How To Be the Perfect In-House Permalancer...and Get Picked All the Time
Freelancers have the benefit of working basically anywhere, but there are a number of benefits to going in-house. The hard part isn't getting into the studio...it's staying there. Once you grab a challenging and lucrative contract, how to go from freelancer to permalancer?
This is advice for all those freelancers working onsite who want their contracts to be extended, or to have their clients hire them again. It's also what I'd like to call "already on the battlefield" advice.
In this article, I'll share tips on:
- How to extend your contract
- How to avoid burning bridges
- The importance of punctuality and honesty
- How to avoid social anxiety
- Understanding the Cool Off Period
- Making friends at lunch without overstepping
- Taking constructive (and less constructive) feedback
- And a ton more!
How to Get Hired
Want to get that studio job or land the client of your dreams? Well, if we're honest, a book doesn't do that. Only you can sell yourself with confidence and passion...but this book can show you how. Filled with tips from all over the industry, it's a great exploration of the things you need to know to get hired.
How to extend your contract?
Usually, you are brought into a freelance role due to one of your many hats.
Don't assume the client knows you have extra skills. You need to sell that onsite.
Get to know the other project managers, not just the one you are working with.
Walk around and snoop out what other projects are going on. Then sell yourself.
"Hey did you know I can do that. Yes I know Cinema 4D. Check out this example on my website."
If you were hired to clean up project A and you can be useful on project B, you have a good chance of landing an extension. Just don't forget to do a great job on project A.
Don't burn bridges
I made the mistake of getting agitated with a resource manager I'd worked with many times before. She'd pencilled me in for a role, then dropped me at the last minute. She did the same the next week. I allowed my temper to get the better of me and acted out. She got very angry, but in her desperation to get the position filled, she still hired me. I apologized. I thought our relationship was mended. Once the gig was over, she never ever hired me again. Lesson learned.
This is a small community, and your reputation spreads fast. You're only human, but so is everyone else. Be gracious, be humble, and watch your temper.
You might find yourself booked on a job where you suddenly feel completely overwhelmed. You either don't know the required software, or just have no idea how to pull off what the client needs. Recruiters have a habit of selling you into the wrong roles. Come clean. Tell your client you can't, but you're happy to give it a shot. Tell them it's okay if they need to find somebody else.
Most of the time they will give you a different brief or still keep you till the end of the week. Don't keep it to yourself, then come deadline day the client finds out you actually can't do the job and you didn't flag it. Not cool.
Be on time
Leave home early just in case the trains or traffic is bad.
Late is late. Always plan in advance. Find out if there are traffic jams or tube (subway) delays.
You are a professional. More than that, you were hired to solve problems, not cause new ones. That studio already has employees that show up late. Don't be another one.
Some people find starting a new gig petrifying. To help with my nerves, I pretend the people I've just met for the first time are long time friends. It relaxes me. Also remember: this is not an interview. You're already in the door. Be confident. They already like your portfolio!
That's why you're there!
Grab lunch with your project manager, the art director, or the designer next to you. You'll feel less lonely, and you've just made yourself much more memorable to them!
Maybe they ask their seniors to bring in you again. Or when they move onto a new company, they recommend you. You want to be a boomerang!
Once in a while, a large group may go out for lunch and invite you to join at a restaurant.
Word of advice: Just because staff have a longer lunch doesn't mean you do too, unless the boss says so. To leave early, you need an exit strategy. Call the waiter, tell them what you ate and ask to pay your part. DON'T FORGET TO TIP! You don't want to be "the guy" who left the table short. Leave proof. Ask the waiter to print an extra receipt for your part and give it to a work colleague you can trust.
Cool off period
Before Joey's book came out, most of us used or still use recruiters. While recruiters can be great for those new to the industry, there are trade-offs. Since they don't want you to monopolize business that they could find, you end up with "cool off" periods.
When you sign a recruiter contract, there is a cool off period—
anywhere between 6 - 12 months. After that, it's in your right to approach that client directly. Bye bye recruiter. And you may want to up your rate. You've earned it!
Or keep it the same. They will call you more, since now you're saved them some cash.
Let's be honest: It's not always easy to be positive. There are days where you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, you're all out of Pop Tarts, and your seat mate on the train over had just finished competing in a 72-hour logging competition while wearing a wrestling singlet. None of that matters when you get to work.
I put on my Saturday morning kids TV presenter face. No matter what the workload, I'm excited to jump in. I won't complain, even if it's a task I've done a thousand times and don't really enjoy. None of that matters to the client!
Body language is so key! Give the people you work for confidence they are in good hands.
Oh, and don't grumble. No one likes grumblers.
How to take feedback without losing it
I've had my moments where I have totally thrown all my toys out my cot.
I've been known for my temper. I hated it when my work was changed hundreds of times and ended up looking like something the cat coughed up.
Remember: The client is always right.
Well...no they are not, but let them be right, because they are paying you for it. All client work you do, count it as non portfolio work. It will allow you to detach personally. Besides, every time they change the work, they extend your contract.
That's a win! Not a loss! Work on your passion project on your own time, and treat this as a learning opportunity.
Say yes to all job roles
Now some might say that’s not honest. Let me tell you something. When a would-be client posts a brief online, they always overcompensate with extra skills not required for the job and chuck in a bunch of extra padding that makes the most hardened freelancers quiver. Most of us end up not applying because we're intimated. Just apply first. Then let them get back to you. Then find out truly what you are up against before you accept. You'll be surprised to know that you are the perfect person for the role.
