Unfreelancing – Letting Go Of The Attractive Freelance Life

For years and years I worked on my own. Two months shy of six years, to be exact. I gave up all of the freedoms and self-employment perks in exchange for the shackles of servitude and obedience.

But I also left behind the stresses of the EDD, corporate taxes, business development, and operations management. Those management concerns all happened on top of designing and developing interactive applications and websites; usually at nights and on the weekends.

Making the switch definitely had it’s perks.

However, the transition was not easy at first. Soon though, the sense of confinement and control lifted and soon I came to enjoy the freedoms that accompany working for someone else:

  • My family is first priority, and now, when I’m not working, I’m not working. Being in management, I always need to be reachable and I do sometimes work long hours, but that is all up to my discretion. If my son has soccer practice, or my daughter wants me to read books to her all evening…that’s where you’ll find me. Overtime happens, but only if I want it to.
  • My job comes with a description, and while I tend to wear a bunch of hats, I know that I’m not responsible for everything. I don’t own the company, and that is just fine by me.
  • I don’t have to worry about making sure we’ve got enough projects or revenue to pay the employees.
  • They hand me checks twice a month. Look, I may have made more money as a freelancer, but I don’t ever need to experience another 3-month dry spell waiting on delinquent clients. I’ll gladly exchange a little dough for piece of mind. So will my wife, I’m sure.
  • I have 10x less paperwork every day. I really should repeat this one like Bart Simpson on a blackboard.
  • My office isn’t the spare room in my house, and my co-workers are actually a nerf football to the head away. I do not miss the solitude of freelancing, and I doubt I ever will. Collaboration is king.
  • When I need technology, software, fonts, resources, hardware, etc., my employers purchase these things…I don’t have to worry about mapping out purchases, and such. It’s not my job.
  • I can take sick or personal days off, delegate my work to my team, and know that things will be done. While I could take days off whenever I wanted to before…if I wasn’t working, things weren’t getting done.

Look, you can always make a very strong case for the freelancing life. It can be wildly lucrative, can allow you to work on a ton of great projects, travel, collab with a variety of different teams and agencies, and give you the ultimate scheduling flexibility.

But for me, it’s a lifestyle so much more befitting a single guy in his 20’s than a married father of 2 in his 30’s. I was so scared when I took my first job in July 2007, but in the past 18 months have really grown to love this balance I’ve found which was much more difficult to attain (and maintain) when I was running Go Farm or freelancing as 417north.

I’m a strong advocate for returning to the office. I have grown so much more as a designer, and as a creative director for heading up design teams for companies other than my own. I’m now directing an in-house design team (the in-house design life, that’s a whole other post), and that has brought even more lessons and growth.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining (or starting) the conversation by leaving a comment below. Thank you kindly.

Keep Your (Design) Job Right Now

It seems that the world’s economy is on a steady collapse, each day bringing new stories of companies closing shop, and another industry asking Congress for a bailout plan. Our industry is no different than any other. I’m sure that you all have a handful of friends that have lost jobs in the last 3 months.

Well, let’s take a look at a handful of things that we can all do to help protect our design jobs (these tips will nearly all work for non-designers, too, but a few things might need to be translated and interpreted for your own industry/career). There are tough decisions being made in conference rooms and owners’ offices all over the world right now, and your name might be inextricably on one of the cut lists. So, let’s assume, for the sake of this article, that you are on the chopping block, but you are in the gray area. You still have the possibility of affecting whether or not you get pink-slipped.

If you think this article is a bunch of bullshit, I want you to go do some job searches on Krop.com right now (also try Creative Hotlist, Authentic Jobs, and LinkedIn). If you come back with 15+ available positions in your field, location and experience level, maybe you can relax a little bit. If not, I’d get involved here because it could mean the difference between P.F. Chang’s and Cup O’ Noodles for you.

First seven “good employee” things that you can easily do to get your employers leaning towards keeping you (these apply to every single employee on Planet Earth, by the way…not just designers):

  • Devour tasks on your plate. Don’t let things assigned to you linger or sit uncompleted.
  • Show up on-time, or early, in fact. I don’t care what your boss says about being okay with you coming in sometime between 9-10am, when you show up at 8.45am consistently, everyone notices.
  • I don’t know whether I’d say stay late, but don’t be the douchebag packing up at 5.54pm everyday in anticipation of the 6pm bell. (I say this, and I leave work everyday at 4.30pm to go pick up my kids…but let’s just say I work more hours than you, so no shit-talking that point.)
  • Do your homework and come to brainstorm discussions prepared. If you’re the one delivering the ideas your clients are picking (or at least the ones your bosses are presenting each week), they’ll have a hard time justifying your dismissal.
  • Don’t take long lunches for a little while. Try to keep to the hour (or other time) allotted.
  • Try to minimize the amount of appointments you make during the day, when you can. If you can’t, ALWAYS ask for the first appt of the day, or the last, and then compensate on the other end (i.e., 8am appt, arrive @ work at 10.30am, work until 6.45pm instead of leaving at 6pm).
  • When your bosses are cruising the office, minimize your blog, feed readers, Twitter apps, and NSFW content. I know this seems simple, but you’d be amazed how often it happens.
  • Oh yeah, don’t EVER be caught working on a freelance client’s project at your 9-to-5. Nothing will get you scraped quicker.

