Beth Stafford and I doing a workshop at Making Midwest Conference!
Learn about how you can develop your own side projects or products as a secondary source of income or personal development from Jeremy Slagle and Beth Stafford.
The workshop will be held at Columbus College of Art and Design on Friday, July 27 at 2:30pm as part of the Making Midwest Conference weekend.
Visit www.makingmidwest.com for details and registration.
Come join us!
I hear it all the time. It comes from creatives of all sorts: designers, illustrators, writers, developers, illustrators, photographers: “I’m a freelancer.”
But are you really? Let’s take a look at the term and maybe consider removing the F-word from your vocabulary.
The fact that you work for yourself, full-time, as an independent creative professional does not necessarily make you a freelancer. Chances are, you are set up as an LLC, S-Corp or are somehow incorporated as a small business. This means you are paying taxes and your company is paying your salary or monthly paycheck. Note: If you are not incorporated and you’re claiming your full-time earnings as personal income, registering as a legal entity will save you a ton of money at tax time. It also gives you the ability to itemize deductions and get perks like tax credits that only come with being a small business.
Where does the word “freelance” come from?
The term “freelance” originated in medieval times as a term used to describe a mercenary warrior who had no allegiance to any higher authority. They were “free to lance” for anyone who paid their asking price on a contract basis. They were hired talent who worked temporary gigs with no ties to an actual business or authority. (https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/freelance-origin-meaning)
Dictionary.com defines freelancer as: a person who works as a writer, designer, performer, or the like, selling work or services by the hour, day, job, etc., rather than working on a regular salary basis for one employer.
I like this definition. But, keep in mind that if you are incorporated as a small business and you’re doing things legitimately, your business IS your “one employer” who is paying you your regular salary. Even if you work for yourself, your business is not you—it’s actually your employer, your higher authority.
Freelancers typically fit into one or both of these categories:
Moonlighters have a full-time job but are open to taking side projects in their spare time.
Nomads travel from agency to agency (or in-house gig, to in-house gig) working on short-term contract projects, often for their client’s clients.
Why does it matter?
Like it or not, the term “freelance” is often tied to terms like “temporary,” “inexpensive” and “side-hustle.” It’s commonly understood as “money you make that goes over-and-above what you make at your day job.” It’s a project here and there to pay for the vacation you wanted to take or buy the equipment to fund your hobby.
But if your salary is based on being full-time, self-employed, working with your own clients, and you call yourself a freelancer, you are giving clients the wrong impression. In a sense, you’re telling them that your situation is temporary or that you are working a side-hustle. Either way, it doesn’t communicate the idea that you’re going to be a creative partner who will be around for them long-term.
Why do you care what I call my business?
Because I care about small creative businesses and I believe one acts based on who one believes themselves to be. It’s about your mindset. You can call yourself whatever you want. But if you compete against other small businesses, you can (and should) charge competitive rates as other small businesses. Charging what you’re worth lifts all ships and helps the creative community at large. If you want to be taken seriously as a long-term creative partner, stop using the F-word and start charging what you’re worth. Your full-time job is not a side project, it’s your bread and butter and you should be making enough to make a living, and then some.
If you’re working a side-hustle, then charge “freelance” rates. Many people are willing to pay discounted fees for a short-term engagement or understanding that their work will be done “on the side” and that their creative partner will not be available to meet or discuss their project during work hours. If that’s your situation, by all means, keep doing what you’re doing.
Okay, you’ve convinced me that I’m not a freelancer, what do I call myself when someone asks?
When I tell people I work for myself, I’m commonly asked “oh, so you’re a freelancer?” This is a great opportunity for me to kindly educate them, and, at the same time, explain the value of what I do. My response goes something like this: “I’m structured more like a small design firm. I work directly with my own clients. I rarely work alone as I have a network of amazing senior-level creatives that I assemble for any project, large or small. We take an agency approach to our creative work and have ongoing, long-term relationships with our clients.”
