The ‘’Gig Economy’’ series sheds light on the future of work and the pros and cons of hiring freelancers and gig workers.
Our guest today is Matthew Fischman, Founder and Creative Director at Har Har Creative.
Matthew, the creative industry went through many changes in the last decade. The retainer model that was so common in the past is rare nowadays. How did these industrywide changes impact your decision to hire gig workers and freelancers?
As a creative marketing agency, we mostly work with clients on a project-to-project basis. Therefore, hiring freelancers is key to our business model. When a client asks us to produce a branded video, web film, or create an application or design for their business, we hire the necessary talent for that specific gig. This gives us the flexibility to scale up and down, depending on the size and type of project. For example, one week a client may ask us to produce a branded video campaign; while another client, the next week might ask us to create an Augmented Reality (AR) application. Each of these projects requires a completely different set and scope of talent. By hiring freelancers, we are able to contract talent that has specific expertise and skillsets that are needed for a particular project.
Over time we have compiled a large pool of trusted freelancers that we can hire at a moment’s notice when the right project arises. Our pool of freelancers includes but is not limited to: copywriters, art directors, motion graphic designers, videographers, photographers, video editors, producers, web developers, 3D artists, and several other production crew team members. We usually like to hire freelancers that we have worked with in the past as well as talent that has been recommended by fellow production companies or advertising agencies.
Also, since we mostly hire freelancers, we are able to keep our staff overhead cost low. To hire the staff that would enable us to produce the array of projects that we do, would require an enormous expense. This would then force us to take every job that comes through the door "just to pay the bills." Instead, hiring freelancers gives us the freedom to take on the projects that excite us and work with clients that we choose to. This builds better and longer-lasting relationships with our clients and also gives freelancers the opportunity to work on higher-level creative projects.
You need a different skill set for almost every project. All those gig workers know that they may not receive another gig from you in months. How does this fact impact their motivation? Are freelancers and contingent workers less motivated and loyal than full-time employees?
I think many freelancers in the advertising world, such as copywriters, art directors, and motion graphic designers enjoy having the ability to take on multiple projects from a large pool of clients. This gives them access to better work and frankly, more work. Freelancers are also able to charge a higher hourly or daily rate than an employee and can decide when to take time off for vacation. They are their own bosses. This flexibility and better compensation for their skillset give them plenty of motivation and reasons to keep doing great work. Additionally, the need for freelancers to acquire repeated and new business keeps them motivated to always bring their A-game and prevents them from becoming complacent, which you might find with a full-time employee.
We also tend to work with the same freelancers over-and-over again. Each time, it's as if they were rehired. This constant rehiring of the same freelancer gives them the assurance that they are doing amazing work and that our company wants to keep having them back. Additionally, when you signal to the freelancer that you love what they do by rehiring them again and again, they feel more motivated to keep doing a great job. Also, since you are showing them your loyalty by rehiring them, they are more inclined to reciprocate that loyalty.
Many freelancers operate as small business owners and see you as a client, not as an employer. Do you think that freelancers having more than one client add value to the company by bringing in fresh ideas and innovation?
Yes, since freelancers usually work with several clients, they're accustomed to constant innovation and bringing fresh ideas to the table. Fresh ideas and creativity are something that has to be spontaneous. I think the freelance or gig environment provides that free-spirited attitude. Many freelancers have the freedom to work from home, a coffee shop, or wherever they choose. Innovative ideas are more likely to spawn from this environment as opposed to a full-time employee who goes to the same office, works with the same client, and works with the same co-workers year-round. Working for only one client all the time can cause creative fatigue. After so long, as a creative, you feel like you've done every possible smart, funny, or inspirational idea for that one product or brand. Conversely, the freelancer is free to move from brand to brand, which gives them a clean slate to be creative and inventive.
Also, being exposed to multiple arrays of problems gives freelancers a unique set of problem-solving skills that a full-time employee might not have. For instance, a freelance motion graphic artist might be hired to work on a web film for a new car company client. Let's say this client has some concerns with how the car emblem is depicted in their recent web-film. Having worked on similar car commercials in the past, the freelance motion graphic artist is able to recall similar concerns about the emblem, and more importantly, the solutions to these concerns. The freelancer will make sure the emblem is properly lit, framed, textured and colored - all to the client’s preferences. On the other hand, a full-time employee who has never worked with a car company before, may not be able to anticipate the client's concerns or have a quick solution to put them at ease.
The creative industry benefits a lot from the gig economy. At the same time, the full- time jobs are no longer making promises of either professional or financial security to today's workforce. Do you think that the gig economy is the future?
From the advertising agency perspective, most companies and clients nowadays are moving away from the Agency of Record (AOR) and towards a project-to-project model. Therefore, clients are less likely to pay their agencies monthly or yearly retainer. Without this fixed revenue, hiring freelancers is, and will continue to be, key for agencies’ sustainability.
In addition, because the freelancer can charge a premium, has the flexibility of schedule, and the ability to work with more than one client, the better creatives in the business tend to gravitate towards being a freelancer versus being a full-time employee. This makes hiring and keeping talent a difficult task for an agency. Once the creative fatigue sets in from working with the same clients over and over again, your rock star creative employee might seek the more maverick, freelancer route.
If business owners think that they can get the same, or in some cases more productivity and innovation while keeping their overhead costs lower, they will continue to embrace the gig economy. This economy has provided businesses with the flexibility that produces great work without the enormous responsibility that comes with hiring full-time employees. Whenever I hire a full-time employee, I know that I am now responsible for their livelihood. I now need to bring in enough work to keep them employed as well as keep the business' profits up. Hiring a freelancer just sounds a lot less stressful.
That said, it's uncertain what the gig economy will bring to families and individuals. Without getting too political, I think the 2 key factors moving forward will be the cost of health care and the state of social security. Since freelancers do not have an employee health care plan or 401k, it's up to them to save money and plan ahead.
Above all, I think freelancers and business owners will have an equal say in deciding if the gig economy will be the future - one does not work without the other.
About the author
Lilia Stoyanov is CEO and angel investor at Transformify. A fintech and digital transformation expert, she is also a professor at Zigurat Business School and expert evaluator Horizon 2020 at the European Commission.
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