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Mr. Kaneign and Mr. Wolfe Discuss Work

Mr. Wolfe walked by a cafe where nourished Mr. Kaneign sat drinking his mocha. Wolfe asked, “Hey, Kaneign, what are you doing?”

Kaneign looked up, “Oh, hey there, Wolfe. I’m on a little break from the office. I’ve got so much happening. It seems like I’m putting in over 40 hours sometimes. Man, the over time makes it worthwhile, but I just had to get out of my cubicle. How ‘bout you? You seem tired?”

Wolfe was embarrassed, “Tired? Well, yeah. I’ve been doing some 80-hour weeks here lately, but I’m fine. Really. I’ve got to grab some lunch.”

“Lunch?” asked Kaneign. “Yeah, I know it’s almost four in the afternoon, but I’m really buried,” Wolfe replied.

Kaneign shook his head, “So what are you up to? Last I heard, you were scraping by as a contractor. Still doing your own thing?” Wolfe nodded. “Man, that’s a hard gig, Wolfe. You’ve got to fend for yourself, no wonder you’re having lunch now. You’re really missing out. Come by the office. I can get you hooked up. Great dental plan too,” Kaneign replied.

Silence crept in as Wolfe thought for a moment. Finally, Wolfe spoke, “No thanks, Kaneign. You probably sit in that 8-foot square cubicle day in and day out, working on the same projects. What have you really done? Do you own those jobs or share the credit with a team? And you know what, I really hate the idea of leaving the office to gain a sense of freedom. What does your steady paycheck and dental plan really grant you?” Hearing no reply, Wolfe continued, “You may live comfortably under the agency’s roof, but at least I can live and work as I choose. Hungry, tired, or otherwise.”

Each one has its merits, whether steady paycheck or freedom of choice. Each one is starved of something. If you’re a contractor (freelancer), when do you envy those in agency land? To those in an agency (studio), what part of the contractor’s lifestyle do you desire the most? Lastly, which do you see as more prestigious, the solo contractor or the agency creative, and why?

Thanks to Aesop’s “The Dog and the Wolf” for inspiration.

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ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 1925 FILED UNDER Business
PUBLISHED ON Apr.27.2004 BY Jason A. Tselentis
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Tan’s comment is:

I've done both, and the better choice is...

On Apr.28.2004 at 01:04 AM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

...dependent on your psychological makeup.

(Metaphorically speaking)

Which fear do you prefer to cultivate?

The fear of destitution, hunger and homelessness -- open your own studio.

The fear of change and losing your job -- go on staff.

Both suffer from the neurosis that comes from looking over the fence and seeing acres of sweet, green grass -- which, by the way, is an illusion.

On Apr.28.2004 at 02:08 AM
Garrick Van Buren’s comment is:

"Good night Westley. Sleep well. I'll most likely fire you in the morning."

On Apr.28.2004 at 07:55 AM
Bradley’s comment is:

Part of everyone likes the idea of being a hired gunslinger, swooping in and out at a moment's notice. Once that red carpet fantasy runs into concrete reality though, most people think differently about it.

I liked freelancing because I could totally avoid the politics of a place--anything that was going on I wouldn't be there long enough to suffer from it in any serious manner. Changing scenery is nice too, but while its okay to be a physical gypsy, being a mental and emotional gypsy isn't so healthy and you have to be careful about which path you're truly going down.

The fact is, anything can get old and stale after awhile. You can get real tired of always shifting around and changing and moving from place to place and never settling, for instance. "Freedom" isn't so easy to define after all.

On Apr.28.2004 at 10:17 AM
Jason’s comment is:

All,

When times are best, what's free about contracting and what's free about agency life? How do these freedoms differ and when can you have both?

Or can you?

On Apr.28.2004 at 10:54 AM
James Craig’s comment is:

I've been a professional designer (out of school) for about 5 years. Most of that time has been spent on in-house design teams.

In 2002, I did contract and freelance work exclusively. It put a bad taste in my mouth for freelance—I was broke, on COBRA, and ended up owing the government—but I attribute the negative aspect to the down economy. Other than the money situation, I loved it. Some of my most creative and portfolio-worthy professional work is from that period.

When I got the chance for another full-time in-house position, I quickly jumped back into the safety net of a salary and benefits. In 2004, I've received more unsolicited freelance requests than I had in the whole of 2002, when I was actively looking. It's enough to start me considering the jump back to full-time freelance again.

So which is better? Of course that depends... If you have good time management skills and lots of offers, give freelance a try. If you want security, a salary is better, but even the best job can stagnate.

