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SXSW 2009 Interactive – Day 2 – Saturday, March 14


As someone who has been freelancing for over 12 years, as one who loves to work from home on a snow day but whose walls start to close in after a few days inside, I definitely gravitated to the panel SXSw Interactive “Working Alone Sucks: Join the Coworking Revolution.”

I honestly hadn’t come across the term “coworking” before. What I found is that people like me have been renting out a desk within a space, which not only allows you to experience a collaborative environment sans the office politics or cubical hell world. I found out later that one of my hotel roommates utilizes a coworking space back in San Francisco, and that it has business advantages as well. Writers are able to meet and potentially subcontract designers, web developers and the like, and in turn, be hired in an exchange fashion, reaping the benefits of a virtual agency and still being able to keep one’s solo status.

I’m definitely looking into what Denver has going on in the coworking arena when I get back home.

After a successful opening night, the cast and director of SXSW’s opening night film appeared at the convention center for the “I Love You, Man: Are You Man Enough to Say It? “ panel to discuss this emerging genre and the evolution of male relationships on screen. In the house was writer/director John Hamburg and actors Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones from The Office, Jaime Pressly from “My Name is Earl” and moderator Mark Olsen from the Los Angeles Times.

The original plan was to start the panel with a clip of the film, but in perfect comedic style, Rudd and the others used the audio difficulty to their advantage, piping in ad-lib lines to accompany the visuals. After a hilarious start, Olsen begin asking how things got started.

“When I first read the script, I couldn’t believe that this movie hadn’t been made already,” said Rudd. “I was surprised; it seemed like such a no-brainer. It was really funny and it was clever, and I liked that it wasn’t mean spirited,” which was fitting for this happy-go-lucky guy. No, I couldn’t picture Judd as a head-butting bro; a d-bag alpha male. “I’m not even a beta male,” he said, poking fun at himself.

Segel popped in with this take on male friendship. “I related to the script as soon as I read it. I’ve had the same best friend for 12 years. He left six months ago to go to med school, and I was like, ‘Alright man, proud of ya. Catch ya in New York,'” he said, mimicking his aloofness at the time. And then, “I woke up at 2am crying hysterically.”

Favre interjected his affection for the cast while delving into the concept of “I Love You Man,” an approach that seemed to come from his background not only as an actor but as one who has written and directed. “The themes that they play with here, I think there have been a lot of movies that have danced around male relationships. ’40-year Old Virgin’ or ‘Superbad’ certainly, there’s been a lot of films that have, in a cool way, let guys not be the version that we’ve traditionally seen. What then happens that’s also interesting is that women end up being the more dominant, almost male force in the film. And I like that…”

“And so do I!” said Pressly, with her wide, dazzling grin.

Rudd also felt that if “I Love You Man” had come to be five or even ten years ago the script would be read differently, that they wouldn’t have had as much liberty to show the softer side of the male persona or how men are able to relate to each other without the strong and brawn factor.

What was evident in watching the cast interact and exchange their thoughts and experiences with this film and with each other was the chemistry. Moments and conversations ebbed and flowed throughout the hour with seamless effort, many of them funny as hell, and it was this planet alignment that caused an instant love affair between this film and its audience…and between the cast on the stage and the fans like me in the conference seats.

My other hotel roommate, Jaime Rodriquez, who is another freelancer like myself, joined me as I headed over to “From Freelance to Agency” panel with me to see what is being said about the world of working solo.

They took a poll of how many freelancers were in the room, and we definitely outnumbered the rest.

The moderator of the panel, Jeffrey Zeldman, and the founder/executive creative director of Happy Cog Studios, had a similar experience of the time in our business careers, but from a slightly different perspective. At that time I was still living and working in Silicon Valley, working with a friend and business partner who handled design while I managed projects and provided copywriting services. We competed with agencies that were charging insane prices for their services…because they could. Many of these dot.coms had been handed a few million dollars in VC money and knew little about effectively running a business, and a number of agencies definitely took advantage of the frenzy.

