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.
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.

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.


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.