On Apr.28.2004 at 12:11 PM
Valon’s comment is:

I read a while ago in book that human behaviour is dictated by pain and pleasure, thus everything we do it either comes from the possibility of experiencing a painfull outcome or the other way around -> feel great and please our ego.

I am not sure where I am going with this, but I suppose fearing the possibility of eding in a ditch and oppening a design studio could be more pleasing than having the security of a regular job and fearing the unknown (?!)

Jason, thnx for introducing me to "The Dog and the Wolf"...first time I ran accross the story. Great Inspiration ...

On Apr.28.2004 at 12:35 PM
Patrick C’s comment is:

Probably an impossible question to answer for most.

As a freelancer I am less concerned about the next job/paycheque than I am with having to take care of every aspect of the process. From the proposal, to the meetings, emails, phonecalls, invoicing, doing all the research and some of the writing, oh! and a little design when possible. I'm not enjoying this part of it and sometimes dream of being back in a studio where different people could take care of some of these things. Then I think: "but I couldn't possibly hand over the coding to someone else, they'ed screw it up."

I also miss working in an environment with other creatives. And being an introvert, you have to know that I'm really missing it.

On Apr.28.2004 at 12:38 PM
Jennifer ’s comment is:

try this

On Apr.28.2004 at 01:10 PM
jonsel’s comment is:

What you don't have, you want. What you have, you get complacent and bored with. From experiencing both sides of this equation, I can see the benefits to both situations. I'm currently a sole proprietor, which means I freelance for agencies and also service a few clients. Having to handle the business aspects are trying and frightening at times, but there is much reward, I feel. I'll admit that I haven't found that reward, but I know it's there. I'm actually somewhat frustrated with my current arrangement, but I think the solution involves some variations instead of a return to agency life. If you're dissatisfied with agency life, perhaps it's only the agency where you're working. Similarly, the freelance life can be difficult, but there are different ways of approaching it that can affect both satisfaction and income levels.

On Apr.28.2004 at 01:16 PM
Valon’s comment is:

Jonsel, I totally agree with what you have to say about the business aspect of running a design studio. It can definetively get frustrating at times, however the business part of the equation always gives me a brake from desiging, which at times can also hit the wall. This way a little balance between both sides of the brain, is always satisfying.

The bottom line in running a design studio is that you are always on top of things, being victories or defeats. If you like that challenge, fear, or whatever it may be, than running a studio on your own is definetively rewarding.

-- You also, make your own time to post a note or two in SpeakUp :)

On Apr.28.2004 at 01:41 PM
Mr. Kahn’s comment is:

I have been an independent designer for about ten years. I say independent since I sometimes hire freelancers and I keep my own clients. I also freelance for other agencies.

It took about six years before I really learned how to not have a job. That meant meeting friends who also did not have regular employment. It is important to have friends around who I can bum around with during slow period. It can be lonely and uninspiring being at home alone all day long.

But the question of what is better has too many variables. Most companies and agencies I would never work for. They might be nice people, but I don't like their work. Other agencies would be great to work at, but these tend to be smaller firms.

At this point I doubt I could be an employee again.

Unless it were a really good, incredibly well paying, firm in Amsterdam.

On Apr.28.2004 at 01:49 PM
Steven’s comment is:

Jason, ya know there's one other senario that you didn't mention: full-time in-house corporate "studio."

I've had experience with all three of these situations.

In-house corporate is the most "safe," (if any job is truly safe anymore; but hey, all things being "equal"). There's generally better pay, benefits, and even stock options. And for the most part, an in-house designer doesn't put in a lot of long hours at the office. The significant downside, though, is that you're working on one brand only, and after a while even a well-crafted brand can become tedious. What's really frustrating is that frequently the best projects are done by outside agencies. So most of what an in-house person does is the mundane stuff that isn't cost effective to take outside. And, an in-house department is completely mired in politics. You can't really piss off a an in-house "client" because you'll have to be dealing with them again in the near future, and their boss's boss will bitch to your boss's boss and then the shit really hits the fan.

I've really given this option a considerable trial and I've come realize that it's just not for me. While I'm very diplomatic and professional, I'm not really that corporate (despite my father being an ´┐Żber corporate CEO type). I always seem to be the black sheep of any corporate group. However, if someone knows in their heart that they're not all that super-creative and yet they want a comfortable life, then maybe working in-house for a company could be a good, rewarding thing. It's just not for me, I think.

