Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tuesday Tip No.59 - How To Freelance

Someone calling themselves 'Inky Blackstuff' posted this the other day in the comments section. But it's a wonderful piece of writing, that I think deserves a wider audience, and a permanent place in the roll-call of Tips.

How To Freelance, by Inky Blackstuff

Thanks to the wonderful credit crunch, many of you are about to become freelancers (ie fired). I have freelanced before (and am likely to be doing so again) so allow me to enlighten you as to what to expect.

1) When you invoice, don't expect to be paid. Ever. Freelancers are different to normal people and they do not need to eat, pay their mortgages or buy trousers, thus no need to pay them.

2) You are like novice Spitfire pilots ie it is unlikely that you'll last long so no one will bother to get to know you or even acknowledge you in the corridor.

3) Freelancers are unlike normal people and will automatically know where the printer is. Though, of course, your computer won't be networked to it. It will take IT three days to attach you to a printer named after a celebrity. Freelancers are unlike normal people, they don't need to print anything.

5) If you bring your own laptop it will be impossible to get it to attach to the agency's network. Even though three IT bods are at your desk staring at it and saying "server" a lot. They will however admire it because, for tax reasons, you can buy a bloody nice one. IT will explain how to print something in colour but the method will be so fiendishly complicated and the IT bod will explain it so quickly you will give up, download your colour printing onto a USB drive and print the fuckers up at home.

5(b) The briefs you are given are often the most difficult ones in the agency. They will have been attempted, multiple times, over an entire year by every creative/planner/desperate account man in the building and will have remained resolutely uncracked, the creative director will have given up on them and you will be reviewing with the head planner (who, by this stage, has been driven quite, quite mad), you will be informed that the client will leave if you don't crack it in the next three days. Despite these hurdles, you won't be given a computer until the last day and you will be given seat in the coffee bar area. Freelancers are different to normal people. The more obstacles to creativity you can give them on really difficult projects, the easier they find it.

6) Other people think you are paid a fortune. Ostensibly you are paid quite well but of course rule 1) applies. They don't actually give you money until you threaten to firebomb the finance department. And even then they don't pay you, they just don the asbestos suits they keep under their desks. They automatically lose your first invoice. This goes without saying (I always used to send a second invoice two weeks after the first). You send it again, then they ask you what you were working on. Then they'll be on holiday or leave for another job, finally after 6 months you'll get your money but inflation will by now have made it worthless.

7) If you ask a PA for a pad or a pencil they will look at you as if you are mad. Don't know why. The stationary cupboard (in reality a drawer in a knackerd cupboard, covered in little magic marker marks, that refuses to open) will not have any pads (bar thousands of the tracing paper ones that no one ever uses) and you will have to steal a pen from the creative director's PA's desk when she's at lunch.

8) No one will tell you about the security system and you will get trapped in a stairwell. For some reason people assume freelancers are different from normal people and every security number in every agency is etched into their DNA or they have already received their security passes by magic or something.

9) When you get there on your first day, the person who got you in will have carefully omitted to tell anyone about your impending arrival. He will also be out at a meeting all morning so that you will have lost an entire half day of the three you have been allotted to crack this uncrackable brief.

10) You won't crack the brief. Frankly by the time you are involved the client is going to walk whether you give him a solution or not.

11) People will be utterly gobsmacked if you do anything good. Freelancers are not like normal people, they're shit at advertising.

12) There will be glorious weekdays when you are not at work, the sun is out and you have nothing to do and all day to do it in. You will learn what kind of people inhabit the world while normal people are at work. They're freaks and nutters.

13) The biggest cheese in the agency will pay you a visit and be very friendly. He is desperate for you to crack this brief and keep this client's income. His bonus depends on you.

14) All agencies are the same only the clients' creative judgement (or lack of) makes the difference.

15) You will occasionally work at some agencies that treat freelancers like normal people. Some good (though with their own...errrm how can I put it...peculiarities) ones are BBH, DDB, WCRS etc. Politeness, a public school education and sheer naked greed (and perhaps the need of employment in the future) forbids me mentioning other, though wonderful, less enlightened places.

Does this tally with your experience of freelancing? Let us know.

