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Chapter 1: Why The Opportunity Has Never Been Better
Starting one's own business has always been part of the American dream. We live in a society founded upon individual rights and economic opportunity that also supports the most capitalistic of large economics. And being self-employed is the purest form of capitalism.
Although entrepreneurial trends wax and wane, being one's own boss has always been a strong grain in the American character. Unlike most other nations, our population is a heterogeneous one; our culture fosters a spirit of self-reliance, adventure, and willingness to try new things. Because this is both our heritage and something of a national religion, the economic oligarchy valued elsewhere is one of the principal bogeymen of our national consciousness. Indeed, so ingrained in our culture is the value of the individual entrepreneur that when economic forces threaten his or her prosperity, Congress always intercedes. Because small businesses are generally perceived as having a better record of productivity and innovation than larger companies, the federal government has developed a number of entrepreneurial incentives. These initiatives, united with recent sociological trends reemphasizing individual values, have created the healthiest climate for the entrepreneur in the last one hundred years.
Is all this just temporary? Surely it is to some extent, for economic trends will continue to be cyclical. Nonetheless, there is also considerable evidence of deep, structural change. In many areas of the economy, particularly creative services, the trend of "smaller is better" will continue, even strengthen. This is why there has never been a better time to freelance than right now.
Skills For A PostIndustrial Economy
The North American economy is undergoing a transition from an industrial base to one based on services and information. It's a changeover as potentially sweeping as the industrial revolution or the mechanization of agriculture. In this new society, communications skills are increasingly important and the number of jobs available for creatively skilled individuals will continue to increase. More important, however, is where much of that increase will take place.
In the past, because most markets were relatively stable, manufacturing industries relied largely upon vertical integration for the control necessary for profit-making efficiency. Now, the value added to a product increasingly comes from marketing, sales, and distribution, not manufacturing. In this time of market volatility brought about by the speed of information transmittal and the globalization of markets, economic efficiency often comes from reliance upon a flexible network of suppliers. By instituting such a network, companies can move more quickly, concentrating on what they can do best and leaving the rest to outside specialists -like you.
The changes brought by information technology are also having a profound effect in service businesses, such as marketing communications. The shop of tomorrow will surely be an electronic workplace in which traditional references of time, space, and geography are blurred. It will be possible (although not always practical) to have writers in New York working with art directors in Los Angeles and production people in Chicago-on projects for a client in London. Indeed, this is already happening.
Technology makes it possible for creative individuals to work easily outside the traditional environment. Word-processed copy can be transmitted between continents in minutes. Electronic design allows everything from concepts to finished art to be created, and "modemed" anyplace. Text and graphics can be output anywhere. Fax machines, overnight delivery services, and the Internet remove all limitations on where illustration is done. Moreover, these enabling technologies are still in their nascent stages. (A caution is in order, too. See "Can you do it anywhere?" in Chapter 3.)
Marketing communication, as we know it, has gone through two major phases in this century. The first phase was largely concerned with analysis: what should be communicated using what techniques. The second phase was largely concerned with creativity: how to attract attention and ensure memorability. Now we are well into the third phase: how to do things more productively. in an era of high and escalating communications costs, productivity plays an increasingly large role in determining communications efficiency.
As a freelance you will be in an excellent position to take advantage of this trend; you will be in the right place at the right time in history. Like other A la carte business suppliers, a freelance can bring to the communications efforts of a company excellent work without the inflexibility and expense of a large staff and overhead.
In other words, a freelance supplier offers an organization the opportunity to reduce communications expenses without reducing communications quality.
The Ripple Effect Of Corporate Change
Your success as a freelance will also be directly related to the revolutionary changes in corporate structure that have recently taken place. That's not because you will necessarily be working directly for corporations, but because of the positive impact corporate changes will have on the market and pay for freelance services.
Agencies, small companies without staff, public service organizations, and institutions have always generated a certain amount of freelance work. Many individuals have made a very respectable living from these sources in the past. Nonetheless, most freelances recognize that the larger and more sophisticated an organization is, the bigger the job, paycheck, and satisfaction that usually result.
Unfortunately, it has also been largely true that the larger the organization, the more likely it was that substantially all of its creative needs would be handled internally, or provided by a large creative organization, such as an advertising agency or design firm. Because of their training, most managers felt most comfortable dealing with people who had line responsibility within their company, or with a similar hierarchical organization. They did not feel comfortable working with outside, entrepreneurial suppliers.
Now, however, the in-house method of operation is being increasingly called into question. it has been demonstrated that many of the most efficient organizations, and perhaps the only ones who can do very well against certain types of international competition, are those who efficiently purchase specialized equipment and services A la carte as required. Supporting large in-house staffs is no longer cost-effective. This is especially true in areas such as creative services, which are by nature antithetical to the traditional corporate structure.
The result is growing support for a management system often referred to as "interactive decentralization." its thesis is that voluntary, mutually beneficial customer/vendor relationships are inherently more efficient in producing quality work than the hierarchical internal structure of bosses and subordinates. The reasoning is that in the traditional structure efficiency is lost as power is passed down through the organization. In an interactive, decentralized structure, on the other hand, efficiency is increased as each external supplier competes to bring the highest possible level of expertise to the solving of a specific problem.
Corporations subscribing to this thesis subcontract much of their work. In some cases they subcontract virtually all of it. (The latter is the so-called virtual corporation.) Their management skills are developed around coordination rather than control. As would be expected, these corporations tend to be concentrated in newer, emerging industries without large capital investment, strong manufacturing traditions, or well-defined labor/management practices. Nonetheless, as competition becomes keener in every industry, it is increasingly accepted that internal flexibility, coupled with external expertise, is now more critical to success than vertical integration.
In fact, in some areas of North America- particularly in the trendsetting, technology-intensive regions of the Northeast and the West Coast-these beliefs already dominate the producing sector of the economy. In such areas there has been created what economists like to label a "niche economy"-a place where many small units perform in individual niches, meshing with other units in other niches to create a strong, diversified economic base. Creative services make up just one of those niches.
Independent of the change in management thinking and the growth of niche economies is the growth of the "soft sector" of the communications industry (i.e., services, as opposed to equipment and hardware). The advertising industry, which as recently as twenty years ago only created identities for existing products, now increasingly determines what products are produced based upon how well their features can be communicated. This growth in the communications industry paints a bright picture for copywriters, art directors, graphic designers, and illustrators. There is no part of the industry that is not at least affected by, and more likely dependent upon, our talents. More important, because much of the growth in the communications industry is generated by small, flexible economic units with limited resources, the opportunities for independent creatives are even brighter.
In summary, changing management trends and the growth of communications make freelancing a growth business....