I Never Wanted to be a Freelancer
The unemployment line was a great motivator.
If the trials, tribulations and tips of 20+ years as a creative marketer and copywriter are of interest, read on. I promise useful information you can immediately access in each segment of this business start-up series.
Our story begins way back in the latter part of the 20th century and travels right up to the present. From typewriters to TikTok thus begins one man’s self-employment journey.
If you’re like me and never taken a business course in your life there’s lots to be learned. If you’re a Harvard MBA graduate, probably more. No offense intended.
Looking back, had I known the potential pitfalls of self-employment ahead of time I would have fought tooth and nail to find a 9–5 job with benefits. Now, I’m glad I was as naïve as a newborn babe.
Let’s jump ahead for a moment. Whether you’re starting out or have been around for a while here’s advice that will help ensure success.
· Celebrate and exploit your creativity. Sometimes it’s well hidden but we all have it.
· Take pleasure in “thinking out of the box.” You’ll find lots of great concepts.
· Brainstorm the heck out of whatever pops into your mind. There’s no such thing as a foolish idea.
· Don’t solicit feedback from friends about your business concept unless you’re willing to ignore it. Input is great, but for a nascent idea, negative comment may depress you and kill the next Internet start-up success story.
· Fear of the unknown is your friend. Use it wisely and you’ll find great business success.
· E-commerce and the Internet are great, but so is opening up the brick-and-mortar pet store or Christmas shop of your dreams. You’ll still be able to use social media and all the latest digital platforms to promote it.
The reason I dove into the few concepts above is because they are critical components to think about as you ponder and postulate the preamble to your new business.
Now back to how I began my career. It’s not pretty😊
I was a direct marketing/mail specialist looking for a salaried job with a marketing agency. Rejection was my constant companion. On my final marketing agency job interview, I was told the company couldn’t justify having someone with my extensive ability on staff.
The CEO suggested I start my own business. “Dave, we don’t do our own direct mail, we turn it out. Open a firm and we’ll funnel you all the copy.”
Sounds great, doesn’t it? I’m a trusting fellow but also fairly astute about human nature. I told him thank you and, “I’ll let you know.” I had no intention of starting a business. I knew absolutely nothing about it. My Dad was a Veterinarian and Pharmacologist and my Mom an elementary school teacher.
Despite a large family I didn’t have one relative who was in business. I was running out of money and had no prospects. This is where my story begins.
First, it’s important to know that I had $6,800 to my name and a mortgage-free studio apartment that I’d never bring a date to. I tried to keep out of it myself.
By the way, I still own it. More later on how it ultimately became the office from which I became the Direct Marketing agency of record for the as yet unopened brand-new Trump Taj Mahal Casino.
I had been on unemployment for six weeks. That translates to six miserable days of waiting on three-hour lines in a crowded municipal building. Back then I was not a patient fellow. At some point I turned around and saw a pay phone on the back wall.
Yes, things have certainly changed a lot. Try finding a pay phone these days.
Aha moments are those precious times we freelancers find a light bulb shining on top of our head. I had one. Here’s a direct quote from what transpired inside my mind the moment I saw the phone.
“I have $6,800 to my name and a co-op with monthly maintenance of $250. What’s the worst that can happen? I can lose my money, go back on unemployment for a while and ultimately I’ll find a job.” I figured I could always dig up the $250.
I looked at the phone again, then tapped the man in front of me on the shoulder and asked him to hold my place in line. I then spent forty-five minutes on the pay phone arranging for a telephone line installment and securing myself a fairly memorable phone number.
I went back to the line; it had barely moved. When I reached the front, I asked to be removed from unemployment. This may sound foolish, many people said I shouldn’t have been so rash. However, the law was if you are working, whether money is coming in or not, you are not eligible for unemployment.
The state probably wouldn’t have known, but I decided both on honesty and the blind faith that I would make at least enough money on which to survive.
The next step was very simple. Upon leaving the unemployment office I went to a quick print shop and ordered letterhead, envelopes and business cards. I had no idea what I would call my business, so I figured the wise thing was to simply use my name with the caption, “Direct Marketing Consultant.”
You’ve already read 900 words which are more than enough for an article competing for readership with millions of others, so I’ll complete part one of this saga quickly.
It was a Friday that all this transpired. I rushed home and made a few phone calls to former clients to whom I had sold direct mail production but no creative services.
I managed to get hold of a VP at the newly formed Citicorp Brokerage Services. I explained that I was now working for myself and could provide her with full-service marketing, creative and copy. To my pleased surprise she agreed to meet with me the following Tuesday. Great.
Uh oh. My business cards and letter head. A quick call to the printer and he promised them by 8:30 am on Tuesday. I hustled over that morning, picked up my cards, drove into New York City and had my meeting. The VP was very nice but explained she wasn’t the person who parceled out projects. She was kind enough to set me an appointment on Friday with the decision maker.
Three days later I met with him and received the go ahead to create a soup-to-nuts direct mail package.
There is so much more to this story that you’ll find of interest. Particularly, all I went through to get the piece produced and the near disasters that threatened to destroy my new business.
However, perseverance pays off and every day brings new business and challenges as my venture grows organically, changing and adapting with the times. It continues to be a great ride.
I took a gamble and went into my business without any research or forethought at all.
Do I recommend this? Of course not. But the bottom line is, I didn’t run scared. I took a gamble and despite incredible mishaps and more stress than I like to remember I made it work.
You can too. Be bold, creative and willing to explore. Know your risk level. And of course, do much more research than I did.
You’ll find adventure, horrific challenges and thrilling successes as well as the satisfaction of having taken the leap.
Thanks for reading this and please share your comments below. It’s how we all benefit from each other’s experiences.
photo: Copyright: <a href=”https://www.123rf.com/profile_tap10">tap10 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>