Craft: How To Know If You've Had An Idea; How To Use Social Media; What Would John Webster Do?; What Would Paul & Nigel Do?; The Hidden Flaw; How To Write Copy; Be Funny All The Way Through; How To Do Virals; How To Write Headlines; How To Do Direct; How To Do Radio; How To Do Press; How To Do TV; How To Do Digital; How To Do Posters; Read Iain's Tips; Be Very; Never-Seen-Before Footage; Dicketts' Finger; Two Blokes In The Pub; Play Family Fortunes; Don't Overpolish

Guile: Beat The Finger; How To Get The Best Out Of Directors; Don't Write Ads, Write Strategies; How To Choose Where To Work; Working Outside London; How To Negotiate Your Salary; How To Get A Pay Rise; Be Wary Of Punding; Challenge The Brief; Tell The Truth; Playing To Lose; Look At Weird Shit; Why You Shouldn't Present To The Client; How To Present To Clients If You Have To; Presenting To The Team; Presenting To The Creative Director; How To Deal With Rejection; Look Creative; Don't Be Afraid To Ask; Your Idea Has To Be 120%; Don't Behave; How To Discuss Ideas; Read Hugh's Tips; How To Get A Job In Advertising Part IV - How To Turn A Placement Into A Job; How To Turn A Placement Into A Job (Ed Morris view); How To Get A Job In Advertising Part III - How To Approach Agencies (re-print of Tip No. 7); How To Get A Job In Advertising Part II - How To Put A Book Together; How To Get A Job In Advertising Part I - FAQ; Make Friends With Traffic; Get Reference; Don't Stop Too Soon; Breaking Up; Working Well With Your Partner; Finding The Right Partner; How To Approach Agencies; Should You Take A Bad Job?


Anonymous said...

It's uncanny!

We once worked at an agency for a whole month without access to a printer or the internet (luckily I had my own laptop, otherwise I wouldn't have had a computer either) and every Friday they'd all go to the pub and 'forget' to invite us.

It was like being bullied at school.

Freelancing bad.

PH said...

I think I'm frightened that freelancers may come up with something that makes us look shit. Hence the uncrackable (sp.) briefs. Besides, why would you give a freelancer anything decent? Surely their role is to pick up the slack (shit) that you can't resource yourself.

Anonymous said...

fun writing, but sorta made me yawn.
if you hate it, then don't to id.

I got friends who freelance and are extremely happy about it. didn't work out for me, but that's alright. I'm not gonna whine on a blog just because I can.

Anonymous said...

"don't do id".
need sleep. now.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

brings back many memories, I would add that once you send and invoice every email after that should automatically have the invoice attached just in case they have lost it

still there are thous rare jobs, where you are brought in for an emergency, then no one briefs you for a month (not for you trying to get hold of one). and they pay you for it.

Jonathan said...

Yeah, that's pretty much spot on.

Anonymous said...

Whenever i freelance i notice all i get are the shitty breifs so the 'real' creatives can spend their time on the proper briefs.

Then when i ask for a crack at the proper briefs, traffic look at e like i raped their child or something.

This is the shitty side to freelancing, although if i'm honest, i couldn't care less.

The money's great!

Anonymous said...

In Argentina, you can hire a freelancer who is working at some other agency at the same time in a full time position. It's pretty weird. That gives many creatives an unexpected income of money.
Being a freelancer like that is much better.

? said...

I love this post. My book "Minds For Rent" is pretty straight forward, but alas I am a freelancer and an AD at that.


Anonymous said...

there is an agency across the street from tate modern that owes me freelance dough for four months now. I'm kind of shocked to learn it'll be another two.

Anonymous said...

I think Adam Tucker really has a point. It makes me sad such a high profile figure is receiving that kind of treatment at places like Mother and Wiedens.

(Btw I saw Tony Davidson today and he was wearing boring brown shoes and black socks. He's not creative according to Scamp's style guide he.)

Anonymous said...

9:03 PM

Is it Iris?

Charles Edward Frith said...

I've 'executive freelanced' (Thanks Rob) in a number of countries around the world and people are much more civilized than that elsewhere.

Maybe the UK's reputation for manners is another myth waiting to be blown apart.

Anonymous said...

@10:32 PM don't tell me they owe you as well?

Anonymous said...

AMEN! I'm in the good ole U.S.A. and oh how many times have I gone months without being paid....

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Charles, you're right, I freelance extensively at the senior end throughout Europe. I'm always paid on time and in some cases early - within a fortnight of emailing the invoice. Wheras in London, different story.

Anonymous said...

i say inky blackstuff is spot on.

freelancing in london is HORRIBLE. not only do you get treated like a dog (crappiest briefs, even less respect from account handlers (they almost ALWAYS rewrite your work because they don't know you so they don't trust you) and yes, it takes FOREVER to get paid.

plus: i have found the only permalance gigs on offer in london are at horrible places like finex or worse. sure you could stay for a long time, and you'd get rich, but then good luck getting another job with that kind of cack to show for your previous "experience".

i freelanced in new york for many, many years and found it to be so much more worthwhile. you could stay at an agency for six months, work on good briefs (and actually get treated like a professional: you get an office, a phat day rate and you/your work is respected as much as staffers'). there i guess they figure that they're paying you twice as much as staffers so they might as well get their money's worth.

another downside to freelancing in london is that for some reason when agencies need extra help the first thing they do is call a headhunter. headhunters seem to think they're qualified to determine what a creative director will like. "i don't think you're right for that agency." wtf? how would you know.

someone should start a website for freelancers. listing all the agencies who use them, the quality of life at the agency (is the creative director competent or an idiot? what daily rate should you ask for? does the agency pay on time?). now that would be helpful.

and yeah, the whole thing about agencies "losing" invoices is so annoying. and i like when they get pissed off that you are calling repeatedly to follow up on your invoice.

