Have You Hugged Your Freelancer Today?

Scott Goodson, founder and CEO of StrawberryFrog reflects on his agency’s use of freelance talent, and how it differs from the way mainstream agencies hire freelancers.

We worked with some of the best talent – all out of courage while the corporate agencies used them out of fear, never willingly admitting that they had freelancers on the payroll. No more. Freelance is flying and it’s totally mainstream. It’s big. Especially during the recession. So I ask why not have an award for freelancer of the year. Adweek could have this alongside their agency or the year.

I like the idea of an award, and I like the widespread move to honor the freelancer.
For the past 11 months, I’ve tried to honor my own path as a freelancer, only to find myself getting hung up on the phrase and what I think it too often means. If you’re talking to Scott Goodson, “freelance” means “hotshot creative talent that comes up huge when needed.” But say you’re at a party and you tell someone you’re a freelance copywriter…depending on what kind of party it is, that might not be a flattering way to describe your work.
In my own experience, there are two types of freelancers–the “I’m working on some things until I get re-hired” type, and the “this is what I love to do” type. Personally, I’m striving to adjust from the former to the latter. A friend and Friend of AdPulp told me it took him two years to get his practice together and see a steady stream of work. Like most things worth striving for, patience and perseverance are key.
The other day, Vinny Warren said, “At a certain point I realized that opening my own shop was the ONLY path for me. But it took a while to meet the right partners. It’s like forming a band. Chemistry is key. And you can’t rush that. Much as you’d like to!” He’s so right it hurts.
For the past few months, I’ve been thinking how different it is to meet someone and say, “Hi, I’m David Burn. I run a creative services company.” Versus, “Hi, I’m David Burn. I’m a freelance copywriter/creative director.” Very different…yet the work isn’t all that different.
Bob Knorpp of The BeanCast and I were discussing this issue recently and we agreed that when we’re going after an account, we’re consultants just like every other agency in the world (most agencies are consultants first, and production units second). But when we’re landing freelance work through an agency, we’re freelance copywriters or creative directors, whatever the case calls for.
I see too that there’s a vast difference in a freelance copywriter or art director who is narrowly focused on advancing their craft, and the freelancer who wears many hats and doles out work he or she can’t do to a network of friends. That’s a person who runs a creative services firm, even if the firm is comprised of one individual and lots of specialists on call.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. been on my own for seven years and at a certain point started describing myself as “self-employed.” seems like a good middle ground between freelance (which some people take as you are unemployed and don’t want to admit it) and opening up your own shop with an office and hired help. you’re on your own, but by choice.

  2. Earlier in the year I answered a client RFP, teaming with a freelance art director and media planner/buyer. It was a huge rush and eye-opener of an experience. Between the three of us, we had the experience and work examples to answer every question. We weren’t busting our brains to come up with bullshit answers, we were simply stating our previous real-world experience based on the question. It got me thinking, this is what clients want to hire, right? The brain power and knowledge base to bring effective thinking to their business and bottom line. We didn’t get the project, but I’d put our RFP up against any of the others and challenge people to question our ability to deliver.

  3. Right on, Chris. Again, it comes down to who you know, doesn’t it? You and I have been doing this awhile now, so we know some peeps. And those peeps are ready top move mountains when there’s money on the table (and an objective worth pursuing), am I right?

  4. Most definitely David. Since I’ve been out here I’ve truly come to appreciate the power of a good network. I can’t say I’ve been stress-free during this economy, not by any stretch. But what I see it doing is destroying the flashy dog-and-ponyshow nonsense that I’ve always hated about advertising. Clients don’t need you to buy them a steak and lapdances and to laugh hysterically at their jokes. They need their widgets sold. And you’re right: things just need to heat up a little bit and we’ll be ready to rock and roll.