We had ethical issues with jumping on that billing bandwagon, and Zeldman did as well. He left the agency world because, “I felt a little bit dirty. There seemed to be so much money. It didn’t seem natural to me because I had once shoved snow for $1 an hour,” granted at another time I’m sure. But still, it was the ethical placement on value of service. “It didn’t seem like you could be charging this much money and doing everything right,” he said. Plus, “Well, I wasn’t getting most of that money. I thought, ‘Maybe I could make a living and work for myself.'”

The other panelist relayed their experiences of what led them to working freelance, which I expect was similar to most in the room: the need to control your work environment, the people you choose to or not to work with, the type of projects you are involved in, and of course, to have more control over your revenue potential.

The insight and tips presented were of value to either a solo freelancer or a small boutique agency, for someone just starting out or as reminders for those who have been in the game for a while:

– Although it doesn’t pay the bills off the bat, but providing in-kind services to non-profits can establish a breadth of profile projects while opening doors to paying projects within this market segment.

– Write and write often. Write on your blog, other’s blogs, for online magazines, whatever. Zeldman’s writing led to an article that he wrote for Adobe, which led to a lead for a website for someone had read his article.

– Develop a successful process; don’t strictly rely on your portfolio. Going into a client meeting, if you can present “this is the type of deliverables I offer and this is the method for getting there; it’s how I work and not just the final product.” I can agree with this wholeheartedly. It’s definitely had an impact on my business, and many times has gotten me gigs that involved cleaning up the mess left behind from another contractor.

– Using social media channels is obviously a no-brainer. Use Twitter to present links to your articles or those you find valuable, and to even let people who are following you what you’re doing within a given project (while also respecting the privacy of your client, of course). “Twitter is how I’ve gotten the majority of my gigs since I went [freelance] full-time in August,” said one of the panelists, Whitney Hess, a user experience designer.

After you “raise your game” and want to move up to the next level in revenue and in your business:

– Always tell clients what you think and believe about their project, even if you don’t get the job. A lot of clients don’t know what they want or really need.

– Set the bar for yourself in terms of confidence and what value you bring to your client. Don’t be afraid to lose the bid and charge what you believe your work is worth…of course not to the extent of what I mentioned above, but within reason and the market range.

– Have faith and patience and always be nice. Don’t burn bridges. The client may not make the decision right away. It may even take a year, but that project has the potential to come around.

– Like dating, being unavailable makes you more desirable. If you are busy, tell them so. Don’t kill yourself trying to take on more work than you’re able to handle; don’t be afraid to delay the project based on your schedule.

– Sometimes you need to walk away from a client or project that isn’t in the best interest of your business. This could be that client that always gives you “emergency” deadlines, always pushing you on price, or is highly difficult on a regular basis.

Although I don’t plan to expand my business to the level of an agency, I have been outsourced by some and would like to continue to do so. Or, as with the coworking panel I’d seen earlier, as more people join the freelance workforce so there are more opportunities for virtual agencies.

Later that night there were a few parties, but the one that seemed a bit surreal was the “Bigg Digg Shindigg” at Stubb’s. Up to now, I’d only seen bands taking up the stage, from annual SPIN party featuring The Melvins and The Charlatans, to Snow Patrol’s entry into the U.S. market.

Now two geeks sitting on their couch, Jay Adelson and Kevin Rose, were the rock stars, presenting a live version of their tremendously popular DiggNation webisodes. The duo was their witty and funny selves, and the massive crowd ate it up, along with all the free stuff they were Adelson and Rose were throwing into the crowd. But my energy was used up for the night, so I didn’t last any longer than the time it took to eat a hot dog and drink a beer. I said good-night to the Adidas guys who were out front with a vintage VW microbus with a full display of kicks, promoting the 60th anniversary of the company, and headed back to my hotel home away from home.



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