How freelancers can find their way in lockdown
During much of 2020 Hugh Todd, freelance creative director, writer and podcaster, felt helpless as job opportunities dried up and face-to-face meetings were curtailed. But he - and many other freelancers - found that the struggle to find work was alleviated after turning to a sometimes maligned social media platform and the chance to show off their creative wares.
Last year I saw a New Yorker cartoon which, like so many New Yorker cartoons, was funny and poignant in equal measure.
It featured a city on fire, society collapsing, people fighting over loo rolls and, in the foreground, a slightly desperate man shouting ‘Does anyone need a graphic designer?’. It made me laugh and want to cry in equal measure, because that slightly desperate shouting man was me (eerily accurate, with a big nose) and possibly many other creative folk staring into the abyss over much of last year.
How did we respond and (re)sell ourselves in the shit-fest that was 2020?
How the fuck were we going to get work? I’ve done four recessions and weathered a few personal storms, but had faced nothing like this. Since Covid arrived on these shores, it’s been estimated up to 35% of creatives have either lost their jobs or been furloughed; no laughing matter. So how did we respond and (re)sell ourselves in the shit-fest that was 2020, and how will we continue to do so in what looks like being an equally traumatic start to 2021?
Above: Paul Pateman used LinkedIn to share his news-related illustrations.
Generally, there has been a shift in people’s levels of anxiety. No surprise there. But speed and timing has become even more crucial to getting a gig. “Finding work required a lot more hustle and front-footedness last year,” creative, Shishir Patel, told me.
“The fear about not getting work has always motivated me,” adds illustrator Paul Pateman. “But I’ve been more on it because of Covid. I’m lucky enough to have a weekly column in the Financial Times that always gives me something to share when other work becomes quiet. I also do pro-active work when I have the time. I pick a news story and try to bring it to life with an illustration. It’s important to keep putting it out there so you’re top of mind if anything comes up.”
Be honest, who was on LinkedIn five years ago? When I say ‘on’, I mean using it as a business tool to spread the word about your creative work.
Whatever the creative community were doing, they were mostly doing it in one place: LinkedIn. Be honest, who was on LinkedIn five years ago? When I say ‘on’, I mean not just following other people and trends in your industry, but using it as a business tool to spread the word about your creative work. Nope, me neither.
Now it seems to be the go-to place for creatives to promote themselves and get more eye balls on their work. “I use LinkedIn because (almost) everyone is on it and it's easy to connect with people in the industry,” says Patel. “My portfolio and CV are on there, so all my info is in one place. It also widens the net in terms of opportunities; you may get work offers outside the usual UK advertising industry.”
Above: Gavin Kellett and Dave Hillyard used humorous LinkedIn post to advertise their availability.
Some creatives, like Gavin Kellett, saw the opportunity to promote themselves as a brief in itself. “Dave [Hillyard, Kellett’s freelance creative partner] and I posted on LinkedIn referencing topical events such as the recent ageism debate, and Downing Street’s tweet to Joe Biden which inadvertently included the alternative message congratulating Donald Trump,” says Kellett. “If the usual opportunities to do ads for clients aren’t out there, we might as well have fun advertising ourselves.
If one thing was true across the board last year it was a sense of unity, with creatives looking after each other, putting forward mates for opportunities they couldn’t fulfil. Or going one step further, as Mike Nicholson, freelance CD and lecturer at the School of Communication Arts did: “I offered my mentoring services and also posted on LinkedIn to help folks I know get hired.”
Bill Bernbach’s “Don’t let a good recession go to waste” mantra is still relevant 60 years on, inspiring starts-ups not to fritter away a perfectly timed pandemic.
Braver souls decided this was the perfect moment to launched their own agencies. In October 2020 alone, there were six new launches. So, Bill Bernbach’s “Don’t let a good recession go to waste” mantra is still relevant 60 years on, inspiring starts-ups not to fritter away a perfectly timed pandemic and to tout their wares on LinkedIn. But, other than LinkedIn, are there any equally effective alternatives? “I only really use Instagram,” says director and photographer, Steve Reeves. “I love it because it allows me to show people my personal work. People who never would have seen it otherwise. To me, Instagram is the best way to express oneself creatively.” Pateman agrees that Instagram is a worthy alternative: “Instagram is good for a younger audience. New, younger art producers and creatives seem to use it instead of looking at your website.”
Above: Other social media platforms, such as Instagram, help in promoting people's work, such as that of director Steve Reeves.
Amidst all this scrabbling for attention, what do the recruiters feel? With all these platforms and all this talent at their disposal, surely it’s never been easier to hire great people? “It’s never that simple,” says Claire Young, Head of Creative Services/Production at VCCP, who, like many recruiters, still trusts one of the oldest ways to find good people: “Word of mouth [and] talking to colleagues and friends in the industry is always, by far, the best way. But then, yes, LinkedIn is next, and is becoming an important tool.”
Word of mouth [and] talking to colleagues and friends in the industry is always the best way.
So, there you have it; 2020 became a year to choose the right platform, show off your wares, help others and, most importantly of all, keep talking, either through good old-fashioned emails and phone calls or, if you were lucky enough, in person. Something we all want more of in 2021.