Q It Up: This question is primarily for full-time freelancers that used to be employed, and those who are currently employed, who used to be freelancers full-time. If this description does not fit you, but you have some ideas on this subject, please feel free to contribute!
What have you found to be the biggest pros and cons of freelancing compared to employment? What prompted the move from one to the other? Would you do it again? What would you do differently? Would you wait longer before making the move, or would you have done it sooner? If you’re a freelancer, what would it realistically take to put you back in a cubicle? If you are employed, what would it take, realistically, to convince you to resign and become a full-time freelancer? Please add any other views you have on the subject!
Jeff Laurence <jefflaure[at]gmail.com>, Autumn Hill Studios, Smoky Mts., North Carolina: As a freelancer that’s been doing it for over 20 years I can say that I am now so accustomed to my work schedule and juggling projects that I would be virtually impossible to hire… but NOT for the reasons one would think.
Freelancing fulltime is not a LAZY person’s way to get free money, and sit around all day... no beach bars, and late nights when you work for the toughest boss there is... YOU! There are facets to the freelance life that one doesn’t ponder going into it: equipment costs, insurance (health, life, etc.) balancing of one’s time to include a few hours away each day… taxes, and billing, and managing money, developing stellar customer service skills… and the practice of getting NEW business… also coming up with non-traditional uses for voice talent or production skills.
Therefore, one develops an uber-intense work ethic that doesn’t always play well among many broadcasting staffers. I did go “back” at one point early in my freelance days to secure a creative services position with a great company. I was there early, and stayed late because that was what I was used to in my own space as a self-employed person. I also maintained a sense of gratitude for the job. It labeled me as a “brown noser” and a guy who was trying to make everyone else “look bad.” We in the freelance world who are able to keep the lights on, and our families fed, have to work harder, longer, and become self-sufficient. We have nobody to blame things on, but at the same time, when the successes do come around, we can take pride in being a part of it. This is a bitter pill for some station staff members (or so I was led to believe) and it made for an uncomfortable work environment.
I would certainly do what I did again, and would probably time it the same. I left the workforce at the right time, and after a few stumbling blocks early on regarding my ability to handle money, a re-check of my ego, and finally settling on a place we wanted to stay put in, we finally got the hang of it.
Johnny George <jg[at]johnnygeorge.com>: Good question. I’ve been asked this so many times I know the answers by heart.
I have been very blessed in my radio career. It has allowed me to move from one property to another in the same market and to always make substantial monetary moves at the same time. I was lucky enough to be able to work on the creative production side of the radio machine during most of my career. Two of my gigs required an air-shift, but I knew that was not my driving force, only a distraction.
After getting let go due to an eminent property sale from my 1986-1993 gig, I built a home studio as a safety net. I spared no expense and made it as I wanted it to be in a competitive world of agencies and radio production. When my next gig failed and I was canned, I was ready to leave radio, even though I was still having fun. I was almost out the door when I got an offer that was too good not to take. Plus the opportunity as the first Imaging Director for a 3-station combo in the Indianapolis market was too good to turn down.
That turned into an even better gig after a few years, as I was given the stripes for Creative Services Director responsible for imaging 2 of the 3 stations and creating new business spots for the pick of the litter. I hired a Production Director to take care of the daily production duties and I oversaw the department. Great gig until Cumulus bought us out. Yes, my final frontier was working for Susquehanna Indianapolis, the best family owned company at the time that I loved and respected. You know the rest of that story and the demise of “Fun and Creative Radio” after that. That was May 2006.
During my entire radio career, I was attempting to serve my clients on the side and build a client base as my own empire outside of my daily work. Fortunately I worked for managers that didn’t get too bent out of shape if I did some work on the side as long as my main radio duties were done to the best of my ability and done in a timely manner. They always were, because I knew who buttered my main bread.
