Freelancers Helping Freelancers

Trends and Tools | Nov 01, 2015

The world of freelancing is full of people who generously help other people – not for money, not for fame or “exposure,” but because they know the challenges of operating independently and want to help. This is the first instalment in our new series where we will shed light on some of these unsung heroes and showcase fine examples of freelancer solidarity.

One such generous person is Sasha McIntyre – a freelance storyboard artist. In 2002, Sasha was laid off from Nelvana, a Toronto-based animation studio. Like a number of other animations studios, they had decided to convert most permanent artistic positions to contract and many in the industry found themselves in the same boat – having to figure out how to operate as freelancers.

At that time there were few freelancer networks and early forms of social media presented little opportunity; work mostly came through hard legwork and word of mouth. As an Assistant Director, Sasha had collected contact info from freelancers she liked to work with. Once she was on her own, she didn’t make much use of this network. But eventually there came a time when she was contacted for work and was already engaged. She asked the studio if she could pass on their job to her list of contacts and, unsurprisingly, they readily agreed.

This kept happening. Whenever a new project came her way that she couldn’t’ do, she sent it out to her growing list of contacts. People appreciated it and her list began to grow. She has always asked the studio first and she’s never had a studio say no. Why would they? A trusted person is passing the lead to qualified people – a win for everyone!

Today Sasha’s original list of fifteen has grown to over 120 people – sixty storyboard artists and a variety of others in the animation field. She knows all but two of them personally. Many of the local studios have come to appreciate what she does and now reach out to her for help when they need people. She has been asked for her list but she doesn’t share it since it contains personal email addresses. During busy times she figures she is sharing opportunities at least three or four times per month.

So why does she do it? Reaching out to freelancers frequently, maintaining mailing lists, communicating with studios – this all takes time and attention. Sasha told us she likes doing it and has never wanted to stop. She remembers her early freelance days when it was very hard to find work; she is happy to make it a little easier for others. In the emails she circulates she shares the information provided by the studio and asks the recipients to pass it on if they’re unavailable, thereby creating an even broader ripple effect. She’s never been paid for her help and doesn’t ask to be: she doesn’t want to be beholden to the studios or find herself inadvertently becoming a recruiter rather than an artist. She loves hearing from people who are happy to get the work. She noted that she often hears about new projects from the various studios first, so if she’s not working herself, that’s a bonus. And sometimes, someone on the list sends her a good gig, which is another unanticipated benefit of her generosity.

Another unsung hero is freelance writer Angela West. Every day Angela gathers job listings from around the web and aggregates them on her own website, Canadian Freelance Writing Jobs. Not unlike Sasha, Angela started doing this early in her freelance career as a by-product of her own job search. She was spending time looking for writing work and figured she would share what she discovered with others because she knew she wouldn’t get every job she applied for.

Angela views herself as an aggregator – she pulls together decent freelance writing jobs in Canada, defining decent as paying at least a reasonable basic wage. And although she wasn’t looking for any direct benefit from this activity she says she has met some good people over the years and even gained a couple of clients who heard about what she was doing.

We have noticed that there’s something about freelancing that brings out kindness in people. Maybe it’s because as freelancers we’re all always a bit vulnerable – work can dry up, clients can be difficult, and money can run low. This probably makes us more appreciative when someone is willing to help with no expectation of getting something in return. And maybe it makes us more interested in helping other freelancers when we can, since we’re all part of a common group facing similar challenges.

As the economy continues to evolve and more people are working independently, there are new job platforms, productivity tools, freelance advice websites, Facebook groups, webinars, etc., to help us succeed. While many of these are excellent and very helpful, nothing beats human-to-human connections. We think finding your people, building community, and providing mutual support are key ingredients to being a successful freelancer.

What do you think? We’d love to hear whether you agree and who has helped you along the way.