30 minutes of reflection. Living the freelance nightmare.
During my career I’ve ‘gone freelance’ a few times. As a young creative, ‘Going freelance’ or becoming a ‘lancer sounded like a conscious choice had been made about lifestyle. I’ve lived the ‘lancer life earlier in my career and on some occasions I’ve done it at a time when the market seemed suited for me. Not by any skill in timing, only because I got lucky. The cards fell kindly. People infer that freelance life is romantic. That you only work 50% of the time for the same amount of money as a PAYE salary and then you can go travelling or do that personal project you always wanted to do. Or watch daytime TV — whatever’s your poison? Which I have to say is true in a framework that doesn’t include mortgage repayments and a family to support.
On some occasions in the past I’ve ‘gone’ freelance, not out of volition, but because I had to. Not in the slightest because I wanted to. An accidental freelancer. In this use-case scenario my ‘position’ had been made redundant, let go, spanish elbow — whatever you want to call it, “no longer needed” has nothing to do with timing, lifestyle or understanding the market. It’s a ‘see ya!’, and now it’s sink or swim time. The fractured bumpy edge of the creative industry.
The moment you step off the plank, if the market is flooded with ‘lancers who look and sound the same as you (but are younger and better suit everyone’s bottom line) you can find yourself in shark infested waters sooner or later and it isn’t romantic or bohemian in the slightest. It’s brutal.
I was left with little choice but to embark as a freelancer again in September 2014 and I can say the last nine months have been the most psychologically testing of my career. I’m hoping it turns into a knotted strand of moral fibre that I can look back on in the future and take heart from the fact that me and my family survived it in one piece.
Partly the reason I’m feeling backed against a wall is because of how the entire recruitment process has been disrupted, or should I say nuked, by the Internet since I was last a freelancer in 2008. What is so shocking is that LinkedIn, at this moment in history, has twisted the whole song and dance so indiscriminately out of shape, it has morphed into some kind of cut throat edition of ‘take the last dance’ over the final 48 hours of a Thursday and Friday. A terrordome you have to turn up to in real-time, kitted up with an iPad and tin hat every week!
Linkedin has helped propagate an acute bureaucracy that helps barricade the front door of the advertising and digital agencies, it is the supreme institutionalisation of helplessness. You can polish your portfolio all you like but if you cannot successfully negotiate Thursdays and Fridays on Linkedin, you’ll be working on that personal project from home again next week. Add to that a five year event such as a general election in May and you have the perfect, budget-stagnating, storm cloud. Like some ironic adland-set Tarantino film, the brand manager points their gun towards client services with an itchy finger on the trigger, client services point their guns at creative resource, some of whom point a gun at the recruiters and others who prefer to only point straight at the freelancers. No agencies please. It feels like nobody’s actually pulling the trigger, two weeks after the Tory’s gained their majority. I’d take a bullet for a brief right now.
Seriously though, I’m not sure where to start at the moment because the sand is shifting left, right and centre. This helplessness is compounded by the fact that advertising is changing fast and it seems on another front, if you can’t ‘prove’ you do UX then you’re gonna get shot out of Linkedintown.
It feels lonely over this side of the Linkedin wall but I’m convinced it’s due to the freelance aspect of it. Anybody who is in freelance work, especially artistically, knows that it comes with all the insecurity and the ups and downs. It’s a really frightening life.
Stuart Wilson 30 minutes of reflection 1/6/15