Los blancos amor Homeland.
Recently, someone called me about a job co-running the creative department of a successful ad agency. I have gotten two or three calls like this over the last year of freelancing. Normally, I say, “Thanks, but I’m not really looking for a full-time gig right now” and that’s that. But this was working at an agency I really like with people I knew and liked. So I was actually considering it. Until the headhunter emailed me and said “It’s not going to happen. They don’t think of you that way.”“Wait. What? They don’t? But they called me…”Turns out said headhunter had been talking with people at the agency about the fact that I’m “all about Freelance now” as if my writing a blog that’s called “We’re All Freelance” makes me some kind of guerilla fighter looking to set free all those chained to their staff job desks. Workers of the world, unite! Break your chains! Follow me!!!Um, no.Setting aside the inherent conflict of interest in a headhunter who is not representing me (and so will lose out on any commision he or she was going to get if I was hired) talking about how I’m not right for the job, I think it’s time to once again explain my point of view. Let’s call it The WAF Manifesto. It’s a work in progress. I’m hoping you’ll comment on this post with a few more ideas to add to it. But, for now, here goes:Freelance is a state of mind. You don’t have to quit your job to be Freelance.
A Freelancer has personal goals and business goals, both short term and long term. And writes them down. In longhand.
In service of these goals, a Freelancer may decide to take any assignment that comes their way, both short term and long term. This can include a staff job.
A Freelancer may also say no to any assignment that does not service their goals. They will inevitably feel guilty about saying no. Until the next assignment comes along.
If a Freelancer accepts an assignment, they must honor that agreement and do the best they can.
A Freelancer doesn’t “follow the money”. He or she follows the things that will fulfill the goals mentioned above.
A Freelancer can fight for what he or she believes in without fear of losing their job, because they know there is another job waiting for them.
A Freelancer is never a dick to the people who work for them. Because they know they may be working for those people in the future.
A Freelancer tries to learn something from everyone they work with.
A Freelancer is always looking for the next thing. But this must not infringe upon the job they are doing currently.
I put it to you, reader: Shouldn’t every employee be thinking like a Freelancer? And what else would you add?
——————————————And now, an apology:I feel bad about not blogging for so long. Like I’ve somehow failed you. Whoever you are.But, you know what? You’re not the boss of me. So there!I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.The truth is I had way too much on. I had a full-time freelance gig. I’d said yes to three “small” copywriting projects (each was supposed to take a few hours of my time, yeah right). I’ve been teaching a class on Wednesday nights. Somehow I organized a Kirshebaum Bond & Partners 1990s Drinks Trolley Reunion for 150 people. (It was epic.) And I have been making a point to spend more time with my family.My personal projects - the graphic novel, the board game, the blog - all took a back seat.Long story short: Saying no is hard. Part of going freelance was having the ability to do the things I wanted to do. Being free to work with people I like. And when the offers come in, it’s hard to say no. And I want to do a lot of things. But you can’t do everything all at once. Because then you end up doing none of it very well.It all reminded me of a Beatles song that I love. It’s not on any “Greatest Hits” compilation. It’s a sprawling, half-finished-feeling Harrison song called “It’s All Too Much”.
Set me on a silver sun, for I know that I’m free
Show me that I’m everywhere, and get me home for teaIt’s all to much for me to see
A love that’s shining all around here
The more I learn, the less I know
And what I do is all too muchHere it is:
Have a great week, everyone. And be awesome.
MONGO INDUSTRIES, LLC was named for my dad. No, not the LLC part. The Mongo part. My dad’s official name was Robert Adrian Christmann. But he called himself Mongo. Why did he call himself Mongo? You’d have to get the comic book I wrote to learn that. Mongo was an airbrush artist of great renown in the Central New Jersey area in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. There is many a Harley teardrop tank that still bears the evidence of his awesomeness. He did a lot of copying of Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo. I mean, who doesn’t want Conan the Barbarian standing on the pile of bones on the side of their van?
I incorporated for tax purposes. You can pay for a lot of things as a corporation and not have to pay taxes on the money, like you would as a normal human. But if you take any of that money as a salary, that money gets taxed twice. And you have to file quarterly taxes. Which you need an accountant for. And you need to keep the books, which you might want to hire a bookkeeper for. And did you know that the Mac version of Quickbooks doesn’t connect to the PC version, which is what most bookkeepers have? Yeah, being a Corporation is awesome.
(Eric Silver wrote a funny article in Ad Age about the difference between being a creative and owning your own creative business. It truly is night and day. No one prepares you. No one could. And even though Mongo Industries is a tiny bit smaller than Amalgamated, I still have to do a lot of the same stupid stuff. But it was the same with being a Creative Director. Suddenly you had to manage people. And convince clients. And have boring meetings. But still you had to maintain your Creativity. Two very different sides of the brain.)
