Scottish freelance dream team - Field of dreams

By The Drum, Administrator

October 18, 2007 | 8 min read

Simon Platt

Never before has the Scottish industry had such an array of talent offering their services on a freelance basis. But what drives such well-respected individuals to ply their trade through the peaks and troughs of the freelance market, jumping from job to job when they could be kicking-back with a regular salary, a comfortable desk and a big pile of work to navigate through, with its office politics, creative disagreements, monotonous client requests and undervalued...Erm. OK, perhaps the benefits are more apparent than they might first appear.

Guy Gumm, formerly joint creative director with Gerry Farrell at The Leith Agency, decided to move into the busy freelance market having earned a reputation as one of Scotland's top creatives.

Yet, despite having built a long list of contacts and an enviable reputation, Gumm is quick to point out that he still has to work hard to make sure he is not forgotten.

"I still have to market myself through my website, ads, emails... I have to remind people I'm still out here. I'm trying to build a brand, in a way, with "Creative Guy."

"But there's a great deal of freedom when you work freelance. In a year I might work in twenty different agencies," continues Gumm. "There's going to be more demand for freelance. Agencies can save so much money using a freelance resource. It cuts overheads. One creative director told me he would like to use experienced freelancers all the time as they come in and just get on with it."

Another to have worked at the pinnacle of the Scottish advertising industry is Mark Gorman, co-founder of ad agency 1576 and chief executive of Citigate Smarts.

"There's probably a lot of people like myself who have become disillusioned with the larger corporate side of running an ad agency which is a fairly unrewarding pastime," says Gorman. "It's very difficult to create a volume of business in this market. You can get bigger, but you might not necessarily make any more money but you would make more management issues.

"Working freelance, you don't have to wear a suit," continues Gorman, "you don't have a routine and you spend much more of your time learning to do well all the time rather than some of the time."

Ruth Lees, formerly planning director at 1576, has recently set up on her own too. She believes that the decision to go freelance varies greatly but often boils down to the same reasons: "Although the decision is always a very personal one, I think the fact that an increasing number of people are choosing to work this way in Scotland is partly a reflection of the current zeitgeist - the liberalisation of work conventions, the desire for flexibility, the desire for new challenges, the desire for individuality and control over your own destiny, the desire to live by your own values and beliefs and not someone else's" says Lees.

"It is partly also because some people may not want to work within the conventional 'agency' model or system anymore full time but prefer to work with a variety of different cultural models, possibly through strategic and personal alliances that meet and disperse as necessary and take on all different shapes and sizes.

"Good ideas and strong thinking are the valuable currency on offer here and, at the end of the day, these qualities can be delivered through a range of models, freelancing being one of them," says Lees.

It's not always a choice that dictates a move to freelancing, but often an opportunity. Having both been production directors for KLP Euro RSCG, (Mike Hislop in Edinburgh and Tony Read in London), the pair saw a gap in the market to set up a freelance print and media management service for Scotland. Stress Buster Productions was set up in January 2006.

"Having both worked in agencies and print manufacture for many years we could see the trend by agencies towards outsourcing services, with many agencies not opting for the fully employed production person," says Hislop.

"We didn't want to set ourselves up as print brokers, as we feel that there is more added value in print and media management than buying for 10 and selling for 12. We like to be part of the creative process and add value with well planned creative solutions that then translate into cost effective print budgets."

As such Stress Buster Productions acts in a freelance consultancy role, with all invoices from suppliers going direct to the client. "We fit in with small and medium sized agencies who don’t have the volume to justify someone full time, but equally we help larger agencies in peak times and holiday periods."

"Companies like to have the flexibility while also having someone who is committed to their business. Production is different to other disciplines as the job tends to be spread over a longer period of time," says Tony Read.

Being freelance often creates a win- win situation, for client and freelancer alike, he continues: "You can pick and choose your briefs. This way you can choose who you work for. Meanwhile, clients are wise to the fact that they can purchase a lot more at a much better rate - and probably get a much better end result than using an agency."

Brian Limond was co-founder of web agency Chunk, however he decided to leave the business at the end of 2005 to travel the world. On his return, rather than seeking a permanent role at an agency, he chose the freelance route to free up his time for other projects.

"So many high profile Scottish figures have chosen to work freelance for the simple reason that you have more control over your life that way," says Limond. "I'm now a comedian as well as a Flash freelancer, and I wouldn't have been able to perform at the Fringe Festival if I'd had a boss breathing down my neck."

However, Limond - who is behind the phenomenon limmy.com - has continued to utilise relationships fostered before his travels.

"I only work with one or two companies. I've had very little work through the portfolio section of my site - a majority of my contracts have been down to people I've known for years. If you satisfy a few people, then they keep coming back and you don't need to hunt around.

"After all, the point of being a freelancer at the end of the day is your ability to make more decisions about how and when you work, and then getting all the money for it."

One individual who is a veteran of the freelance market is copywriter Simon Platt.

But rather than taking a plunge into the freelance pool, he tentatively dipped his toe in.

"I've been freelance for 11 years. When I left my previous employers, Shandwick, I gave myself six months to see how I got on but I knew I could go back to what I did before.

"Most of my work has been on the agency side rather than working directly with clients. But I've recently been taking phone calls from people I haven't worked with before asking me to work with them through recommendation.

"Hopefully it's the quality of my work that stands out, rather than who I know. Scotland's a small village in terms of its industry so your name can become known quite quickly, though. And if you do good work and come in on time and budget then people want to speak to you."

Tricia Malley and Ross Gillespie are the team behind Broad Daylight Photography. Working as a freelance photography team they have built up an enviable portfolio working with both clients and agencies alike, including Orion, Redpath, Fopp, Cannongate Publishing, BBC Scotland, The Leith Agency and Harvey Nichols Edinburgh.

The days of creative agencies employing an in-house photographer might be gone, however photography remains an important resource to be brought in.

"One of the hardest elements of freelance work is that you have to be very good at what you're doing, when you're doing it, but you also have to have your eye out for the next job."

Also as a freelancer, your creative ego is open for a pounding, says Malley: "Rejection when pitching your services is never easy to swallow. Fortunately, we've been quite successful in this area.

"We might not be the norm, though, in that there are two of us. Because of that, we bring different things to the table.

"The most important thing for any freelancer is to have a strong body of work, a good reputation and previous clients happy enough to recommend you to others."

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