And if you discover that they really do need a rocket scientist on this gig? Be honest and decline. We already talked about being honest up above.
BE BETTER THAN THE PERMANENT STAFF
- Make sure your time-sheet is up to date.
- Don't get involved in office politics.
- Don't gossip
- At work parties, drink if you must, but don't get drunk.
- Treat each day like it's your first day on the job.
- Arrive early. Don’t leave early. You don't need to be there late every night. But bite a bullet once in a while. Besides, that's time & a half extra pay. So make sure you charge. You are not just working for free takeaway food. Don't be fooled.
DO COFFEE ROUNDS
Ask work colleges if they'd like a cuppa tea or coffee in the kitchen. Memorize milk, no milk, sugar no sugar. Or go out and buy a round at their favourite local barista. Buy some biscuits (cookies) or cake (cake) once in a while. The key is to be in the hive, not outside the hive. I'm sure for you UK peeps this is still IR35 compliant! When you invest, you reap with callbacks.
Now for some of you this may be obvious, but if you are going to cycle to work, use the work shower and bring a fresh pair of clothes. Same goes for long train journeys. If you are a dad like me, you may sleep on the train, and chances are you will arrive with morning breath. Pack a breath mint. This might be acceptable for permanent staff, but it's enough to put people off. Otherwise, smell you later.
NO WORK IS BENEATH YOU
You were hired to help do specific work the full-timers either couldn't or wouldn't do. That means that nothing should be off the table (with the exception of, say, agreeing to participate in a hunt of the deadliest game).
Hey if you need the money, design in Microsoft Word for crying out loud. You're still getting your rate! This is advice for those starting out. Sometimes bills need to be paid.
SCRATCH FREELANCERS BACKS
Freelancers are not competition. They are your peers, and one day could even be your boss. If you are booked up, recommend a freelancer. But recommend one as good as yourself—you don't want to be known as a bad judge of ability.
Those freelancers remember you and they'll do the same in return.
When you're not working, take time to catch up with freelancers, either at meetups or in friendly gatherings. Close bonds are important. This isn't just about networking—these people will become your support network too.
When things dry up it's amazing to have a shoulder that understands to cry on.
DON'T COMPLAIN ABOUT OLD TECH
Nine times out of ten, when you take a studio job, you are going to be thrown on one of their computers. IT may restrict personal use of computers and downloading plugins. You need to be prepared for this (along with sitting under an AC vent with a keyboard that’s missing two keys!)
Make sure you are proficient with the design packages without all the extra bells and whistles. If you’re reliant solely on plugins, you might need to brush up on your craft. This can work against you and your ability to shine under pressure.
That being said, in the UK IR35 compliancy now requires you to bring your own kit.
This may differ for what country you live in.
Firstly do the job the way the client asked. Then offer up extra solutions and do it even better. Go the extra mile. Grow beyond the brief. Remember, they have spent ages on this brief and may have not seen a better approach.
Under-promise, over-deliver. Every time.
ASK ALL THE QUESTIONS
Make sure you get all the assets required to do the job. Fonts, vectors, photos, brand guidelines, full brief, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, no matter how silly. Your client is way more familiar with this brief. Don’t assume. They may use words you don’t understand. Ask them what they mean. Be fully in the know.
The wrong time to get clarification is when you're presenting your work and the client is clearly unimpressed. It's not amateur to get guidance on a brief. It's amateur to guess your way into a bad product.
SHOW YOU ARE ACCOUNTABLE
The job is done and you’re leaving. If you’ve worked on their computer, make sure you get a backup of any files for yourself (as long as you've asked permission). If you worked on your computer, make sure they have a backup on their server—and tell them where they can find it! Give them your phone number and say that you are available if there are any problems, and should they need to ask questions that you are there for them. Leave them feeling positive and they'll think of you for next time.
Say thank you
When you leave, thank them. Tell them how much you enjoyed working there.
A little ego ticking doesn’t harm anybody. Especially if you really clicked.
Okay, time for a quick story.
Years ago I freelanced at Ogilvy, UK. I made the blunder of making a passing remark about how much I dislike recruiters. Turns out the resource manager used to be a recruitment agent.This comment angered her greatly.
Naturally freelancers don’t like to use recruitment agents, as we believe we could get a better rate if we cut out the middleman. My advice is to recognize them as a necessary step...for now. With their help, you get your foot in the door on clients you never knew existed. Treat your recruiter with appreciation.
I once posted a homesick Australian recruiter a large box of Tim Tams to thank her for all her amazing help landing me multiple gigs when I first arrived in London. It put her to happy tears. Also they may become that Resource Manager who is the gatekeeper to that sweet gig at Animade!
BEWARE THE POACHER!
Have you ever wondered why you get more phone calls from recruiters when you are already placed in a gig than when you don’t have work? Here’s why.
Recruiters cold call to find out who you are currently working for, how much you are charging, and what are the skills/programs required for the gig. They glean this information and resell a new suiter to your client at a cheaper rate. You may not know it, but dig into your memory banks and think about a role you may have been in that was suddenly cut short without a valid excuse. Do you ever remember that cold call prior to your butt hitting the curb?
You are under no obligation to tell your recruiters anything. Just politely skirt around the questions and assure them that you will call them again once you are available.
Go get 'em, tiger!
So there you have it. My knowledge handed down to you over many years of mistakes and successes. Long before I heard of School Of Motion and grew real super powers. Getting return clients is not about your skills, it’s these other life skills that you need to grow and work on. If you have extra tips that I didn’t touch on, please share them with our community! #Permalancer