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December 26, 2013
Best of TZM: Using Downtime as a Competitive Advantage
As with everything else, this economy too shall pass. Inevitably, companies will begin advertising once again. In the meantime, however, the creative life cannot stop. Samples must remain fresh and circulating. What’s to do?

Whether you’re unemployed and struggling or have taken a position to pass the time — you’re waiting. This is the time to create freely. There's no budget limit, no client judgment, and no executive deadline. The world offers many outlets to build and expand a portfolio without an agency position, so consider this the insider info on adding to your portfolio. The opportunities are plenty — if you’re willing to dig a little and be a bit creative.

Taproot Foundation is a pro bono agency offering Service Grant programs for marketing, HR, IT, and strategy management to organizations in need. Though they are selective, Taproot will allow you the opportunity to add new samples to your book about every six months and help a business in need. It’s not time consuming, and the programs are designed so one can maintain a day job while volunteering roughly one or two hours a week.

If you’re new to the creative world or, excuse the bluntness, rejected from Taproot, offer free promotional services. Ask around; most know someone with a small business. Offer your services to them for free with the agreement that you can use the work as a sample. Believe me; no small business is going to reject such an offer.

This website is one of my closest and dearest friends. For anyone creative using this site, I know you know what I’m talking about. Yes, I’m sure either you or someone you know has had a negative experience on Craigslist, but as with everything else in life, a good and bad side exists. Knowing the correct technique for optimizing your experience on Craigslist is the key.

Besides the “Help Wanted” category, which I’m sure you've visited, is the “Gigs” section. Gigs are short-term projects available for a lump sum. People or businesses without the need for a steady service post projects on an as-needed basis. Use this section!

You may also want to consider posting in the “Services” section. Be proactive, and sell yourself to the masses. You’d be surprised how many businesses don’t post projects because they simply cannot grasp what they need. Reading the various services being offered, however, allows them to articulate their needs.

Portfolio School
The last time I was looking for work, my aunt told me the best thing to do during a recession is to go back to school. Though I initially rolled my eyes and wondered how I would pay for this endeavor, I now believe this to be true. Think about it — you’re unemployed or in a “temporary” job, you need to update your portfolio, and you don’t need to repay any loans until you’re done.

My recommendation for someone looking to build his or her portfolio with fresh, ready-to-use samples is portfolio school. Why? Time, money, and end result. Although you won’t leave with a bachelor's, master's, or doctorate, you will leave with knowledge and preparedness for the industry.

I am the last person to recommend skipping formal education, but in this case, I have to agree with my peers. Portfolio school should be at the top of one’s list. The price is less than a university and still loan-assistance qualified. The program time is less than colleges, and the practical application is targeted specifically toward your industry.

Prominent portfolio schools include:

Whether you’re seeking employment or waiting out the recession in a “tolerable” job, stay fresh. Keep up with industry news, network regularly, and generate samples. The ad industry relies most on up-to-date knowledge of the world — particularly the latest practices and trends.

Use the Internet for its plethora of free resources, and trust your gut, for it’s the only thing you have to rely on at the end of the day. Good luck. 

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Rena Prizant  is an award-winning copywriter, creative, and mammal in Chicago; she's been professionally word playing for the past ten years. If there are ideas and words to be created, she’s your gal. She’s got you covered with concept development, messaging, creative leadership, and SEO. Just tell her what you want to say, she’ll write it for you…any way. Read www.ConceptsAndWords.com and follow @ConceptsNWords.
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