(TRIGGER WARNING: THIS CONTAINS A LOT Of HARDSHIP)
We’ve said from Day 1 when we started The Indie List that the freelance life is not for the faint-hearted. The lack of a corporate safety net, the unpredictability of work, delayed payments and having to wear many hats running your own business are not things they teach you in marketing or creative school. But the rewards attached to independence, both quantitively and qualitatively, are many too. Jude Healy is one of our most talented and experienced creative indies. Here he gives his own unique take on the benefits of the indie route.
Following a conversation at the recent Indie List Declan O’Rourke / Ukraine benefit, the Indie List co-founders asked me to write on the benefits of being indie, I thought, “That’ll teach me to keep my mouth shut”.
But fair’s fair because after all, I’ve spent a career telling brand owners to be brave and singular. Now I have to swallow my own medicine.
But first some back story.
Three years ago, I started as a sole trader. Two years ago, a week before the pandemic, I set up a company and moved into The Digital Hub.
I work a lot with clients directly. The Indie List has also sent huge good business my way.
I also freelance and work with TV production companies.
On 70 per cent of jobs, I subcontract other freelancers to work with me…‘suits’/designers/motion graphics people and so on. (As a side note, Revenue will love you for paying others)
Great, hey? As if.
Doing it has entailed as much grief as you’ll ever experience. But that’s important.
If you want mostly benefits from being ‘indie’, stop now. You’ll bleed. Bleeding is table stakes.
On the other hand, you’ll do what only 6 per cent of people in Ireland ever do. Set up their own business. Now I’m one and you can be too.
You’ll just have to do what 90 per cent of awarded work at ‘One Show’ and ‘Cannes’ encourages everyone to do: “Just Do It”. Say “Impossible Is Nothing’’.
Live all the shit we all write in manifestos and persuade clients to put in THEIR brand. And not by buying a pair of trainers, but with your mortgage.
So, onto the benefits of being indie…which are not all benefits.
1. You may think working in an agency that you’re all over business. You’re deluding yourself. When you’re looking at your own cash flow, then you’ll know. Agencies like to talk about all their people being entrepreneurial. Bullshit! There are only a handful of entrepreneurs in even big agencies. To be an entrepreneur, be one.
2. It’s easy to be brave recommending brave work in an agency. Try it alone. When you have to say “This is our Sparta”. The old joke “These are our principles. But we have other ones”, becomes tempting.
3. You will have to stare down difficult decisions. In The Digital Hub, they say “You’re a legend – the only business who survived the pandemic in your building”. I was Will Smith walking through empty corridors for two years. But I also had a €30k bequest from my mother to get by. So, get a good family and respect people who don’t.
4. There will be hard days when you compare yourself to friends in agencies. Looking at their social feeds – at the high-fiving and woo-hooing on away days and conferences with Cheryl Sandberg, they’ll be typing: #inspired #winning #girlboss. And you’ll feel shit. So, what you have to do is tell yourself the glory they’re celebrating is not theirs. It’s their agencies. Whether this is true doesn’t really matter. We all live in a world of delusion. Theirs is believing being in a room with a thousand people and Cheryl makes them Cheryl. Yours has to be paying for your office rent this month, which is much more impressive.
5. Do have your own celebrations. Pay for lunches in really good restaurants for collaborators. Book two days in a hotel in France and have your own ‘Away Days’. Seriously. But work. Don’t just drink rosé. Because on those days, you’ll realise “I’ve achieved so much. I’m not afraid of the banks anymore. I’m not afraid of Revenue. They like me”. Because then you’ll know you don’t need to be in a room with Cheryl Sandberg or Jack Dorsey to feel special. You’ll have done it yourself.
6. On that note, I’ve been lucky. I’ve known friends who were or later became globally famous as artists. When they had nothing, living on benefits. You have to realise that’s how it’s done.
Because ultimately the benefit of being Indie is this:
Win or lose, live or die, you’ll have fought the fight. You’ll be closer in spirit to Elon and Cheryl, Zach and Jack than most. Is this delusional?
Who gives a f*#k. It’s how to be Indie!!
Jude Healy is a highly experienced creative director, creative strategist and copywriter. A former board member and share holder of major agencies, he now runs his own creative consultancy. Check out his work at https://www.judehealycreative.com/