Over the years that client list grew and many of the agencies I worked for were nudging me to jump off into VO full time. After my last stand at Susquehanna and the complete deregulation of radio as we knew it, I decided it was time to jump off into the fray with both feet. No, I don’t miss radio. After 35 years, I had the glorious opportunity to work with some of the best and most creative people in the biz, and I had the chance to share that knowledge freely with others coming up in the biz, even though they may never know the gorilla marketing and irresponsible fun we all had over the years before the belts were tightened and the bottom line grew into a jaded, “anything for a buck, screw the creative – just get it on the air” mentality. Thanks God I never had to live anywhere near that mantra. Those of you who insist on NOT living that way and still maintain some sort of creative juices and integrity – you are few, but I salute you!
It’s been 6 years since I went full-time as a Voice Actor, however, being your own boss is a good thing that demands self-discipline, integrity, knowledge, motivation, creativity and perseverance that knows no limit. It’s much easier to know that your 50+ clients are there and ready to call and order their next campaign, followed by a check. If you lose one client, you can make it up. If you lose one check in radio, you are on the street.
Sure being a voice actor in this economy can be challenging – but what job isn’t? There are so many new avenues of voices needed for this project or this company or this new device, that I believe we have plenty of talent to fill the need.
All you newbies… take the low ball stuff and wait your turn. <G> Many of us have really paid our dues.
Shane Hurford <shano[at]c913.com.au> (former production manager c91.3 Campbelltown, now Breakfast show co-host): Easy answer for this one... both. A lot of employers will allow ‘foreign orders’ and particularly handy if you have a home studio.
Get your main bucks from a permanent job and “fill out your pay packet” with dribs and drabs. This way you can get a collection of those small jobs -- 1 or 2 here and there from a larger number of folks makes for a tidy earner and allows it to happen in your spare time, and you don’t have to rely on the good grace of those doling the work out. Small voice agencies and small stations, no overheads, no pressure, more secure, if the freelance work dries up, it’s all good.
Blaine Parker <bp[at]slowburnmarketing.com> Slow Burn Marketing: Freelance VO was always a part of life when I had a full-time job in radio. Now that I have a small ad agency with my wife, I still do freelance VO. So, the bigger question here: what exactly IS freelancing?
I would argue that the difference between having your own company and being a freelancer can be purely a mindset. If you have established a brand and an accompanying image system, if you have a high bar for who you accept as a client and how they pay you, and if you have a standard work routine (i.e., you sit in front of your computer for 12 hours a day), you have your own company.
If you have no brand and no accompanying image system, and no established work routine (i.e., you spend the day goofing off until someone asks you to work for them), you are a freelancer.
Obviously, there is a spectrum here. Various people will land on different places along that spectrum. But you get my drift.
Anyway, that said…
The biggest pro is working for yourself and all the flexibility that comes with it. I don’t know that I ever would have started running marathons, half marathons and triathlons if I couldn’t just decide that at 10:30 this morning, I’m going for an 8-mile run. And sometimes, you just say, “Let’s close the company and go skiing today.” (That hasn’t happened a lot this year. Our snowfall has been meager. But it’s nice to have that kind of liberty.)
The biggest con is the erratic cash flow. And this is part of where the freelance vs. the company mindset comes on. Our company takes retainer-only clients and has a relatively steady cash flow from month to month. My freelance VO accounts come and go with the wind. I don’t spend nearly as much time on that side of my business, and it’s reflected in the bank account.
What prompted the move from being a full timer was being downsized to an independent contractor. After a decade on the job, I really needed an exit strategy. The company essentially made me devise one. Thankfully. What prevented me from making the move sooner is I was comfortable. I worked with agreeable folks for the most part—people who appreciated what I did. I had a health plan and a 401K. At the end, I had even begun working remotely from a Utah mountaintop, telecommuting to Los Angeles every day. But I was getting stale. By making me uncomfortable, they forced me to make a change.