There are fun parts to being a Corporation. I got to build the Mongo Industries website. It forced me to think about what kind of company I wanted to be. Here’s what I wrote in the “About” section…
“MONGO INDUSTRIES is a communications consultancy made up of independent marketing experts. We are storytellers, designers, strategists and thingmakers who combine Big Agency experience with entrepreneurial chutzpah to give you the most innovative thinking possible. We work for agencies who need some extra firepower. We work for clients who want new thinking for a project or want to complement their agency partners. We work a lot. MONGO LIKE WORK.”
These days, more clients are looking for solutions where they don’t have to pay for the overhead of a giant agency. And more agencies are looking for groups of people that can get up to speed quickly and handle projects without having their hands held. That’s why Mongo Industries is a coalition of free-thinking marketing experts. I can quickly gather a team that is perfect for any project (and that “team” could be just me or just me and a partner). It’s sort of like The Avengers, I guess.
We recently finished our first Direct-To-Client project. A logo and brand identity for Sharespost.com. I gotta get that up on the website. And we just shot two more spec spots with Gartner that we can’t wait to show you. Did I mention our first spec spot was shortlisted at the AICP awards? We continue to help larger agencies on pitches and projects. And it continues to be fun.
Except for the part that isn’t. :) Which reminds me, I have to call my accountant.
If you’re in advertising, or have any friends who are, you may have experienced an odd feeling last week: a sudden aversion to seeing pictures of people standing on beaches with glasses of pink wine in their hands. Indeed, when faced with the sheer volume of tweets, Facebook posts and Instagrams coming out of Cannes, France this week — the site of the annual Cannes Lions advertising awards festival — one would be completely justified in using the word “obnoxious”. And I take full responsibility for my part in the “over-sharing from over there”.
In fact, one industry friend in New York wrote this on Facebook after my second day of posts:
“@Tom Christmann, can we just strap a GoPro to your head so we can all see exactly what you’re seeing as you’re seeing it? Can we? Please?”
Well, I considered it, @Joel Simon, but finally decided it would leave a weird tan line. :) I’ve also decided that I am not going to apologize for any of it. Because — to paraphrase Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street — Partying, ladies and gentlemen, is good.
“It’s subtle, what happens here,” said one Independent Production Company rep who has been in the business for 20 years. He was sitting on the grass in the backyard of a truly stunning Villa high in the hills surrounding Cannes. Groovy music was playing. The smell of barbecue was in the air. It was all free courtesy of Stink, a production company from Europe. “You don’t really understand it until you get back and you realize all the connections you’ve made. I pay my own way every year and it always pays off.”
Early in my career, I didn’t really like going to industry events. Some of this was social anxiety. But I also just didn’t understand the importance of standing around chit-chatting with people I didn’t know. I didn’t yet understand the Way of the Freelancer.
A Freelancer knows that relationships are everything. New relationships lead to new opportunities. And more relationships mean more opportunities. It might be you helping them get a job. Or it might be them needing someone with your skills to make something happen. Or it might just be someone to teach you how to laugh at yourself. It’s important that you find the thing you can learn from every person you meet. This means asking questions. And being truly interested in the answers.
Now this may start to sound like work. It is. But it’s fun work once you get the hang of it. It also may feel fake and opportunist at first. But other people won’t see it like that. Because other people love to talk about themselves. And they are always flattered and excited to find someone who is interested in what they think and know. In the book How To Win Friends And Influence People, this is the main point. Ask questions. And then ask more questions. And really, honestly listen to the answers. Even if they don’t seem like things that might help you get to one of your goals. Be curious about people. And people will end up calling you the life of the party.
You can talk about yourself too. Just don’t lead with it. Have your elevator speech ready. Stating your goals to people over and over again is a great way to cement those goals in your mind as real and attainable. And every once in a while, someone will know someone who knows someone who can help you. Follow up on these offers. After each conversation, write down all the leads you’ve gotten and any little notes about what you liked about the person you just met. Make them short and sweet, you don’t want to be the guy writing memos in the corner.
It’s good to have a buddy who you can connect with every now and then. This is a great time to write notes and share contacts. But don’t spend every moment with your friend. Because to truly get the full benefit of the party, you have to go out on your own and put yourself out there with someone else.
Take lots of pictures. They are a great for sharing with people as gifts after the party. And they show the world that you are connecting with fun, cool people. How else would people know that the Oberland/Lucas&Co/Mongo Industries Pizza Soiree was a roaring success? See the picture below.Tina Mintus, Marc Lucas, Bill Oberlander, Tom Drymalski, Paul Lavoie and Sharon Lew raise a glass in Cannes to celebrate Les Trois Creatifs Independante!