My best advice: just drop the F-word. When asked, don’t say “I’m a freelance photographer,” say “I’m a photographer.” It’s that simple. If they press you further and ask who you work for, tell them you are an independent creative who works directly with your own clients. It’s not that complicated.
Bottom line: if you’re self-employed and work directly with your own clients on long-term projects, stop acting like it’s a side-hustle and start running your business like a business. Charge what you’re worth. Let them know you’ll be available when they need you and that you plan on being there in the future. It’s important to use the right words to describe your practice, especially when helping potential clients understand how you work so you can manage expectations and outcomes.
Disclaimer: Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with being a Freelancer. I’ve spent a few years in both categories, working in-house as a temp for various businesses and burning the midnight oil on side projects while holding down a 9 to 5 job. Most creatives do it and it’s a great source of income and opportunity to do creative projects that are outside of the typical day-to-day work.
If you’ve visited our studio, you may have noticed the light fixture that hangs from the ceiling in our entryway.
When we were decorating the office, we must have bought (and returned) four or five different lights. Some were too big, others too small. Some weren’t going to be bright enough and others looked fine at the store but just didn’t fit the vibe of the new space when we hung them here.
Frustrated, we moved on focus to other details knowing we’d eventually find the right fit.
A short while later, while organizing my shop, I came across a bicycle wheel my son and I had found at the curb in the trash while out on a walk. You could tell it had been well used and probably wouldn’t safely function any more but that didn’t stop us from carrying it home that day. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I would eventually do with it, but knew I might kick myself later for leaving it there.
I brought the wheel up to the studio entrance and held it in place above my head. It was the right size! it perfectly fit the space and wasn’t too “heavy” for the room. My son, Caleb, and I scrounged around at the local hardware store for some “L” brackets, bulb bases, flat black spray paint and wire. When it was finished and hung in place, it couldn’t have been a better fit for the space.
It’s been hanging in our entryway for about five years. Everyone who comes to our studio is welcomed by the warm glow of its vintage-inspired Edison bulbs. It’s a constant reminder to us that:
The best solutions can’t be bought off the shelf, and just because it looks great somewhere else, design is personal and it doesn’t necessarily work everywhere. Truly unique design solutions happen when you take the time to dig through your resources to find the best solution for the problem.
The people who are welcomed to our studio are friends, fellow creative partners, and beloved clients. The spokes represent the people who make the design happen, who come to gather here from around the city to brainstorm and imagine possibilities. The bright bulbs remind me of the ideas that come from that collaboration and the warmth and welcome created by a job well done.
Always in Tandem means working together with an incredible team and amazing clients to create something brilliant! It’s nice to have a daily reminder to walk past each and every day.
I LOVE this post written by my Podcast partner Thad DeVassie for the Joy Venture Blog. You can read the original post and others like it here.
The designer refers to it as white space.
The architect: open space.
The artist: a clean slate.
The writer: a blank page.
Others may call it wasted or dead space.
And when the critics are looking over your shoulder as you contemplate your space, they might be the ones calling it out as under-designed, writers block, inefficient, or unfinished.
Space: an invitation with deep-seated fear
Many of us feel compelled to fill our space. We’ve bought into the idea that this it is what’s required of us. We’ve been led to believe that to behold the blank, dead, empty, open or white space somehow signals that we’re lazy or unproductive. Too often the result is that we act out of fear.
Instead we should be embracing what is not yet on the invisible sketch canvas of what’s to come. That is the invitation to discovering new-found joy.
Recently we embraced this invitation and went on a brief hiatus from Joy Venture (it’s our second such break since starting JV). In this downtime when we weren’t concerned with pushing out the next podcast, we had space to think about and do – other things. Things that were necessary, things that stretched us, and things that demanded out attention. But just as important, no thing at all. The idea of setting up margin in your life – not feeling compelled to fill your space, your calendar, your social feed, etc. – and leaving room to breathe, think about and pursue different ideas is important. These are themes worth touching on as we move forward.