I have never, ever worked in a cubicle. If I were to go back to work for someone else, it would require a six-figure salary, a good-sized office, an exciting and progressive work environment, and most importantly: upper management with respect for what we do. Which means I probably wouldn’t be working in radio. (Sorry to have to say that.)
As for encouraging anyone else to make the leap, let’s just say that it’s scary—and can be the best thing you’ve ever done. I know people who’ve decided not to leave their full-time gigs until they knew they were replacing their salary with their freelance income. And yes, it’s easier and more satisfying when you have a proper brand. And in the end, unless you’ve been a marine, it’ll probably be the hardest work you’ve ever done—and the best.
Andrew Frame <andrew[at]bafsoundworks.com>, BAFSoundWorks, Lehigh Acres, Florida: Why? I think it came down to a couple of things.
Professionally, it was the lack of respect for the profession and the person. You can only be reminded you’re “outgoing money” so many times before you stop wanting to care. I’m the kind of person that lives to care intensely about what I do - professionally and personally - or I don’t do it at all.
Personally, one of the voices in my head was telling me there was a lack of quality time in our lives, so when opportunities to fix the situation could be exploited, don’t pass them up.
Would I do it again? Absolutely.
The same way? Yes. No debt service, slow, steady buildup of long-term clients.
Sooner or later? No, the timing was perfect for my marriage, children, experience, state of the technology, debt-service, my outstanding group of friends and colleagues in my producers group - everything. The transition from my last “employed” day of Friday the 13th (really!) to Monday the 16th was effortless. Certain key dates along the journey still stand out clearly.
Pros & Cons...
The upside has many facets, but it all comes back to having the ability to make the most productive use of your time to do the best possible job - regardless of what time the clock tells you it might be.
I actually net less money and work longer hours now than when I was employed. But, I can time-shift those hours anywhere around the clock, day or night, weekday or weekend to get the most time with my family.
There’s a lot to be said for not having to cram “life” into one day on the weekend while you work to pay for it during the week.
Health insurance has to be the biggest missing link as a freelancer. It wasn’t a big thing when I was 30 and the Employer didn’t offer it, but now pushing at the door for 50, the need to see a physician seems to crop up a little more, but economic reality means staying home and getting out the do-it-yourself kit.
I’d have to say the economy is the stress machine. Billing can go from “mortgage is paid” to “sharing Ramen noodles amongst three people and a dog” in less than a month. So, staying ahead of the game and staying on top of cold calling and customer care is equally important as anything “creative.”
Would I go back to a cubicle? Yes, if the money and terms were favorable. I don’t have any issue with those who punch a clock for a living. There is a sense of security in that weekly paycheck, insurance, and for many producers I know, the simplicity of, get up in the morning, drive to work, do your thing, drive home and watch American Idiot on cable. They’re happy, so I am happy for them.
It’s not for us, though. We like the risk and the reward that goes with being the skipper of our own boat.
Steve Cook <audioads[at]bellsouth.net>: I made the move from the ‘cubicle’ toward the end of ‘06 and I ain’t gonna lie, the biggest challenge is exactly what your first guess would be… A REGULAR PAYCHECK. The biggest advantage is also no shocker-- no commute and no annoying ‘cubemates’ (although my personality prefers minimal ‘engagement’ with other humans anyway). Having said that, I WOULD DO IT AGAIN (under the same circumstances that it happened the first time, that is). My wife and I had been toying with the idea of me doing my own thing for a few years, but the time never seemed right, and more importantly, we didn’t have the cash on hand to get it going properly. Then, when my company decided it wanted to value imaging and production at about HALF the dollar amount of what it had been up to that point, all of the sudden, the time seemed right… and the money. So, armed with some nice ‘parting gifts’ from the company, we had enough working capital to get things off the ground once and for all and we have never looked back.