Of course, some people may think you’re over-sharing. Those people need to have another glass of rosé. :)
The 59th Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is this week in Cannes, France. Thousands of advertising big shots will be going. They will be staying at the Carlton Hotel, partying all night long and drinking Rose wine by the magnum-ful. They will be hobnobbing with CMOs, making deals with headhunters and taking lunches with reps who have flown in from production companies all over the world. All of these parties will be paid for by giant companies with deep pockets.Except for one.On Wednesday, June 20th at 1pm, three men — Marc Lucas, Bill Oberlander and myself — will be having a pizza and wine soiree at La Pizza on the Croisette, all of it paid for by splitting the bill three ways. We’re picking up our fledgling freelance businesses — Lucas&co, Oberland and Mongo Industries respectively — and flying them across the sea to partake in the madness and get some facetime with the people who will be hiring us over the coming year.It forced me to get serious about making the Mongo Industries website. It is the next incarnation of this crazy freelance experiment. And I think it just may turn into a permanent thing. My vision is to keep freelancing for agencies but also get some direct-to-client projects and pull in friends who are experts in their fields — from design to strategy to event planning. Consulting with my homies. How much fun would that be? I’m already doing it so I can tell you: it can be lots of fun. Anyway, I’d love to hear what you think of the website. And the positioning of the company.Back to France: Bill, Marc and I are calling ourselves Les Tres Creatifs Independante. I think the last word may be Italian, which is funny. I drew the logo. Bill built the materials. Marc wrote the invite. Three freelancers helping each other to make something fun and maybe even get some business along the way. So proud!
Speaking of proud, today is Father’s Day. And since my company is named after my father (his nickname, anyway), I can’t help but be a bit sad that he isn’t here to see me doing all this stuff. He wasn’t the greatest businessman, but he was surely talented and, in his own way, he was successful — not to mention locally famous. Many a Harley gas tank around central Jersey still bears the mark of Mongo’s airbrush. I often think how if he had only known how to get into advertising, he would have been awesome at it.
I was feeling pretty darn good in the fall of last year. I had lost thirty five pounds over nine months. That’s about a pound a week. I did it the old-fashioned way — by counting calories and working out. I have to believe that my decision to go freelance even though I had a pretty secure job had something to do with this transformation. If I could transform my body, then I could transform the rest of my life too.
Since quitting, I have worked steadily. So much, in fact, that I stopped going to the gym as much. And my diet began to swing into the danger territory. My back started hurting and that stopped me from working out altogether. And finally, on a recent trip to Miami for a month of work, I found myself eating a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast.
And then it dawned on me: I was fat again. Well, not AS fat. But getting there. I’m not going to lie: I got depressed for a little while. Really dark stuff started coming into my head. “You thought your fat days were behind you, huh Tom? Well, that didn’t last very long. You knew it couldn’t last. Because nothing lasts.”
But then I started running again this weekend. Two miles at a time. And I’m cutting the calories again. All it took was two days straight of this to get me re-hooked. The dark thoughts were gone. Working out just makes me happier. I always find it fascinating all over again the first time it happens. But there’s just this feeling that everything is going to be okay that settles over me after I sweat for 20 or 30 minutes.
Do yourself a favor. Get a workout regimen together. Even if it’s just walking for thirty minutes a day. Do it. I know, it’s a cliche. But it will change your life. And it will make you happier. Those dark thoughts will be gone.
One of my runs was from my son’s soccer game (they were warming up) to the house where my grandmother lived on Laurel Avenue in Irvington, New Jersey. This was the house where my sister and I spent every summer day in the seventies. I remember it being filled with kids. We would play in the front yard and go next store to play in the Gilmore’s pool. I got stung by a bee on the side of the house once. Some nights my Grandfather John would watch us while our mother went to Bingo. Every time he’d fall asleep in front of the television while watching Lawrence Welk.
These were the memories that flooded into my head as I ran by. But what I saw was a ramshackle house with a rusty fence around a bare dirt yard. It looked like a crack den. Someone drove by playing hip hop music really loud. I realized I’d better get back to the soccer game.
On the way back, I had the thought again: nothing lasts.
But it’s okay. Because I ran today.
I have been teaching myself game design. I’m doing it by reading a book called Rules Of Play by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman. The authors talk a lot about “meaningful play”. The basic idea is you are not just designing cards and rules. You are designing an experience. Chess is not about the pieces. It’s about how the players play those pieces in an attempt to outwit each other. The pieces themselves could be anything, really. It is the choices and decisions the players make that really make the game.
