I Don't Get No Respect

It's Good Friday, cold and rainy, and I'm working (or at least supposed to be). Finding this site has made my day. San cracks me up! I've just found another good waste of the company's time. Until they catch me, that is... at which time, I may be coming to you for a job!

Anyway, I just wanted to let you how much I appreciate the humor and insight in these columns. It's nice to see that there is someone who shares the same ideas (warped as they may be) about working and the workplace and is willing to express them openly.

The columns I Don't Get No Respect and Two Kinds of Fear? really hit home. I've been trying to muster the strength to leave the cozy (but not so lucrative) nest that I've got here for about a year now. A few more columns and I may just get there. Thanks for the inspiration, and keep it coming.


I was interested in San's observation that freelancers get more respect than wage slaves ("I Don't Get No Respect"). One of the things I have always liked the most about being a freelancer (ahem, independent professional) is the fawning respect I usually get from my clients. Even clients who have been critical of my work are usually thankful for the fact that I was there, saber in hand, slaying the ridiculous deadline dragon while munching on a cheese sandwich instead of attending the two-hour lunch at the local sports bar to watch the play-offs.

The other kind of respect we IPs get can be even more ego-gratifying. It is the total interest that the wage slaves at our clients' companies have in every detail of how we, the independent professionals of the world, manage to do it. They want to know how we work (in pink fuzzy bunny slippers?), how we bill for our time, how much money we make, how we do our taxes, how we get home loans. The wage slaves of the world secretly long to be in our shoes. Even the snidest of comments still come across as hero worship: "Keeping banker's hours, eh, Russ? Did you get in 9 or 18 holes this morning?" Hero worship, pure and simple.

Like San, my career has waffled back and forth between being an IP and a wage slave. It is a constant struggle that we all deal with. When you are the star quarterback for a client, they naturally want to bring you into the fold. My absolute worst experience with this was the time I talked myself into actually taking a job with a retail chain's creative department where I had been freelancing for over a year. Out of fear, I presented myself as a potential hire when I realized they were staffing up the department (i.e., eliminating the freelancers). I was immediately hired and lasted less than 90 days before they fired me. Not only did I become unemployed, I lost a good client in the process.

IPs who waffle back and forth between the freedom (and frustration) of being your own boss and being a slave to corporate rules should take one simple piece of advice. Never, ever go to work for one of your clients. If you must find a full-time job, hire on with a company you have never worked with. If you decide you don't like this situation after all, you may still have a client from your past that will lovingly take you back into their arms and worship you like the god you are.

Russell Phillips

Much as we prefer the life of an independent professional, it's hard to make an ironclad rule like "never go to work for a client." For one thing, the difference between IPs and wage slaves is diminishing all the time. Wage slaves are becoming more like IPs -- nowadays, most of them don't stay at one company for life, but rather move on after two or three years. Also, there are IPs who have successfully gone to work as full-time employees for their former clients. If your client is staffing up and replacing IPs, it can be a risk either way.

Write on, Mr. San.

Mr. San, Man... You're absolutely right about the IP [independent professional] phenomenon you described in your first inSANity column ["I Don't Get No Respect"].

When you're an IP, you are not "of the body" -- you work with and for a client, but you're not on staff. This makes you incredibly desirable to corporate clients -- at least for a time. It's like first date fever. But I've found this fades with time and exposure, until you eventually have the client's "tribal scent" on you. Then you seem to them more and more like an employee. The trick is not to do too much work for any one client.

I've done a lot of freelancing for a wide range of advertising clients. They desperately need help from IPs. They covet it, eagerly anticipating our unpolluted point of view. Our fresh insights. But their gratitude only lasts so long: we deliver our work on deadline... and then nothing. No follow-up calls, no updates. Why? The client doesn't have a problem any more, doesn't need us any more. Now they have the ideas they need. Our ideas now smell like their ideas. But we -- the IPs -- are still not "of the body," and the simple truth is that no matter how valuable our contribution, we don't work there. We don't go to office birthday parties for the cute receptionist. Or have hallway chats with the boss. We are the guy on the fax machine, the gunslinger called in to kill the psycho who's terrorizing the town. Once the psycho's pushing up daisies, our services are no longer required, thank-you-very-much. We'll call you when the next headcase comes through town.

No matter how well you've done the job, you don't work there. You work everywhere, and nowhere. And that takes getting used to.

Clients don't throw virtual office parties in our honor, do they?