Two pieces of advice for beginners: 1) Have a realistic 5-year-plan as far as revenue goals, and be patient and vigilant to see it through. Even if you may not always achieve your goals, you will at least be able to make much more intelligent decisions about tweaking your best practices. 2) Take my good friend Rich Van Slyke’s advice and GET ON THE PHONE! Make no mistake, I HATE cold calling and all that (I’m even thinking of starting my own ‘I HATE BIZ DEV’ Facebook page), but you MUST do it if you intend to be around in 5 years. You can be sure that not only Rich, but most of your other serious competition is doing it. You have to keep FILLING YOUR PIPELINE with new opportunities and leads constantly. Rich tells me he would spend 6 hours a day on the phone if he had time (I think he is crazy… but most definitely like a fox… no matter, he’s so busy he probably rarely has that kind of time anyway). Oh yeah, forgot 3) A lot of prayer!
Andy Safnauer <andy[at]longtrainproductions.com>, Longtrain Productions, Charlotte, North Carolina: I have been working from my home studio since 2005. I had toyed with the idea for a number of years before finally doing it, and I would say it is the best thing I have ever done career wise. Saying that, I work probably more hours now than I did at a radio station - mainly because I make money only when I work. I now am able to be a bit selective on who I work with (that has taken a few years to be comfortable saying ‘no’ to people, btw).
And I am fortunate that my clients like my creative vibe so they let me go and do my thing - I don’t have a lot of PD’s looking over my shoulder and critiquing everything. I also don’t have to deal with salespeople anymore, which has made me a happier guy. While I now enjoy the sales process of my own business and can empathize with what they have to go thru, I always felt like production directors were never given the respect they deserve for all the hats they have to wear in the station. In my last radio job, we were doing over 40 million in billing - and as the Production Director, most of those dollars passed thru my office to make it on the air. And yet, trying to add a part timer or gaining a modicum of respect from the sales side of the building was nearly impossible.
I left my job because I just could not deal with all the things outside of producing that being a Production Director entailed anymore. My patience was gone. The two main catalysts being the birth of my daughter and one late spot on Christmas Eve 2003. I had been making more money freelancing than my job paid me for several years, but like a lot of producers, I didn’t have the guts to leave the paycheck. After my daughter was born in August 2003, I found myself never seeing her. I left for work before she got up, and I got home she and my wife were usually asleep. My wife and I had begun talking about me leaving, and then came Christmas Eve. Our copy deadline was 3pm on the 23rd. (I will note here that we never really had any deadlines - we were writing spots on the log regularly to air during afternoon drive that were brought in as bullet points at 11am). Christmas Eve was a half day of cleanup stuff. The office had closed at 11 or noon. I was wrapping things up a little after 1 when a sales person walked in and dropped a script on my desk. He said it started the 26th. I told him it was after the deadline. He said that didn’t matter - the GM had approved the order and they both expected it to be done. I told him that I would do it if he would sit in the studio with me while I did the spot, that way we were both stuck there. He told me ‘that’s your job, not mine’. So I picked the script up, and with him trailing behind me, walked down to the GM’s office, put it on his desk and told him I wasn’t doing the spot. After some uncomfortable silence and then brief discussion, he moved the spot to start midday on the 27th and all was good. But after that incident, my wife and I made a plan to leave the job. We gave ourselves a year to pay off as much debt as we could, and for me to grow my roster as much as possible. I quit in February of 2005.
I can’t imagine what kind of deal it would have to be to put me back in a radio station fulltime. It wouldn’t be a money issue - though that would have to be a strong number - but more of an issue of company culture and the kind of people I would get to work with. I am different than a lot of other radio people in that while I like radio, it’s not something I have been passionate about my entire life. I like being creative, and there are a lot of outlets out there to be creative. I am fortunate that I get to work with great clients (many of which are now good friends), doing things that are fulfilling -- be it voiceover, imaging or producing spots. Freelance isn’t for everyone because running a successful business is so much more than just being a great producer. I encourage entrepreneurship to everyone – my kids included - but it does take a certain kind of person to do it. If you are really self-motivated, like to work and are hungry for a lot of different challenges every day, go for it. If not, create a good situation for yourself at the radio station. Ask to be taken on sales calls so you can meet with clients to make their spots better, work on writing copy. Become the defacto place for clients to record in your market. Make yourself indispensable. Carve enjoyment out of your day because this is the one go around we get. Make the most of it.
