Many people do not appreciate just how diverse the Gig economy is. Not only are there a vast number of talented people with diverse expertise from animators to data scientists to web developers, there is a growing set of companies that serve these populations in interesting ways. #CoolGigCompanies is my way to showcase some of these enterprises.
Justin Gignac spent ten years as a successful art director with major advertising firms including Ogilvy and Mather, Fallon New York and Toy. He left to become a freelancer for several reasons, one in particular that many people don’t appreciate. He wanted to make more money. He also had personal art projects he wanted to pursue and he was about to be married, which taken together with the improved income potential made for an easy decision.
Like many skilled freelancers, he had a feast or famine problem. When he was busy with gigs he wasn’t marketing so there would be dead time between projects. So he built his social media brand to reach out to clients with a Facebook page, twitter feed and a personal app. Overtime that yielded more business, but some of it would be when he was busy on other projects. So, being a creative guy, he developed a neon vacancy sign for all of his points of contact. It would read, Justin is available, Justin will be available soon or Justin is working. Eventually, those recruiting him would ask him for referrals when he was unavailable. He connected with another former colleague, Adam Tompkins, who was in the same boat, and they decided to create a unique platform for creatives.
In 2012 they launched Working Not Working, a play on the trusty vacancy sign. Given their years in the business they had a solid network of strong creative talent. Initially they focused primarily in the advertising world, assembling a cadre of art directors, copywriters, creative directors, designers and other producers. Over time they have branched out to include developers, photographers and animators. The common attribute of their membership is that all have a portfolio of work. And when you browse through the network of talent, you know their real time availability, so you need not focus on someone who is already working on a gig.
Working Not Working does not accept everyone into its network. Indeed, only 10% of applicants make it in. The firm has a unique vetting structure; it started with the management team vetting the members, but then recognized that the creative talent in the network was really the best screen. Over 200 of the best creatives on the platform vet the new talent that applies. Those who pass that screen are able to be “Members”, those who don’t can still reapply; they can submit additional work to be considered and can become members once the jury of their peers deems that their portfolio meets the high standard set for members.
The pricing for the service is also atypical. Unlike most platforms and traditional intermediaries, both of whom charge a percentage of the engagement revenue, Working Not Working charges a flat fee per client. Gignac explained that the platform was built for friends to find work. As such, they did not want to take a portion of their friend’s income. Some intermediaries tack on 30%, which makes the gig more costly and could make clients reluctant to hire. By making it a flat fee for the client, regardless of how many creatives they engage, Working Not Working encourages its client to hire as many people as they want; clients do not get in the mind set of “how much is Working Not Working making on this project and how can I get them to reduce their fees so it does not cost so much…” As the website says, it’s about “community not commissions”. That said, as they work with more and more big companies, like Google and Apple, where they can have many clients in one division, they have stayed true to their formula, but added an enterprise level pricing model.
Having developed this for friends also has some other implications. Working Not Working seeks to improve the freelance experience for its members. One very acute problem for many creative freelancers is the feeling of isolation. To combat this, the firm has events to bring people together. Their members were very grateful, which as Gignac said, “It is easy to underestimate the loneliness of being a freelancer.”
A related issue for many is rejection. Especially in the creative space, subjective considerations can lead to more rejections; a skilled illustrator could be masterful, yet her technique may not be to the liking of the client, so she does not get the gig. Knowing this, the Working Not Working team set up a podcast, Overshare, for its members where it discussed these issues. Overshare, which you can find on iTunes offers “Honest conversations with our favorite creatives about the tough stuff we don’t talk about in public often enough. “It was so well received that they decided to hold an in-person meeting to let members share their thoughts. The meeting was over-subscribed by a factor of 4. The more they can support the tremendous talent in their network, the better off they will be, the founders believe.
Working Not Working has high hopes for the future. There are many expansion options, from new geographies to new creative disciplines. In term of the latter, they won’t stray from the notion that their members have a portfolio of work. The major concern is not expanding fast enough, especially since there are other competitors in the field. However, given their special sauce of being a true ally of the creative community not just in finding gigs but in building a flourishing career despite all the emotional highs and lows that can bring, should serve the young firm well going forward. As they say on their site, “If Working Not Working creatives aren’t working for you, they are probably working against you.”