Risks and rewards of exploring the space
Specifically we used our blank and empty space since November to scrutinize Joy Venture. There was real risk in confronting the fact that this thing we’ve poured ourselves into might have run its course – and we needed to wrestle with that reality.
Should we continue?
If so, where do we go next?
How might we do new and different things?
How do we stay true to Joy Venture’s purpose while also pursuing new voices and ideas?
We also had to push back against conventional wisdom, which suggested we were foolish to “go dark” without new content for months. What about our followers? What about momentum? What about the timely posts you need to stay relevant? What about securing a sponsor to help us grow, grow, grow?
To us, and specifically for the podcast, relevance has more to do with real interactions than it does regular rhythms to catch a surfing audience. We cannot do this for the likes and shares. We’re unable to run on the infinite treadmill of production and find joy in that kind of effort. We know that for most things in life less is more. We tend to cherish what’s finite versus what is in abundance all around us. We believe the work must resonate at a deeper level for people, ourselves included.
While we do look at our analytics, we hold dear the responses we get from people who take time to send us a thoughtful note. Those individual pieces of feedback obliterate how we think about the algorithms of visibility, should we ever feel tempted to allow data to dictate our joy.
Questions to contemplate
But this isn’t about us. This invitation also is for you, friend and follower. So we ask you, the individual who is at least moderately intrigued with this idea of discovering joy –
Have you embraced the white, blank, empty, open and dead space in your life? Why not?
Have you been feverishly filling your spaces out of obligation? Why?
Will you accept the invitation that space affords and create margin in the months ahead to see what you can begin to draft on the invisible sketch canvas?
What do you want to create that you’ve been afraid to pursue? What’s holding you back from taking the initial steps?
The space and time away from Joy Venture these past months confirmed its value for us, especially as others continue to discover what we’re up to and choose to listen and lean in. It has renewed us and refreshed some of our thinking about where we go from here.
All this to say, our hiatus has been rewarding and we’re ready to return to the podcast this spring with new episodes of insight and extraordinary individuals. We hope it will be the inspiration and encouragement you need to step off the treadmill of production to pursue things that matter.
Thank you for your ongoing encouragement of us as we pursue this endeavor in hopes of helping others discover, develop and spread their joy.
Everything I remember from school I learned on field trips.
Growing up south of Detroit, there was always an annual class trip to Greenfield Village. Henry Ford, distraught about the destruction of historical buildings (especially the homes and laboratories of America’s great writers and inventors), created a place in Dearborn, Michigan where he collected, lovingly restored, and put them on display for all to visit. I still take my family there every couple of years when we travel north.
To little me, visiting Edison’s lab and riding a Model T was fun, but I most looked forward to visiting the operating blacksmith shop. Our class would pile in from the cold and you could smell the soot and feel the heat from the forge. The blacksmith would then take several minutes to show us what he was working on and explain his process as well as share the history behind the career and life of a blacksmith in the early 1800s. Little me got impatient and really wanted to see him start banging on glowing red metal and watching the sparks fly!
I often hear the saying “strike while the iron is hot” when referring to making an immediate decision. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines this saying as “to do something immediately while there is still a good chance to do it.” There is a notion of impatience to the context we typically use it in, and I think we have missed the message completely.
Eight-year-old Jeremy wanted to see sparks fly. But, looking back, I now realize that our blacksmith friend was buying time while the irons in the fire were heating to the correct temperature. He would check them and carefully turn them as he talked and only when they were glowing the perfect shade of bright orangy-red, did he pull them from the fire with confidence and start working the soft metal to our amazement.
Striking while the iron’s hot is not about acting quickly or impulsively. It’s about having the patience to begin the creative process when have the information needed to do it right. Any sooner and the metal is not malleable and won’t bend or twist the way it should. As a designer this means asking the right questions and really taking time to check the project and turn things over until you know that the glowing red creative opportunity is the perfect color.
