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April 1, 2014
On-Site Freelance: One Part Skill, Two Parts Hustle
When I first contacted Talent Zoo I imagined my first few posts would be “trendy” industry topics. However, when the editors hinted they would love an article on freelance strategies I decided to follow rule number one of freelance: “give the client what they want.” So, this post should serve as a loose checklist for beginning creatives that are planning to or are currently freelancing for an agency or in-house shop.

Yet, many of these tips are applicable to other disciplines and still worth a read. Let’s break it down.

Do the Hustle: Onsite Freelance
When talking about freelance, it’s all about the Hustle. So let's dance!

Learn the Culture
Are you in an independent, small, hipster agency breaking in their shoes or are you one part of a highly specialized boutique unit funded by a multi-national conglomerate? What may seem like a competitor may just be another leg of the company. Feet on the dance floor, not in your mouth.

Office Politics
Although you may not agree with surrounding business practices, House of Cards should have taught you the value in playing your cards tight. “As a creative you may choose not to play the game, but you still need to understand the dynamics.” Was the agency started by creatives? Is the CEO from a media background? Who writes the Twitter feed? Learning who the players are will shed some light on the culture. Don’t accidentally step on exposed toes in executing your creative moves.

Maintain Safe Distance
Many in the company may have a strong stance; they like the company beat. Remember, in working for yourself, you have a great asset in having that outside view. In addition to the prime-time agencies, there are plenty of good fixer-upper shops, so maintain your reputation as an agent of positive change.  Resist the urge to jump ship too early or to begin designing your temp office into a permanent one. One strong benefit of freelance is maximum exposure to different clubs. Learn the local beat, but add your unique style.

The 400-Pound Gorilla
Regardless of how you got the gig or what the company told you their reasons for needing a freelancer were, there is often a backstory that was conveniently not mentioned. Are you covering the workload of someone twice your senior? Did they just fire someone? Are they defending a key account? Is the agency using freelancers on a revolving door basis to keep health-care costs down? As a pure freelancer, as long as they pay you on time, the reasons don’t matter much. Yet, should you decide you like the agency, knowing the backstory may help you decide to continue or switch your dance partner.

Be the Solution
No agency or in-house shop is perfect. Don’t criticize, at least not audibly! Instead, learn their systems. Get logistical work done fast so you can focus on the creative elements. Along the way, keep mental notes of where improvements can be made. Remember that when the spotlight is on you it helps to smile.

Font Management
As soon as humanly possible, learn your group’s font setup. Which font management program do they use? Are they using truetypes, postscripts, opentype, webfonts? Do you know the difference? Font conflicts can trip up even the most experienced creatives. The best footwork doesn’t have to be fancy as long as it prevents you from tripping.

Geek Time
I don’t expect you to learn Python or have total recall of every episode of the original Star Trek series unless, of course, that’s part of the job description. But you should learn how to connect to your group’s network server without assistance. Where does the DJ stow those records?
  • Do others in the unit work locally and save only when finished? Or, do they work off a central server at all times?
  • Will you need to pull files off another group’s share? If so, what are the server paths? Add them to your shortcuts list.
  • Does the server you’re on have auto-backup or are you flying without a net?
  • If your assigned printer breaks down, do you know how to connect to an alternate?
Finding out some basics on day one will keep you operational. Make friends with their IT department by proving you won’t disrupt their ecosystem. Whatever you do, don’t wait until an emergency pops up to introduce yourself. Although it may be their job to run tech for the agency, human nature tells us nice people bearing candy get more responsive service then a frantic stranger claiming the sky is falling.
Version Control
Identify which versions of programs are used. Are you using the same version at home? Decide early if you’ll need to do any off-site work and, if so, get a strategy in place to deal with conversion issues. Perfecting moves at home only works if it’s the same dance.
Naming Conventions
The more complex the project, the more important naming conventions become. Whether you’re a writer, art director, or video editor, you’ll need to learn your group’s specific file-naming system. If they are not that organized themselves, make sure you are. Yep, soon enough people will see value in your combinations.

I hope you enjoyed this article covering beginner onsite freelancing. In future posts, I plan to cover all sort of industry topics. I hope you found this one valuable and I look forward to the next song.

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Peter Bossio is an Associate Creative Director/Art Director. He graduated from Syracuse University's Advertising Design program and attended intensive film/video production at Tisch School of the Arts. Peter has been a guest speaker at NYU School of Professional Studies and is president of his local Toastmasters Club. Want to connect with him? You'll likely find him on twitter @PeterBossio in a salsa club or at www.peterbossio.com.
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