Erik Cudd <erikcudd[at]hotmail.com>: I’ll admit that when this “Q It Up” hit my Inbox, I read it and then deleted it with malice. Frankly, I am still a bit upset at how my local position of Production Director was “eliminated.” As someone who tried to go above and beyond, and the challenges we faced in our local market, I was a bit shell shocked that I wasn’t moved to another position. I’m not operating from a viewpoint of entitlement or ego here, but that we were running with such a skeleton crew, I thought they certainly would not want to lose any other person in the building. Frankly, I was wrong. What was a property that had over 13 local personalities when I started with them in 2007, now has 3 bodies in the building for four stations. Two of the stations I am told are now fully out of market. My position was not an option. vCreative had been rolled out, (which I worked my butt off to make the Sales staff believe in), and now my job was relegated to an out of market employee in the company who would be responsible for many markets, thanks to the software. I don’t blame vCreative, they just made the decision to economize that much easier. It is what it is.
When all this went down, I took it in stride, did not cause any scene in the building, acted with respect and professionalism, but was still a bit surprised they had me escorted out. I was told it was not personal or performance related, but anytime someone is laid off due to budgets or restructuring, it’s personal. So I did what many in my position did, I put up a website, purchased a professional logo, a home studio, and began to try and hock my voice out and continue to look for work. I told myself I would give it a year, and since I did not have a huge treasure chest of cash to invest in marketing and advertising for myself, I signed up for several voice websites, did some keywords marketing, utilized social media as best as I could, and simply tried to make a few bucks while seeking another station. WHEW! Now that the sob story is over I’ll try to answer the questions that have been posed.
The biggest pro to being a freelancer is obviously the freedom to make or break your success. No time clock, no annoying cubicle mate, no staff meetings, and no corporate edicts stifling any and all aspects of creativity left in your blood vessels. The biggest con for me at least is that I evidently don’t have a voice that makes clients salivate. I have auditioned for countless accounts, and while I did score a few, let’s just say I did not have to report any of my income on my taxes last year due to the final amount. IF, and that is a big if, if I had the money and connections to network, an agent, and a voice that people actually wanted, I think this would be the dream life. Alas, for me, after a year, it has led nowhere. Mostly due to the lack of funds I need to keep my name out there, but I also think my voice is just not that high of caliber. I’m not one of those guys that wants to image or do station ID’s, I’m just a straight read commercial guy, but there are so many of us just like there are so many Radio applicants, that the seats at the table are not as plentiful as they once were. From what I have written, I think most of the questions have been answered except for “what would it take to put you back into a cubicle”?
Honestly, after twelve months of being told I have the “minimum skills” but not the right skills for almost all of the jobs I have applied for, I think Radio will survive just fine without me. I have ventured back to school and trying very hard at age 40 to simply turn the corner, keep smiling, and start a new path in a very uncertain and bleak economy. I take with me many memories and lots of photos and t-shirts that remind me that at age 16 I had a big dream, I chased it, and for 23 years I lived my dream despite the changes and “advances” in the Industry. Radio has shown me the door, and since then many PD’s have let me know I am too old to cut the mustard or simply don’t have what they are looking for. So, I will keep my little website up, audition now and again, and maybe, just maybe, I might one day be able to buy a candy bar or a pizza thanks to my home studio and years of working in Radio. When it just seems useless, which I am close to now, I will put my equipment on eBay for some young deep throated Joe Cipriano sound alike who is simply looking for a mobile studio when he is on vacation in the Bahamas so the Networks don’t fret when he takes a break. Maybe Ryan Seacrest would want to buy my stuff so he can put it in a corner of his office in LA and laugh at it. As far as getting back into the business, don’t worry, I can take a hint.
