Andrew Dickson and Aaron James, two former Wieden + Kennedy creatives, have managed to carve out successful freelance careers. Dickson, a performance artist by trade, spent eight years at the Portland agency in various capacities, most notably as a copywriter and director of WK12, its unique ad school. For his part, James had two stints as a freelance art director at W+K working on Heineken, American Express, Nike and Dodge.
In addition to their tenures at the vaunted Portland shop, the duo have carved out eclectic and rewarding freelance journeys for a long list of global brands. For James, part of the move to freelance was out of necessity.
“After a year and a half at another Portland agency, I was laid off,” he said. “Immediately, I was freelance. I worked with Grey in San Francisco then got hired at Wieden + Kennedy on Heineken. I learned a ton there and, through various opportunities, I was exposed to some pros who knew how to freelance and, as it turns out, I was charging about a quarter of what I should have been charging.”
Money is one of the many topics Dickson and James cover in Mt. Freelance, a video course that takes talent through a step-by-step process to develop a successful freelance practice.
The video tutorials are broken into four levels and touch on not only the practical (building a strong website, best practices working with clients, taxes, healthcare) but the emotional (why people choose to freelance, happiness).
Lifetime access to the classes is $397 and, while the program is likely best for freelancers just starting or a few years into their careers, the topics covered are good refreshers for even the most seasoned of professionals.
Adweek caught up with Dickson and James to ask a few more questions about how Mt. Freelance can help develop freelance careers.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Adweek: What was the reason for starting Mt. Freelance?
Aaron James: [Freelance advice doesn’t] get passed down. It seems like it’s been closed off. Agencies use freelance even more and more, and it’s more a business plan for agencies and brands to bring on freelance. We thought that we could take everything we know and put it into affordable, bite-size [content] to see if this helps people.
It’s so much more competitive now than it’s ever been. How will Mt. Freelance help freelancers gain competitive advantage?
Andrew Dickson: We cover all of the nuts and bolts like building a great website. We talk about taxes, juggling clients. But what’s important to us is what we’ve dubbed the “Mt. Freelance mindset,” which is less about the scarcity mentality and more about abundance. I think so much about freelance is that fear of work drying up. Freelance can be so fear-based that part of what we are imparting is to not look at times when there’s no work as negatives. That’s a great time to update your stuff, to network and work on your business. Rather than treating it like a phase or a job, you have to treat it like a business.
There are times when freelancers have to say “no,” though, right?
Dickson: Yes. Part of our philosophy is “No, but.” You could either be too busy, you’re on vacation or you’re sick. I’m surprised how few freelancers embrace this reference mentality where, rather than saying no, you say no, but you’re recommending three other freelancers who can do it. Then, companies or agencies are thinking of me when they don’t even need me because I’m top of mind as a resource and I’m treating them like a fellow business rather than a mercenary that they bring on.
Compensation is one of the biggest issues freelancers deal with. How is that being addressed?
James: The number one thing that freelancers in the creative industry don’t do is viewing it as a business. When you look at agencies, they have somebody hired full time to do new business, bookkeeping, taxes, accounting and finance. If you’re a small business, then you need to charge like a business. The advantage here is knowing how an agency, studio or brand works and where you fit in. That allows you to start feeling comfortable asking for more money.
Dickson: We recommend that even if you’re right out of school, that you never charge less than $50 an hour. And we break that down with tips on how to find out things like the going rate within your community for what you do. And we go through not only indexing but what you have to pay for your healthcare, sick days and personal days … and you don’t get a holiday bonus or 401k. But then we also remind you that when you’re freelance, you’re saving an agency from paying for all those things.