Anonymous said...

try getting produced samples of the work you did at an agency as a freelancer. it's a laugh. after you leave they forget you were ever there. so uncivilised.

Anonymous said...

re last post

That;s so fucking true, and when you phone em to ask for it, they treat the call like some prank.

Anonymous said...

in germany I observed two kind of freelancers: the ones with a really good book... so everyone knows and wants them. so they get, besides a lot of money, also really good briefs. and than there is an army of crap rubbing (don´t know if this translation works) freelancers, which might make also decent money - but not one job to improve the book. But in general I have the impression, that they are all treated quite well. Where I work, they get an e-mail account, even if the stay only for a few days...

Unknown said...

Great posting!

The same is also true in marketing when acting as a consultant. I, for a while, left the company I worked for for 15 years and they promptly had me back consulting and working on some projects for them. But the rules and experience were the same as the freelance examples above. Even a few days after I had left.

Strange but true!

Anonymous said...

this is much more like it, well done scamp for putting this up, decent bit of writing.

but is it really Adam Tucker?

Anonymous said...

Clearly the benefits of freelancing aren't that great. Like being on placement but with good money. The only real benefit is the opportunity to blag into a decent agency and try to get a permanent position. I see freelancers barely working a nine to five and getting paid over the odds for it. Feels like a very lazy/lucrative/lonely existence. Very poor work ethic.

Unknown said...

Hahahaha, welcome to my world. I wouldn't have it any other way though. Well apart from everything that was described. Love the bit about losing your 1st invoice.

Scamp said...

1.53 - I have no idea who it is.

Anonymous said...

@11:20 AM: post an email and we could have a drink. the exchange of information has to start somewhere.

Alan Wolk said...

I just wanted to second my buddy Kevin Amter's valuable book "Minds For Rent"

It's a great guide to a process that's often shrouded in mystery-- everything from what to ask for in a day rate to what to do to get paid on time.

My personal experiences have been as varied as the responses here: some places are wonderful, setting you up with IT the day you arrive, giving you good assignments, etc. and then others you sit there waiting for someone to show up and remember that you're there. Ditto payment: some places (usually the same ones who give you an email account the day you arrive) put you on payroll or give you a schedule of when and how you will be paid.

Having been on the other side of the coin, I find a wide range in quality of freelancers that has nothing to do with the quality of their books. Some are there to do the work, are helpful and cheerful and others are there to collect a paycheck and do the bare minimum, treating the assignment as if it were beneath them. (Which it may well have been, but if you're getting paid for it, really shouldn't matter.)

Anonymous said...

alan: you're right about attitudes in freelancers, I noticed that myself. frustrating though is that doing good work with the right attitude doesn't necessarily get you repeat business with them either. it's a total crapshoot.

btw: anyone here want to share some insights about freelancing in amsterdam?

Anonymous said...

Doing a freelance brief actually got me in D&AD once, but that was pretty much the exception to the rule. One addition to this admirable post: someone, somewhere in London will call you a 'Freeloader' and think they're being really original.

Anonymous said...

to which you reply; 'yeah, i load freely, i can come round your house and put a couple of shots in your head with only an hour's notice, you silly little twat'

Stanley Johnson said...

In my experience if you're struggling to get paid you need to hassle the CD who brought you in. They generally have to sign off on your invoice.

Anonymous said...

It may be the case that your experience of freelancing will be directly related to yr experience of staffing. ie the better yr book, the better yr freelance gig.

Since my book has never been the very best (not bad, mind you!) my freelance experience has always been utter shite - like inky's but more so. and i've always been enviously aware of the "Magic Roundabout" of award winning creatives passing the good freelance shit between each other.

Morale: don't start freelancing till you have scored some good work permanently; and if you haven't, cling to the full time post till you do.

Anonymous said...

i must say that i am surprised by the lack of comments to this excellent and very relevant post.

i wonder if most of scamp's readers are staffers (who don't give a toss about the quality of life of freelancers).


Anonymous said...

So true.
we are the 'digital janitors' of the advertising world. "Hand me the mop"

Anonymous said...

You will not have a bin. If you try to use anybody else's bin, they will look at you like you spat on them.

Anonymous said...

I'm still chasing an invoice from May 2008. Also from the agency across the road from Tate Modern.