Blog: How to keep your creatives

And, if you lose them, how to get them back.

The lure of freelance.

I love that word. Lure. Until I  went freelance 10 months ago, I’m not sure I ever used it in a sentence.

The temptation to work more freely has struck an estimated 1.9 million Canadians. That’s a lot of resignation letters. That’s a lot of holes to fill. And in our business, that’s a lot of talent floating around, dipping in and out of agencies.

This isn’t a piece about whether that’s a good or bad thing for the biz. I don’t have that perspective or that expertise. The only perspective I have, is the one I’m living as a freelance senior copywriter. After 13 fun and eventful years in some of Canada’s top agencies, I too fell spell to that freelance lure. It wasn’t an easy decision to make; like most others in my life raft, I too had a mortgage, car payments, an affinity for expensive salads and parents who just kept asking, “But what about the health insurance?” Rest assured, this POV is from the real deal.

Since I took that breathless leap to announce my freelance foray, I’ve been busier than I’d ever hoped. And in doing so, have discovered a newfound love for our business, our craft, our output and our process. Freelancing has given me a renewed creative energy, a re-booted confidence and a hyper-focused, single-minded approach to the work.

My approach is uncluttered by some of the stuff that can drag some agency creatives down – even if they don’t realize it.

What can agencies do to create cultures and environments that mimic the best of the freelance world for their full-time creatives, that can keep them from jumping ship, and maybe even welcome some freelancers back full-time?. I have some thoughts:

1. Celebrate  (and use) every creative’s superpower.

When you’re freelancing, you’re offering an agency a very specific skill. And I’m willing to bet, that skill is also the one you love doing most. It’s your superpower. It’s what you know you’ll deliver on. If agencies built creative departments where said powers (not to be confused with skillset) complemented each other (not competed with each other), creatives would be at their most motivated, most valuable and most eager to work really hard. Look for the superpower. Love the superpower. Leverage the superpower.

2. Create an “OMG. Thank you so much!” culture.

When you’re freelancing, you’re likely coming in to save someone’s butt, like doing up a rush brief that nobody expected on a Friday or a pitch that came in like a lion. Maybe even a bout of stomach flu that took out half the agency. Whatever the call is, when you get it, you roll up your sleeves and do your best to save the situation. In doing so, you are abundantly thanked upon turning in the work. It’s so… nice. I wish I had thanked people the way in which they are currently thanking me. Thank the full-timers. Every day.

3. Stick to titles and roles that are clear for everyone.

When a freelancer jumps onto a job, it’s imperative that they know who does what on the team. Remember, most freelancers walk into an agency and a situation they don’t know! They have about five minutes to understand who their partner is, who their boss is, who their contact person is and who the brand is. The clearer the roles and the titles of team members, the smoother the process. The cooler the process. I think, the same is thought by full time staff.

4. Embrace sea-lancing, ski-lancing, tea-lancing, tree-lancing, whee!-lancing…

I’m not going to lie: there is something indescribably blissful about being able, to some extent, inject freedom into your work week. Whether that’s the freedom to work from home, from a park, a coffee shop, a ski-lift or a beach, there’s something wonderful about having some say in the hours in which you are most fruitful to work. There is a gentle stream of freedom that runs through the everyday life of a freelancer. And until you dip into it, it’s difficult to even explain.

Don’t get me wrong; busy freelancers work really hard. They run around. They juggle. They work often into the night and into the weekend. It’s not a vacation. It simply comes with options. What if agencies could flex just a little more? What if creatives could choose one day a week to work from home? What if creatives could use their superpowers during their super hours? Strong in the morning? Own it. Better in the afternoon? Do your thing then. It’s complicated, of course. Businesses run on business hours. People need to be there. But what if there was openness to some flexibility?

As for me? I currently have four email accounts, a cell phone bill larger than I’d like and maybe a parking ticket or two. But I’ve never been more in my zone.

Would I ever go back full time? Absolutely. For the right opportunity, the right team and perhaps a superpower embrace, you bet.

Jessie Sternthal is currently a senior freelance copywriter living and working in Montreal.

Have something on your mind about the creative industry? Submit your ideas to Stimulant editor Bree Rody-Mantha.

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