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Ask Lawrence: Being a Flexible Freelancer

06 Dec 09:00 By Lawrence Akers


Many years ago when I first began my life as a recruiter, I would often encounter creatives who people would potentially describe as 'high maintenance'. They may not have been aware of the fact that they were 'high maintenance', but when you looked at the behaviour it was pretty difficult to describe it any other way.

Allow me to offer an example.

Sally* was a great creative freelancer. Like many other creative freelancers, she had studied to be a designer however he assignments often consisted of finished art work.

Sally phoned me one day disheartened. She asked why she was always getting finished art work from me when she had studied to be a designer and was capable of so much more. I reassured her that I knew that she was capable of so much more however these were the kinds of roles coming through and, as I always say, I don't decide for people – I just offer the opportunity.

She asked if I could keep an eye out for more design based work for her and I promised her I would.

A few days later, a design opportunity came in for an advertising agency. I called Sally and spoke with her about the opportunity.

“What kind of environment is it?”, she asked.


“Ohhh, I really wanted design studio”, she said. She turned down the work.

A little after that, I had a design opportunity come in at a design studio. 

Again, I phoned Sally. “Sally, great news! I have a design freelance assignment in a design studio. Would you be interested?”

“Where is it located?”, she asked.

“Richmond”, I told her.

“Ohhh, that's a little far for me. I really wanted somewhere more around Prahran.”

At this point, I burst into laughter.

Sally was kind of thrown by this. I'm guessing finding your consultant burst into laughter at your preferences isn't something you would come to expect but the reality of the situation became just too amusing for me.

“Sally, what exactly do you want?”, I asked. I had to point out to her every single objection she had made before she began to see her own behaviour.

She decided to take up the opportunity in Richmond.

She did so well, they offered her a job. She took it. She was there for many years, happily employed.

The fact that she kept saying no to opportunities made me wonder how many other opportunities had passed her by because she was too concerned about the other details instead of exploring how the opportunity could've grown to become something perfect for her.

She was too caught up in the 'I don't want that I want this' mindset.

And we experience it still to this day. I need to be clear here; there is nothing wrong with knowing what you want and going after it. I will argue though that, when it comes to freelance, a little bit of flexibility goes a long way.

In fact, I would argue that flexibility is one of the key quality traits that a successful freelancer needs. Clients need freelancers because they have urgent requirements that need to be taken care of with a minimum of fuss. This might mean that sometimes they may not have all the equipment, or the right space, or even all the answers but they're hoping that someone can come in with a solutions focused attitude and help them see a way through instead of coming in and creating more problems. I've actually seen assignments end early because 'the freelancer was just inflexible.'

This same attitude over time will wear off onto the consultant too. You might have great work but if you're a nightmare to work with and everything feels like a drama that must bend to meet your wishes, I can assure you that you're going to quickly find that the phone will stop ringing. It sounds unfair, and on some level it potentially is, but you have to realise that when people are stressed and in a hurry, they want solutions to the roadblocks and not more problems. This is not a personal issue but a business one and when it comes to finding solutions, they will want whatever is easiest, quickest and produces the best results (although that sentence alone could form a whole other blog!)

What do you do to help ensure that you're creating solutions and not more problems? Yes, stand your ground on what you need but consider are you creating issues that are preventing you from being seen as the 'go to creative freelancer'?

For the record, Sally wasn't her real name. Of course, I changed it to protect her identity although I tend to wonder how many people are reading this now and thinking 'am I Sally?' You know what, that's a good question. Are you?