These seven tips are pretty standard. Getting square with each and every one of them will maybe add 30 minutes to your day, maybe an hour. Isn’t that time worth not having to go brave that job market? I didn’t think so…let’s keep reading.

As a designer, chances are, your team has dwindled a little bit in the last few months. If you’re in a place that hasn’t suffered any firings, well, a big congratulations to you and your firm for surfing the waves when everyone else is battoning down the hatches to weather the hurricane. Yeah, a big congratulations, or…your company is next.

So, down to the more design-specific work habits and characteristics that will keep your neck clear of the hangman’s axe:

  • More than just finishing the tasks on your plate, be a production beast. Beat deadlines, advance work from the left side of your desk to the right as quickly as possible, not forsaking quality.
  • Win the creative battles. When you’re going up against other people in “comping” phases, or if you’re pitching clients or higher-ups, get your designs into development. The more work your company is producing of yours, rather than the designs of your peers, the more essential you become to the company’s current trajectory.
  • Make yourself wide-open to criticism and evaluation. This is not the time to be defensive with your art directors / creative directors / owners. Don’t get me wrong, don’t become a push-over, and don’t change who you are. Just be quicker to get back to task and ditch the arguing. It’ll go a long way. Remember, your bosses are quite stressed out trying to keep the company going, which in turn keeps your lights on, your cellphone paid, and your spouse/significant other happy.
  • Now is the time to head over to Lynda.com and do some learning. Pick up a new program or language. Try to see what skill set your company could benefit from the most, and go figure out how to add that to your toolbelt. All things being equal, if you’re the only designer who knows Flash as well…hmm, it becomes an easier decision.
  • And quite possibly the most obvious, but essential tip…ask your boss / supervisor straight up what you can do to help secure your job. More importantly, if you are given suggestions, make sure that you live up to the expectations you’ve just set. They will now expect to see you perform on what you discussed.

This is an economic earthquake, and there seem to be aftershocks steadily running amuck. Protect yourself from falling debree.

So in addition to protecting your current job, you should probably start to get some things in order just to be safe:

  • Get your resume cleaned up.
  • Beef up on your LinkedIn profile, and if you haven’t done so already, build up your network with all the peeps you’ve worked with and for (co-workers and clients). This is a BIG deal. I love getting LinkedIn links in job application emails. Shows that you have some business sense about you (or in the least, that you are not dead and have actually used the social web in the last 12 months). Solicit recommendations. A good way to get reco’s quickly, is to post up recommendations on the people you want a reco from.
  • Put together your portfolio, whether that’s in a book or not. Oh, yeah, it might be in a book, but it sure as “H” “E” “double hockey sticks” (my son’s way of saying “hell”) better be online as well. Look over at Behance, Carbonmade and Coroflot for starters if you don’t have something up yet.
  • Do some of those job searches I mentioned above, if you haven’t already. If for no other reason, it’s good for you to know what’s out there. If something does happen which you didn’t expect, you’ll be less scared (or more, depending on your results…lol, sorry) about getting a new job.
  • Start thinking about new revenue streams, preferably passive income sources (important note: your company will always be more supportive of your moonlighting if it doesn’t compete with their core services, and also of course, that it doesn’t interfere with your job):
    • selling WordPress themes
    • creating custom fonts
    • making icons / illustrations (ala YouWorkForThem)
  • Talk with your friends out in the workforce. Feel out your network to see if there are jobs waiting for you should you lose yours.
  • Don’t be too proud to file for unemployment if you lose your job, to help keep things going while you look for a new job. Do so by finding your state in this list.

Remember, at all times, you are not alone here. I mean that a couple of ways. First, we are here and most anyone whom you reach out to will grab extended hands and give advice when solicited. Secondly, there is a lot more supply than demand for designers right now…for all employees, in fact. So put your best foot forward, stand out from the crowd.

Make yourself indispensable, however you must.

I am more important than you

Yesterday, an interesting blog post went up on Loic LeMuer’s website requesting an advanced Twitter search and how you should be able to filter search results based on how many followers you have. He simply stated, “Comments about your brand or yourself coming from @techcrunch with 36000 followers are not equal than someone with 100 followers.”

I don’t want to get into the discussion about the filtering and advanced search, because I would clearly like to have some filtering features added to search.twitter.com. (And there’s already been a bunch of discussion around this…in fact, probably far too much. Take a look at what Robert Scoble had to say about the matter…and he also talks a little bit about the issues raised later in this post.)

I still think ranking by number of followers is a little odd, but that’s neither here nor there for me, because there are apparently a lot of people who will find value in that funtionality.

The conversation to be had, in my mind, is the underlying problem: the importance placed on the size of your following.