As a young designer, I often found myself jumping to early conclusions and doing a lot of busywork sketching ideas and working on concepts. Nowadays, I often get asked if I have any ideas after having a brief introduction to the project. Honestly, I don’t. I have learned to wait for the right time to strike. This is also why we don’t work on projects that haven’t been put through the fire. I get this email a lot: “I have an idea for a logo for my company and I’m looking for someone to design it for me.” My answer is always “no, but I’m happy to go through the creative process and create something that’s right for you.”
Recently, I broke my own rule. At a new client’s request, I accepted a project where I knew that some of the key stakeholders would not be available for me to meet with. They were “too busy.” I still knowingly took the job and I lived to regret that decision. Projects like these remind me that cold metal doesn’t bend. It breaks. Another lesson learned the hard way.
Speaking with another recent client, I asked why they chose to work with us given the other agencies he reached out to. His response, “You were the only one who insisted on flying across the country to visit with us in person. You demonstrated a desire to really get to know us.”
The name Slagle literally means “hammer.” At our studio, the sparks don’t fly until the iron is glowing just right.
Special Thanks to:
Thad DeVassie of Ratchet Strategy and Communications
Chris Myers of Verb Garden, Inc.
Our clients, for entrusting us with their brands!
Challenge Conventional Wisdom
Slagle Design, in partnership with Ratchet Strategy + Communication recently completed a rebrand for Tiffin University. It was a pleasure working with their team to reimagine their brand identity and help them tell their story on a new way.
Our project covered logo and brand identity, strategy and communications, new tagline, admissions view book, application to printed materials, video production and photography.
“Thad and Jeremy were a pleasure to work with. Their respective talents provide a comprehensive marketing messaging approach and they are adaptable and flexible. They truly immerse themselves in their client’s organizational culture to find the messaging brand that most authentically represents that organization.
I highly recommend them!”
—Dr. Lillian Schumacher, President of Tiffin University
We're thrilled to announce that our 30-day Kickstarter campaign for Chin Up, Chinchilla is complete! We reached our initial goal (within the first five days) and our hearts are full of thankfulness and joy!Read More
I’ve always wanted to illustrate a children’s picture book.
Two years ago, I was hanging with my friend Ben Stafford at the Creative South Conference and he showed me some concept sketches for a really cute book written by his wife, Beth. The drawings were great and he was really excited about the project. I have to be honest and say I was a bit jealous. I remember telling myself that my opportunity would come along someday.
Fast forward about a year, we hosted Ben and Beth on our Joy Venture Podcast (you can listen to the episode here). After the interview, Thad, Ben and Beth and I grabbed some tacos at Condado (YUM!) and the conversation turned towards childrens’ books. Beth looked at Ben, then looked at me and asked if I would illustrate their book! I was shocked. Ben is an amazing illustrator! I didn't even pause. "Absolutely! I’ll do it!"
That was last November and here we are in mid-August, finally ready to release the book. It was far more time-consuming than I had anticipated. Far more difficult and way more rewarding. I started with pencil and paper to rethink the characters and even the style I would create them in. I wanted to push myself to do something different. I’m really happy with the results.
So today, we release it into the world to see if people think it’s as great as we do. I feel nervous, exposed, and downright terrified. But I know I have done my best, and I learned a lot in the process. I will likely never earn back the hours I put into this book but it has brought me a lot of joy. Working with the Staffords had been a real pleasure and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I’m so thankful for the opportunity. I got to do a children’s book!
Hopefully, in 30 days, when the Kickstarter campaign is over, I will look back at this post and remember that–funded or failed—it was the process of creating that brought me joy, regardless of the outcome.
The Chin Up, Chinchilla Kickstarter Campaign will be running from August 15 through September 14, 2018. If you like what you see, please consider buying a book or four. Christmas is just around the corner!