Being a freelancer working for other studios, you do get to avoid the politics and buraucracy of the office. In general, you're able to get a greater variety of projects and you get to see how a lot of different offices are run. And it's nice to have the flexibility to work when you choose. The downside, though, is that you're generally doing work that is being managed by other people. Since you're not a part of the hierarchy of the studio, you have less leverage in driving the direction of a project and so have to capitulate to other's bad decisions. Also, you're usually brought in because the studio can't handle the amount of work by itself, so there's a bit more pressure to work quickly and efficiently. And as Bradley mentions, the discontinuity of moving around a lot and constantly looking for the next thing can become tedious.

Working in-house for a studio is good because you get to focus more on doing just design. And it's nice to have the synergies of working with other creatives as a team. And, working for a prestigious studio can give you an opportunity to work with some amazing people working on very cool projects. Also, a studio can give you greater resources, like design book libraries and various supplies and equipment, than are harder to afford when going solo.

Now being an independent designer, as Mr Kahn mentions, is a lot like running your own studio. It has its definite advantages, like being the decision maker when it comes to creative direction and client relationship management, which is very rewarding. The downside is that you then have to be involved with all the various subtle and not-so-subtle parts of running a business, like sales, accounting, taxes, office maintenance, etc. From personal experience, it can be a lot of hard work and requires a significant amount of commitment and patience.

In the longrun, I think that running my own business, or partnering with a few others as a business, is the most rewarding and prestigious. I had my own "design firm of one" back in late 80's and it was, by-in-large, a great experience. I learned a whole lot, albeit frequently the hard way. ;-) But back then, still in my 20's, I lacked the commitment to really run a business properly. I still wanted to be clubbing, having fun, and be irresponsible. So, as a money-generating business, it didn't work out that well, ironically even though I was winning awards and getting published in a book. Now in my 40's, I have the maturity to do a much better job of running a succesful business.

But as for right now, I think I'd prefer to work for a really good studio, just to work with other talented people, learn some things, and not have to do so much of the drudgery on the business end. Although, given my odd circumstance, I may well be drawn into doing my own thing again. But my immediate focus right now is to just keep the money coming in, in whatever capacity I may take.

(Damn, sorry for the long post. It just came out.)

On Apr.28.2004 at 03:32 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Doing your own thing can be rewarding in so many ways. But it can also be painfully stressful and demanding in many ways.

One of the toughest thing I found about running a shop was managing employees. It is incredibly harder than you could ever imagine, and makes you realize what a pain in the ass you were as an employee to someone else. Insurance, payroll, raises, timesheets, hiring, firing, etc.-- it's hell.

Course, you won't believe anyone's advice until you do it yourself. You tell yourself that one day, when you open your own place, you won't care about timesheets, or job titles, or 8am Monday production meetings, or enduring nightmare clients. Because you know how to do it differently. Well guess again.

On Apr.28.2004 at 05:19 PM
Steven’s comment is:

I certainly agree with you Tan. You can't avoid the BS; it comes with the turf. It's a reality that suddenly becomes very clear, once your waist-deep in it. Being an adult is hell sometimes. ;-)

The whole subject of managing designers is something in which I have had a long standing interest, being that I've had to endure so many horrendously bad "managers." I've had to find enlightenment, sadly, through my own investigations.

I've even thought about starting a thread on this subject within this fabulous forum.

On Apr.28.2004 at 06:07 PM
Feluxe Socksmell’s comment is:


Failing to me, is being 40 years old in an agency or studio. My wife is a writer at FCB. The other day a woman (20 yr vet) was let go. No party. No nuthin. Its actually more vicious than being on your won but some have chosen to close their eyes during the ride...

On Apr.28.2004 at 09:07 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

Felix--Yikes. That's really terrible, probably a huge blow to morale too.

Tan--

I haven't even been in the industry that long and I know what you're talking about; part of that is because both my parents have managed people, my dad has owned an agency, and I'm friends with other people in similar positions. It's tough. Of course, being at an advertising agency can be even more amusing because the creative department really, truly, is not ANY different than a daycare center, or perhaps a pre-school. I realized that once I started thinking in terms of profitability, paying attention to the irritating details and doing the "crap" work that's usually "below" the "geniuses" that I might actually learn something about how business is done, and have tangible value. Having been an employee I know how much of a pain in the ass they are. I've heard a number of people before, and I'm sure I'll hear it again, position themselves as "broad visionaries" who don't really want to do, well...anything. There's a word for those people. It's spelled u-n-e-m-p-l-o-y-e-d.

The lesson here is pretty clear, I think:

Life is hard. But life is also pretty simple too. So, while life is hard it certainly isn't bad.