I’m not sure how each person goes about gaining followers, but I have done my best to purposefully NOT follow a thousand random people in the hopes that I’ll end up with more followers. Sure, I love seeing new followers pop up in my inbox just like the next person, but I suppose it’s even that much more meaningful to me because I’m going about this organically.

I like to think that I tweet about stuff that matters, things that add value to the greater stream, or in the least, may make someone feel good or think deeply on a subject. I hope that that is why I have new followers.

There are plenty of people I follow that don’t have a thousand followers who I feel add 10x the value of someone like Loic, whose tweets (not right or wrong, mind you) tend to be more of the personal status updating nature.

Of course, Twitter is used for a bunch of different purposes, but for me, I tend to search out people that are talking about social media, interactive marketing, design, philosophy, humor, etc. I like posts with links much more than those without, because I am largely on Twitter to learn and participate in the community, hopefully adding some value along the way.

I guess it’s just human nature to enjoy the feeling of celebrity that comes with having 10,000 people watch your every move. It’s something that a great many people are interested in attaining. And for those Twitterers/bloggers out there trying to earn a living from their time on Twitter and other social media channels, I totally understand why they think they need to grow their following by any means necessary.

I think all of us using social media are trying to increase our reach, but I hope that we’re working hard to make sure that we’re not gathering subscribers and followers just for the sake of building up the numbers.

For me, I’d much rather have a closer-knit community of people interested in furthering dialogue, conversation and cooperative learning.

So, if you enjoyed this post, please follow me on Twitter and tell 100 of your friends to do the same. ;) I would however, love to read your comments and thoughts on the matter.

The reporter is dead! Long live the reporter!

Tonight showed, yet again, how our current news system is filled with holes, and dying a very long and drawn out death. It’s not as if I’m the first to suggest this…it’s been coming for years and years and years. But in the past few months, it has become painfully obvious that both traditional broadcast channels and the trusted online news sources are both turtles to the hare of the social web.

At least 20 minutes before the first comment was made on CNN.com regarding Continental 1404 sliding off the runway at DIA, there were sizable reports coming in bite-sized 140-character chunks through the waves on Twitter. BreakingNewsOn was the one to hit first with the news: “BOEING 737 CRASHES IN DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT — LOCAL TV (BULLETIN),” just as they were the first to report the terrorist attacks in Mumbai a few weeks back.

As soon as I read the report, same with the first Mumbai chatter, I told the people close to me that might be affected to start watching for news and info, and then I started checking everywhere else for more information. In both cases, I had been given much of the important information before CNN.com had their “Breaking News” banner pop up at the top of their page. I knew the flight number, the flight plan, and the low probability that there were any fatalities.

In fact, before CNN.com reported, I witnessed at least two different groups of Twitter friends devolve into discussions about why Denver International’s Airport code was being listed as DIA in news reports, but written as DEN on Kayak.com.

Sure, they’re (we’re) all nerds that get distracted easily, but what that means is that this group of people had already started to calm down knowing that everything was likely going to be fine before major news channels were readying to give their shock-and-awe “breaking news” productions. We are witnessing the changing of the guard.

Even now, after the situation has come to a close and fallen off the radar of significance for most people (no one died, so people don’t have to stay glued to the news…sad, but true), there are still very few reports of what happened…except for Mike Wilson, who was actually on the plane that crashed! He hasn’t been interviewed, hasn’t been debriefed, but keeps on tweeting things like “You have your wits scared out of you, drag your butt out of a flaming ball of wreckage and you can’t even get a vodka-tonic. Boo.” This is just hilarious, and a little sad.

I guess changing directions for these guys is like cornering a semi, in the snow.

This is a fairly small-scale example of the failure and collapse of the old guard of journalism. The terrorist attacks in Mumbai at the end of November showed how a small team of citizen journalists lead by Dutch journalist Michael van Poppel (good interview here, article here and details here), can change the way people are informed  of (literally) breaking news. Michael’s team at BNOnews.com were so many steps ahead of the “frontline” reporters, triangulating details, it felt like the rest of us had about a 20 minute headstart on everyone else. Amazing.

As our friends on Facebook were starting to pass messages around that something was happening in Mumbai, we were able to tell them how many attacks, at which specific locations, and rough fatality numbers that were much more accurate than what was being reported by other online news retailers (I’m not using that word lightly, either).

It’s time for news to decentralize. Actually, that has already happened…it’s time for the old guard to abandon their post and start to expand their sources, lest they be left in the dust. What other choice is there? My CNN Twitter update didn’t come until 3 hours and 28 minutes after I first heard the news from BNO. But this, again, shouldn’t really be shocking news. CNN bowed to the speed of the social web in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

What’re your thoughts? I’m terribly interested to see other opinions. Are teams like BNOnews going to take over the breaking news space? Are sites like AssociatedContent.com and NowPublic.com going to start to serve as our trusted news sources? Is BleacherReport.com the new CNNsi.com?

Chime in, let me know what you think.