe somebody a whole lot more. 

Monday, May 04, 2015

That’s JUST the way it goes.

Last week, I learned that the Government of Canada ignored the national petition/protest from professional designers and students and announced the "winner" of their Canada 150 speculative logo design contest.

Of course they did.
Why wouldn’t they?
This is not the beginning of this dire trend that has plagued our industry, so why be surprised?

I have said it in the past and I will say it again.
As long as there are people willing to do the work…

In this case the winner was a young University student.
I get it. Competition upon graduation is fierce. You want to put something cool in your book. Why not take a stab at such an opportunity? Why not try to win and make a name for yourself?

I’m not going to discuss the winning work, even though the Canadian Government got what instantly appears to be (to this professionally trained eye) an amateur’s design*.

I totally believe that if a design like this is what they have deemed acceptable then all the power to them and to the rest of us, too !@#$ing bad.
We lost the fight against contests a long time ago.
As my title states, that’s JUST the way it goes.

People expect free work because we give them free work. As long as we are willing to give it away we will always have design contests popping up.
We will always be taken advantage of.
Not only have I given up speaking out in regards to contests, it appears that I too recently and shamefully fell into this trap.

I’ve been working for the past 8 years in a home office in midtown Toronto. Recently, I have begun looking into new career options because the LRT/subway (I call it a subway because it’s an underground train) is about to be dug practically under my feet with 2 massive boring machines.
The last year has been a nightmare. My desk shakes constantly, the noise is endless, and I’ve decided I have to get the hell out of here during the day because I have at least 5 more years ahead of me until the LRTs’ completion, and it’s about to get MUCH worse.

My options are to either open a new office/agency with interested partners or join a well-oiled machine that can use somebody with my skills and experience in a CD position.

Thanks to LinkedIn, I was given an opportunity very recently to explore the latter, and I got called in to an interview for a CD position with a massive and prestigious Canadian corporation. It will be left unnamed but it’s one that the majority would know.

I was highly intrigued. I gave my salary expectations in my cover letter (so that was out of the way), and I concluded by the middle of the interview that it was definitely a place where I could see myself working for the next 5 years.

The final question I was asked went as follows…“We are asking our final candidates to participate in a presentation and were wondering if you would be interested?”

I found myself nodded yes but in my head I was actually asking myself, “wait a second, did she just ask me to create SPEC WORK?”

I COULD have screamed “NO” but I wondered how many RFPs I have written over the years where I spent at least 3 days on the thing and got absolutely nothing in return? At least I’m at the final table in this tournament, so I figured I really had no choice but to take a shot for the win.

I got the brief on a Friday. The briefest brief I have ever received. Only a few words. I asked them what it meant but they wouldn’t elaborate.
Oh, and here’s the best part, I was to present on Monday morning.
Present what?
That was entirely my decision.

I had a massive party to attend on the Friday night, a 50th birthday party on the Saturday night, and in between, I found myself working like a dog all weekend on a wide array of ad concepts, social media executions, and a video/TV storyboard that resulted in a large presentation which (production wise) ended up costing me over $100 out of my own pocket.

What a complete sucker I was.

They made me wait over a week to tell me the news that it wasn’t the direction they wanted.

I regretfully took part in a contest and STILL can’t believe that even a high level creative position had such strings attached.

The last 20 years of my work and experience didn’t matter. We didn’t sit around a boardroom table and discuss objectives, projections, aspirations, or brand strategy, they just held a contest amongst the candidates and looked for their winner.
How is that ANY different than a cheap logo design contest? Other than the fact that the reward is a 6 figure salary for the next 5 years?
Are architects rounded up and forced to present blueprints when they look for a job? Do mechanics get put in a garage with a stopwatch and a disassembled engine?
I used to get at least $5k to present such concepts to a corporation, now I’m expected to give it away for free with their lure of a decent position?

On the topic of lures, when I hung up the phone, I was in the middle of a frozen lake, ice fishing with a friend.
I sat back down in silence for a while as I jigged my rod.

You upset? My buddy eventually asked.
“No.” Came my reply.
How ARE you feeling? He inquired.
“Like I need a shower” came my answer.

Congrats to the student on her winning design.
Right now, she might be smiling and enjoying her moment, but eventually, she’ll discover that she was part of a process that saw us being used, and nobody will even remember her name.

As for me, I promise I will NEVER participate in such a contest ever again. I’d honestly sooner leave the industry.

As a wise man in a movie once stated…

“Show me the money Jerry. SHOW ME THE MONEY.”

* The kerning is awful. Look at that huge space/gap between the 5 and the 0. A pro would have manually adjusted it so it’s perfect. It honestly makes me cringe.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The year of the mobile-friendly site.

This week, Google tilted the search engine algorithm in favour of mobile optimized sites.
In laymans terms, if your site is not mobile friendly, it will be moved down the search engine ranks giving your competition an advantage.

Google discussed the algorithm update in its Webmaster Central Blog: 

“Today’s the day we begin globally rolling out our mobile-friendly update. We’re boosting the ranking of mobile-friendly pages on mobile search results.”

Every business in 2015 MUST have an online presence and now, according to Google, they should also be mobile friendly. And chances are your current website isnt.

To find out if your website is mobile friendly, click this sentence.

If your website has passed, GREAT. You are up to date.

If it didnt, and you are currently working with a web designer, make sure to ask them to optimize your website so it also works on mobile devices.

If you are NOT currently working with a web designer and need a newly designed site, or want your current site updated and/or transformed, I have a special on complete
packages at this moment that will be extremely gentle on your budget.

Become Mobile-Friendly HERE

Friday, September 05, 2014

Just THINK of the recognition!!!

I love when potential clients state “we know our budget is extremely low but think of all the RECOGNITION you will receive”.

Here’s my answer...

Two designers won the logo design contest for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic games.
Their work was everywhere on a global scale.

Name ONE.