Fifteen Years of Freelance

Freelancing has become a force in the labor world, from Uber drivers to logo designer on Fivver and everything in between. People want more freedom over their schedules, more time with family, more options, and better pay for their hard work and more exciting challenges.

The mundane jobs of our parents and their parents are slowly coming to an end. Hiring freelancers or temps as they used to be called is the new business model. Yet for some of the want to be freelancers out there, the thought of not knowing where their next paycheck is coming from sends a fear down their spines almost as much as being asked to give a speech in public.

I’ve been freelance my whole entertainment career. In the TV business this is commonplace. Unless you work on a long running scripted show or are staff at a network or production company, you are jumping from show to show.

Yes there are a lot of staff jobs in the business but positions like camera operator, audio mixer, lighting designer and production manager are all freelance. The reason for this is that a show that films for six weeks only needs a camera operator for those six weeks, then the show moves into post production where it is edited.

The camera operator has done their job, captured the vision of the director and the filming is as they say in the can. This saying by the way comes from the old days of film where you used to physically put the shot film in the can the film comes in that protects it.

My father worked for the same company for forty years. At the end of his career another company bought the company he worked for. They restructured and he was told it was time to retire.

What did he get for his forty years? All he got was a small pension, a plague and a watch. He gave most of his working life to that company, Monday through Friday for 2000 weeks, (50 weeks a year times 40 years). He rarely took vacation days and was forced to take them or lose them in the end.

He did end up going back to the company as a consultant at twice his pay rate for a couple of years. Once he was gone no one else in his department knew how to do 80% of what he knew how to do.

Anyways seeing what 40 years with a solid company got him, I was not going to follow in his footsteps. I don’t know if I consciously took the freelance route because of the situation he went through or it was the nature of the entertainment business beast.

At a few points in my career I was offered staff jobs at production companies and while the money would be steady I wasn’t willing to give up my freedom for a few extra bucks. I value experiences over stuff and traveling is something that gets limited to those who work 50 weeks out of the year. One week in a country is not enough to dive in and really experience the culture.

While others are scared to work for themselves or to go freelance for fear of not having a steady paycheck, I would like to tell you that it’s worth every second of your time you buy back in your life. You can always make more money you can’t make more time.

There are three keys to going freelance or starting your own business in my opinion.

1. Save money when you are making it. The raining day fund should be the first thing you set up when you decide to go freelance because you will hit soft patches and knowing you have the money to tide you over till something good comes along is a much better feeling then worrying all day everyday till you book something. Before you take the leap save a big pile trust me you will need it.

2. Over deliver on every gig you get and build a solid reputation. Your word and better put your work is everything in business. If you knock it out of the park every time a client hires you, the next time they need the service you provide, you will be their first call. Everyone who works with me knows I’ll do whatever it takes to “Make it Happen”.

3. Build strong relationships with your clients, follow up and ask for referrals. You’ve heard it’s who you know not what you know. Nowhere is this truer then in Hollywood. I’d say 90% of all the gigs I have gotten were from people I worked with before or people that referred me. If you did a great job and followed up then people will have no problem recommending you for the job.

Now don’t get me wrong, the freelance lifestyle isn’t all hammocks and mojitos. You have to be smart with your money. Do a better job then other people and sometimes the gigs won’t be there. I’ve had dry spells early in my career and when the economy got bad, but for the most part I never put much worry into where my next dollar was coming from. I’ve never had to eat ramen noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner because I couldn’t afford a real meal.

Recap

1. Save money while you are at your current job so you have a cushion when things get rough. And put a little aside from every gig you get as a freelancer.

2. Over deliver on every gig you get, build a solid reputation.

3. Build strong relationships with your clients, follow up and ask for referrals.