The optimal player experience you’re going for when you design a game is a state called Flow. This is that state where you feel you are in control of your own fate. It is a state of “focused and engaged happiness”. And according to the authors, there are four things a player needs for flow to happen:
1. A task the player has a chance of completing.
2. The ability to concentrate on what he or she is doing.
3. Clear goals.
4. Immediate feedback.
During flow, players don’t have any concerns for everyday worries. They are too “into” the choices they are making. They are not even thinking of themselves anymore. They are “in” the game. They are the soldier landing at Omaha beach. They are the bishop looking for a way to take the queen. Even time itself seems to slow down. And once the player emerges from the other side and has successfully completed his or her mission, the feeling is one of intense exhilaration.
But flow isn’t just a game thing. In fact, it’s what we all strive for everyday. And since I’ve gone freelance, I have had some time to think about the things that kill flow. One of the biggest is meetings. They are notorious flow-killers. Email is another one.
This past month, I spent my weeks in another city working at an agency there. My days were spent solving problems for their clients. And some nights were spent that way, too. But other nights I got to dive deep into designing the game I’m working on. I found myself writing rules at one in the morning. And I realized, I had been in flow. I wrote and rewrote the entire rulebook in two weeks, something I had been messing around with for a couple of months but couldn’t figure out.
Flow is awesome. But I don’t want to have to move hundreds of miles away from friends and family to get it. So, how can we design flow into the games of our lives? Here are my rules for freelance flow:
1. Know your task. Are you supposed to write a script or build a new interface? If you don’t know, you’re never gonna feel the flow.
2. Set a measurable goal for yourself. “I will come up with ten ideas for campaigns in the next four hours. I will not stop for coffee breaks.” Write it down.
3. Cancel your meetings. In fact, start a rule that you need to have one or two days a week where there are no meetings allowed. Or at least some mornings. Try to schedule three hour blocks for yourself. Tell people you have a doctor’s appointment. Get out of the office and work somewhere else. Get shit done.
4. Shut off the Internet. Impossible, you say? Not true. A program like Freedom does the trick. It literally turns off your Internet for any amount of time that you specify. And you can’t get back on before the time is up without rebooting your machine. Check out the video here.
5. For crying out loud, if your phone bings or vibrates every time you get an email, shut that shit off. It is literally making you insane. And me too. If people really need you to do something NOW, they can call you. Again, schedule time to check email. Because you know most of it is stupid crap from Fab.com.
6. Employ the ancient art of Sitzfleisch. This is one of those awesome German words that there’s not an English equivalent for. It literally translates to “sit-flesh”. But what it really means is keep your butt in the chair and just do it. (This is how the Germans became engineering gurus.) Do not get up to have a coffee. Do not get up to walk the dog. Just sit there in that chair until you are done with your task.
Writing a blog entry, for instance.
Okay, Daisy. Time for walkies.
As I write this, I’m doing my new commute, which entails getting on a plane at the ungodly hour of six in the morning and flying to another city for the week. My tray table is crooked. The plane took off late. But, as Louis CK reminds us all, I’m sitting in a chair in the sky going three hundred miles an hour. Add to that the fact that I’ve got a gig for the month and I feel pretty lucky indeed. Having to hustle for every paycheck makes you acutely aware of the little things.
Another thing I’ve become very aware of: the possibilities for me are endless. It is at once empowering and daunting being able to literally do anything you set your mind to. The little gigs. The big gigs. The personal projects.But I am not special. It is there for all of us, staff people included. You can work anywhere you’ve ever wanted. With people you’ve always admired (inside or outside your company). You can even live in a different city from Monday to Friday. All you need to do is know what you want.And that’s the hard part. Most people don’t really know what they want. But here’s how to figure it out: write it all down. The things you want to do. Projects you’d love to work on. People you’d love to work with. Foods you’d like to try. Cities you’d like to work in. Write it all down in a big list. Take your entire lunch hour today. Or your commute home tonight. And get it all down on paper. Write down whatever you want. Then sleep on it tonight. Then write down more tomorrow.Once you’ve got a nice long list, categorize it. And then do one action that gets you one step closer to something really big. For example, one list might be companies you’d love to work for. Here’s an action for that: Get on LinkedIn and follow every one of those companies. LinkedIn will then suggest more companies like those companies. Follow those too. Then search within all those companies for the hiring managers or talent scouts. Follow their twitter feeds. Connect with them on LinkedIn. All of this should take about thirty minutes at most. Done.Your brain will start trying to mess you up while you’re doing all this. It will say things like “We shouldn’t do this until we’ve got our website up, dude.” Don’t let it stop you. Do the action. Write down the “doing the website” thing on your list to get your brain to shut up. Then go back to doing what you were doing. Your brain will have other excuses. Write down actions that can fix those excuses too. No matter how long they seem like they’ll take. Need to take a class in robotics to do the job? Write it down. Then go back to the original action. And get it done.If you write down everything you want and take just one action per day towards one of them, I guarantee you will start having those things within the month. Keep the list handy. Send me a note and tell me what goal you’ve accomplished. I’d love to hear your story.And if it doesn’t work, try this.