“Freelance to Agency” Podcast

PRESENTING the full audio recording of “From Freelance to Agency: Start Small, Stay Small”, a panel at SXSW Interactive 2009 featuring Roger Black (founder of agencies huge and small), Kristina Halvorson (freelancer turned agency head), and Whitney Hess (agency pro turned freelance), and moderated by yours truly.

The panel was about quitting your job (or coping with a layoff), working as a freelancer, collaborating with others, and what to do if your collaboration starts morphing into an agency. We sought to answer questions like these:

  • What business and personal skills are required to start a freelance business or a small agency? Is freelancing or starting a small agency a good fit for my talents and abilities?
  • Is freelancing or starting a small agency the right work solution for me in a scary and rapidly shrinking economy? Can the downsides of this economy work to my advantage as a freelancer or small agency head?
  • I’ve been downsized/laid off/I’m stuck in a dead-end job working longer hours for less money. Should I look for a new job or take the plunge and go freelance?
  • What can I expect in terms of income and financial security if I switch from a staff job to freelancing? What techniques can I use as a freelancer to protect myself from the inevitable ups and downs?
  • How do I attract clients? How much in-advance work do I need to line up before I can quit my job?
  • How do I manage clients? What client expectations that are normal for in-house or big agency work must I deliver on as a freelancer or the head of a small or virtual agency? Which expectations can I discard? How do I tell my client what to expect?
  • Do I need an office? What are the absolute minimum tools I need to start out as a one-person shop?
  • How big can my freelance business grow before I need to recast it as a small agency?
  • What models are out there for starting an agency besides the conventional Inc. model with all its overhead? Which model would work best for me?
  • Who do I know with whom I could start a small or virtual agency? What should I look for in my partners? What should I beware of?
  • If I’m lucky enough to be growing, how do I protect my creative product and my professional reputation while adding new people and taking on more assignments?
  • How big can my agency grow before it sucks? How I can grow a business that’s dedicated to staying small?

Whitney Hess has written a fine wrap-up of the panel, including a collection of tweets raving about it, some of Mike Rohde’s visual coverage, and links to other people’s posts about the panel.

LISTEN to “From Freelance to Agency: Start Small, Stay Small”.

[tags]design, webdesign, podcast, recording, SXSW, SXSWi, SXSWi09, panels, panel, freelance, agency, smallagency, transition, survival, economy[/tags]

Regarding the dishwasher

We bought our apartment in December 2007, securing it with what might have been the last mortgage ever issued in the U.S.

The apartment was completely renovated, from its dark wood floors to its schmancy new super-quiet dishwasher.

Over the summer, the formerly super-quiet dishwasher began to emit a high-decibel grinding noise 15 or 20 minutes into its cleaning cycle. It sounded like two airplanes whirring their propellors into each other. Or like giant lawnmowers attacking garbage cans.

We couldn’t find anything loose in the dishwasher — no stray steak knife caught in the motor, for instance.

We used the dishwasher a few more times. The result was the same. After 15 or 20 minutes of cleaning, the thing began setting up a drone that would have sent Thurston Moore reaching for earplugs.

The machine didn’t break, and it did clean dishes, but the noise was beyond bearing, and it seemed to us that the dishwasher must surely be damaging itself.

When you buy a renovated apartment, everything is probably under warranty, but you don’t get the paperwork or any information from the seller.

It took weeks of research and a few dozen phone calls, but eventually the wife got the dope. Our stuff was under warranty and a repair guy would come. No, not that day. Not that week. The month was looking dicey. How did Autumn sound?

We rediscovered the romance of washing dishes by hand—it really is quite therapeutic—and tranquilly waited for the great day to arrive.

Today was the great day, and I volunteered to work at home and wait for the repair guy.

Around 11:30, he showed up. He was polite, professional, and spoke mostly Chinese.

He spent about twenty minutes taking things apart and putting them together, then he called me over to explain what he had done.

I don’t speak Chinese (although I’m sure my daughter will) and he didn’t speak much English, so it wasn’t what you’d call perfect client-vendor communication. But through gestures, sounds, and a technical drawing he dashed off rather deftly on a paper towel, the repair guy gave me to understand that he hadn’t found anything wrong, so there probably wasn’t anything wrong.

He showed me that when you first turn on the water, you don’t hear a noise.

I agreed, but pointed out that the noise kicks in after 15 or 20 minutes.

He indicated that he didn’t have 15 or 20 minutes to wait for it, but if there was a noise, it probably didn’t indicate a mechanical problem, because there was no sign of damage to the machine.

On the paper towel, he drew the parts he had checked for damage, and pointed to their locations inside the machine. Since no parts were damaged, no damage had been done, and there was nothing he could do to diagnose or fix the problem.

I asked if he had found anything that might account for the noise, but the question only led to more drawing.

Eventually, through mime, more drawings, and remarkably well-timed nods, he communicated that he understood that the noise was not normal or desirable. He also conveyed that when we hear the noise, we should let the machine keep running, because eventually something might break, and then he or someone like him could fix it.

Of late nearly everything I buy has been defective in one way or another, and my service experiences, like this one, leave the matter perpetually unresolved. Recently, too, I have had several unrelated medical problems, and a visit to the doctor or doctors never quite seems to set things right. It is as if everything is broken, and everyone knows it, and we perpetually postpone the reckoning.

[tags]getsatisfaction, home, appliance, repairs, homeownership, health, economy, service, customer relations, warranty[/tags]