Having just entered the world of freelancing as a digital consultant and in the process of finding my feet, I have felt an overwhelming response from everyone I have spoken too that, the time is right for someone like me to be available by the hour.
With 16 years digital marketing experience, riding the dot.com boom and bust, the evolution of search and the impact of social media directly on the front line, it has been an eventful journey to say the least.
You can read more about my background in my very own brand story here.
Most of my roles have been agency side in a senior management role, so I am well versed in how this business model works and the pressures faced on a daily basis to manage the workflow, staff and clients.
This post attempts to explain why I think the time is right to be a freelancer, giving the pros and how each party can benefit.
Therefore, let’s start with some of the standard problems faced by agencies today:
Riding The Roller Coaster
Not literally of course, but every agency experiences the same thing, the ebbs and flow of client and the projects that bring in the money.
Very rare is it possible to sustain a balance in work and income in the agency world 365 days a year. Clients come and go.
It was once said to me you need to view an agency as a leaky bucket. In that you have to keep topping up the water faster than it is leaking out of the hole in the bottom.
This is no easy task, as so many factors play a role.
In its nature, the “leaky bucket syndrome” puts great pressure on cash flow and paying the workforce on a monthly basis. Never in any industry has the process of hiring and firing been so prevalent in an effort to cope with this. I have seen agencies swell in size and then 3 months later have to make many staff redundant.
Redundancies just create bad feeling, poor culture and low commitment and are best avoided at all times; but this industry sees it all the time.
The Seriously Skilled Shortage
Yes, that is right – people in digital marketing are in high demand and there are not enough people with the right skills to fill the jobs across the country.
The newbies on the block are switching roles at a drop of a hat, demanding high salaries for limited experience and generally causing just as much stress to senior management as projects can.
I heard it quoted that there are currently 7,000 digital marketing jobs vacant in London. Given the switch in advertising spend to this channel, the high man hours it demands, this is not only a massive problem for agencies in the here and now, but for at least the next 5 to 10 years.
These are just a couple of the reasons why agencies need to move swiftly to building a strong freelance network.
Why go through this pain when you can recruit a team of flexible resources that can support you when you need it and fall off the payroll when you don’t. It really is a very logical route to managing this type of business.
Skilled freelancers will charge a fair daily rate, but it is easy enough to mark that up and make money still. Just think you don’t have all the overheads that comes with recruiting and housing new team members, so the nirvana of a 20% cost plus model should be more than doable.
Not only that, they bring that freshness to accounts, to your internal teams and they are happy to challenge the status quo.
Win win all round.
So what are the key benefits of being a freelancer?
Work Life Balance
If you are like me, 16 years in digital has somewhat taken it’s toll.
Don’t get me wrong, I have loved every minute of being at the forefront of a fast growing industry, that quite literally is the future for us all. But and it is a big but, my god I feel like I have sold my soul a little.
Long hours are an under-statement, I can remember them regularly being up above 60 and sometimes even 70 per week. Pulling the all-nighters to get the finer details sorted on those big pitches has been the norm along with Friday evenings working later so there might be a chance of enjoying the weekend!
Taking on the stress of mistakes, of course they happen. On many occaisions we were pioneering into the unknown for clients and when things go wrong it usually is with epic effects.
So, do I want to give it all up and go and work on a checkout in Tesco’s?
The answer is sim ple no.
What I want is to be able to stay in this amazing industry, keep my brain working at a million miles an hour but just be able to do it the hours that I want to work.
With a young family I aspire to be one of those mums that collects their child from the school gates, not the one who just gets to read the last bedtime story of the night. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the latter, it is just not for me.
Freelancing enables me to take on the work that I can deliver in the hours I choose to work. It empowers me to be in control so if I want that big holiday in the summer I can work a bit harder to earn the funds to facilitate it.
Similarly though, if I want to head out and have a horse riding lesson on a Tuesday morning or yoga on a Friday then I can.
Freedom To Say “No”
Another controversial point, but I always found in the agency world that the word “no” was simply not allowed.
Even if you knew the client you were pitching too was not a good agency fit, or the project did not have enough budget to succeed or simple you did not have enough man hours in the team to deliver it.
“No” was not allowed.
I refer you back to point 1 of the agency’s issues. The agency model, as hard as it is, you tend to have to go for every opportunity and try to do your best, even if you know it is going to end in tears.
The ability to be the master of your own destiny and choose the projects you want to work on is a very refreshing feeling.
Just to point out though, in my career to date I have always taken the Ownership, Accountability and Responsibility approach; giving always give the best advice and present the risks to clients if I did feel the project was doomed from the start!
A cop out?
No not at all.
Being a freelancer, it has to be one of the perks of the job that you do not have to manage the direct client relationship, nor do you have to manage the team that you are working with. This helps to reduce the stress levels associated with the high pressure world of digital marketing.
Don’t get me wrong, both these relationships can be very rewarding and stimulating. But in times of skills shortage and picky clients they can also be very tricky.
As a freelancer you do get to focus on what you do best. Digital Marketing.
For this I can already see the benefits, as I have managed large teams, and a long long list of retained clients. To keep all happy at the same time is near on impossible.
It is bliss that I now only have to take responsibility for myself and my quality of work, of which I take great pride in delivering the best.
There it is in a nutshell. Freelancing might not work for everyone but to me it should be a career option that is considered seriously by the agencies and staff alike.
Could it be the next step is to create “cloud based digital agencies” full of like-minded freelancing individuals, all happy in their chosen roles and working together for the greater good of clients and the digital world overall?
Well they are already popping up all over the place and in my mind this approach definitely has legs!
It would be great to hear anyone else’s experiences or thoughts on this so please comment away.