Friday, April 30, 2010

The Freelance World

by Muid Latif, Edited by Angelia Ong

Many magazines or online portals encourage young, creative individuals to go freelance. According to these publications and others, freelancing is considered as the latest creative career trend, but they fail to enlighten us about the challenges that we would have to go through in order to survive, especially during the current global economic turmoil.

What they do teach us are merely short term advice and knowledge-sharing. They persuade creative individuals (such as designers, photographers, film-makers, etc) that with a killer portfolio or certain skill sets, you can win awards to get recognized, and expand your clientele beyond belief. Unfortunately, not all have these kinds of privileges due to lack of motivation, moral support and a comfortable environment that surrounds them.

However, they don’t share the harsh reality of what a freelancer have to go through. It is never mentioned what you can do when a client refuses to hire you for superficial reasons, such as ethnicity, political agendas and so. It would be beneficial if these articles would talk about how your business will change once you’ve reached a certain age or parenthood comes a-calling.

As a matter of fact, many freelancers are not equipped with basic knowledge about long term business survival. Just ‘looking good for clients’ is stressed upon, as opposed to ensuring that you also have a solid foundation. The industry does not arm us with knowledge on the following: protecting ourselves, both from legal and copyright standpoints, how to protect our creative work, ensuring payment is on time and our work doesn’t get stolen before payment is made, how to manage projects using a proper management system, how to organize our accounts, managing our taxes and most importantly, how to develop client relationships to gain repeat business. Some would expect to be spoon-feed when you can explore and learn many things from the web and through readings.

With all that is happening in the world today, how can we ensure a promising future? What if a natural disaster strikes us without a sign? Your life is pretty much ‘doomed’ when your workstation washed by a flood or earthquake. How much of your “assets” would you have lost? Do you think that the client would care to acknowledge and understand the situation that you are currently facing? Absolutely not.

What are the measures that can be taken to ensure the security of our work and in turn ensure our future remains less chaotic. That is why we need to take the above perspectives seriously. We need to care about things that evolve around us and we cannot allow ignorance to destroy our very own careers.

As of today, many freelancers who step into this creative industry are mostly fresh graduates who have had zero experience in this industry and the only thing going for them now is talent and skills. Those two attributes are not enough to ensure that a professional and pleasant attitude will be provided by them towards a client. This may have an adverse effect as then people may become reluctant to hire freelancers or small scale design business.

All they lack is guidance and mentor support. Colleges or art schools do not teach their students about fostering good relationships, about discipline, about working ethics, about how to write documents such as project briefs, contact reports, or following up with clients feedback and requests, and most importantly, they have no clue how to quote an appropriate figure for their efforts and work. That is why a lot of freelancers these days does not have decent time management and are always swamped with projects and this only hampers the growth of the creative industry.

For example, we have art directors or designers who have permanent jobs in an agency, yet still go out to do freelance while there are freelancers who are struggling to compete. Sometimes this greed forces these freelancers to lower their prices, just to compete against those who already have a fully paid day job. Sadly, some freelancers dropped their creative rates so much so to design a logo for just $50 dollars or $300 for a website, or worse still do things for free. This is killing the market. Clients would go for the cheaper alternative or failing which, badger you over your professional rates, based on their “market research”.

Is this how a healthy creative industry is supposed to work? What about the SME (Small Medium Enterprise) companies out there? They also have to find ways to financially support their project managers, copywriters, designers, programmers, accountants and others. Should we allow ourselves to affect the balance of the creative economy?


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