On Apr.28.2004 at 09:58 PM
Jason’s comment is:

I've heard a number of people before, and I'm sure I'll hear it again, position themselves as "broad visionaries" who don't really want to do, well...anything. There's a word for those people. It's spelled u-n-e-m-p-l-o-y-e-d.

I'd characterize a visionary as somebody doing fresh and exciting work. They're risk takers that are ahead of their time. What's the difference between "visionary" work with an agency vs. solo outfit? Are there structural, process driven, operative, or creative differences/similarities?

Life is hard you say. That's one way to look at it. Which way do you think is easier, Kaneign's or Wolfe's, and why?

On Apr.30.2004 at 11:02 AM
graham’s comment is:

although i have a bit of a golden rule (most might know what that is), i think it's a question of how things are done, not where (employed/freelance/doing your own groove/anything else) you do them.

there's more than one way to count birds in the bush. or something.

you can have your own company and have someone manage it for example. or almost no/no employees. you could work in a company where project process is transparent (i.e. full knowledge of why, when, and for how much things need to be done)-there's lots of other ways.

unfortunately the creative industry just doesn't seem to be very creative when it comes to these things.

On Apr.30.2004 at 01:34 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Last year, at the Identity and Packaging conference that Debbie co-chairs, the keynote speaker was Steadman Graham (aka Oprah's ex). He rambled on about being your own boss and who knows what other self-help mantras but one thing he mentioned that caught my attention was that: You would never be happy, or realize your potential by being an employee — never, ever. While I don't completely disagree, I think the notion of being your own boss as the ultimate goal in one's professional life is hyped too much. I do believe that being your own boss has many rewards and that you grow in many aspects. But there are people who thrive and blossom as employees, because they respond to organization, structure and all the "evils" that come with being an employee.

I raised my hand during the Q & A session to ask for clarification on this point. He reitirated what he had already said, I said I thought he was wrong. I don't think he liked that.

Point being (regardless of that second paragraph) that, and like graham wisely said, it's not about the environment but what you do in that environment and how you better yourself — and measure your success based on you, not on what some wannabe thinks is the best and only way.

On Apr.30.2004 at 02:36 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Yes, it's within the constructs of what you want to do. Having run my own business, I quickly got over the romaticized aspects of being your own boss. Really people — it's over-rated.

But what I've gained is an understanding of specific business and creative roles that fit my aspirations. So from that point forth, it matters less where I hang my hat than if whether or not I'm able to do what I know I can.

Sorry if that doesn't make sense. I don't know how else to put it.

Realizing your potential has nothing to do with being your own boss. Sorry Steadman, but that's bullshit. Lots of people carve successful, fulfilling careers working for companies. It's your mentality — if you believe that you're hindered as an employee, then you will be.

On Apr.30.2004 at 03:39 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

I'd characterize a visionary as somebody doing fresh and exciting work. They're risk takers that are ahead of their time. What's the difference between "visionary" work with an agency vs. solo outfit? Are there structural, process driven, operative, or creative differences/similarities?

Oh, absolutely--I agree, THAT is a visionary. People who do those things never really think of themselves as "visionaries" nor would they position themselves as such. Real visionaries are capable; all I'm saying is that I've had unfortunate run-ins with people who can't do anything, and thus call themselves something else.

As far as which way of life is easier...it really depends on what you want to deal with, what's less draining for you personally. Going out on your own, running your own operation, that's technically harder because it requires more time, more knowledge, more patience. But, if you feel too exhausted by the rigors of working for someone else and the stuff that goes along with it, then you'll have a much harder time doing that.

On May.01.2004 at 10:08 PM
Wirele’s comment is:

I think you may have missed Steadman’s real point. We all own our own businesses. We all work for ourselves. Some of us simply choose a one-client business model, commonly called a job.

When we serve one client, we typically trade control and flexibility for a lesser degree of risk and a support/benefits structure that makes total compensation much more than salary. When we choose a multi-client model, we trade stability and support for control and flexibility. The sad thing is when people who have a job don’t understand that they already have a business, they already are a brand, that every brand is about delighting a customer for an agreed-upon exchange of value.

There may come a time when you decide to change your business ownership model, as I did. But I first did the compound math on what I would lose and what I could gain, and understood that I had been my own boss all the time because I make my choice every day.

On Jul.30.2004 at 02:07 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Choices. That's what it all comes down to, right?!

On Aug.01.2004 at 02:50 AM
Michael’s comment is:

Jason,

I was wondering if i can use some of the text from your story for the speak up poster competion. Please let me know as soon as possible.

My email is [email protected]

Thanks

Michael Katzikowski

On Aug.21.2004 at 03:20 PM