David Tyler <david[at]davidtyler.com>, www.DavidTyler.com: Great question and it falls right down my alley:
I was working in radio since the late ‘80s as an announcer. I was on the air full time in Montréal without interruption until 2008 when the station I was with decided they wanted a change -- my voice was “too familiar” to the audience and they wanted to shake things up. The good news is that I had been doing voice work as a sideline since the mid ‘90s and had already developed a full client list. All I needed to do was put it into a higher gear and pick up a few extra clients.
While I know I should have done it earlier, I probably would not have done it without the ‘push’. I am now gainfully employed by myself, make my own hours and am proud of what I’ve built. I also make twice what I was making in radio and in half the time... not to mention the commute is dreamy!
I haven’t discovered any cons to freelancing other than having to occasionally chase people to pay an invoice. I really feel this is the best work life I’ve ever had. I get to meet and work with people all over the world on projects that are fun and even educational. I even give a lecture on radio at one of the local colleges here.
After about a year of being off the radio, I agreed to go back on occasion as a guest host. I also do a pre-recorded classic dance show Saturday nights. But up until now I haven’t discovered any compelling reason to go back. Voice over work is now my full time employer, and radio, my fun time!
Craig Jackman <Craig.Jackman[at]ottawaradio.rogers.com>, Rogers Media, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: I don’t know about the rest of the known world, but around here, freelance has dried up. With voices on the ‘net doing spots for $10 and produced spots for not much more, how do you compete and make a living at that? Sure, if you’re doing station voice work on retainer you can make it happen, but you’ll need a bunch and you’ll need them to renew.
Jeff Berlin <yeti[at]squirpy.com>, www.jeffberlin.com: I think the answer boils down to money. If you can make more doing freelance, you’ll likely do it. I could be lured back to a “cubicle” if offered more than I’m making freelancing. The downside of freelancing from home is no staff to hang with. I used to have a blast with my peeps at the radio station, which would translate into enhanced creativity and a more energized spirit. I stayed at my station as long as I could because I knew it was a great place to work, and still stay in touch with all my former coworkers who’ve become lifelong friends.
I’ll let others here elaborate on the upside of freelancing.
Anonymous: I’ve always just done Freelance on the side… probably mostly because of fear and a need for Medical Insurance ( I’m married with children, 1 of which needs lots of medical visits ).
Now, I’m at the point where I’m kicking myself for not making my dream a reality a long time ago. I can’t help but wonder what I could have accomplished by now.
Now I’m pretty much fed up with all these ‘Work-out-of my bedroom’ ‘Agencies’, and yes I’m throwing the finger-quotes on the term ‘Agency’ because many are so laughable. You know the ones, that are really more of a consultant-role to their client than an Ad Agency and pretty much make the stations do all the work, get that Agency Commission cut, AND enjoy free production! Somehow they seem to make a decent-enough living being that lame, so I’m figuring if I go Full-time Freelance, become my own Agency with the ability to truly provide Full-Services to a client, SURELY I can make a great living too!
Plus I really don’t like where this industry has gone (and is still going IMO).
Couple all of this with this new company I now work for sucking away what passion I have left, and well here I am, venting in a magazine.
At least it’s making me re-focus my efforts on building my own company, primarily adding Video Production to my skills, and really take advantage of the time while I do have employment, to hone, tighten up, get more hardware & software, and network. That way, when my tolerance clock stops ticking (or I lose my job), I will be ready.
The time to be scared to go after the big things has past.
Working for someone else no doubt has MANY advantages -- of that there is NO question -- but I’m at the point now where I need to be compensated closer to what I’m worth.
Thanks for the vent! I swear I’m a happy person! :)