'Working Not Working,' a New Way to Discover (and Hire) Freelance Creatives

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A new site is trying to take the guesswork out of freelancing -- for both independent professionals and the agencies that hire them.

"Working Not Working," hopes to streamline the process of hiring and getting hired through a social network-like platform, and some handy tools. It was created by Justin Gignac (right), freelancer, artist and former art director at agencies like Toy, Fallon and Ogilvy & Mather and fellow Ogilvy alum Adam Tompkins, CD at DraftFCB who also worked at Amalgamated.

Freelancers who sign up create profiles that include their availability status as well job titles, years of experience, categories of experience, location, "vouches" they have gotten from hiring managers or from fellow freelancers on the site and, of course, rate. The latter can feature a single dollar sign (up to $49/hour or $499 day) to four (upwards of $150/hour or $1,500/day). Participants can share the love, too and recommend others in their place for when they're already working or unavailable. Hiring managers can "follow" and "favorite" freelancers they are interested in, and do searches based on filters.

The site is currently in beta and free, but will be behind a paywall starting Monday. Then, for $275 a month, hiring managers can get an unlimited profile, with access to all the freelancers on the site.

The idea was borne out of a tool Gignac had on his personal portfolio site, a "freelance status apparatus" . It had a blinking neon sign that showed whether he was available or not, and when his status changed, he would send a message out to his Twitter and Facebook followers.

"Justin's freelance status apparatus was the first tool I saw for an individual freelancer," said Tompkins, who used a more traditional method of finding work: "tons and tons of desperate emails."

The duo did an informal survey (they sent out 50 emails to agencies, got back 40) and found that 60% of the agencies that used outside resources to find freelancers last year spent more than $25,000 in fees. Moreover, 45% of agencies said they only returned to the freelancers they used "some of the time," for various reasons. Gignac also said that hiring managers' freelance Rolodexes are also just as big as the number of people in their office. With a lack of filter or way to manage their lists, "If they need someone quickly, they'd get the first warm body available," said Gignac. As for freelancers, they're often only able to get their portfolios in front of people, they already know or formerly worked with.

Freelancers have been a staple in the ad industry for a long time, but as AdAge previously reported, their numbers have been swelling as shops look for more workforce flexibility. An estimate by Roo Rogers, president of Redscout Ventures, found that a quarter of the 16- million strong freelancer workforce is composed of creative folks, and that number is set to grow.

The site is set up as a one-way street, with hiring managers getting all the control. They are the ones who pay to look at profiles, and they alone initiate contact. "We didn't want to give the site a bad name and give people access to managers to make it more hectic," said Gignac.

While Gignac and Tompkins have been curating the freelancers on the site (600 are on there now), as it grows, ultimately, they know they won't be able to sift through everyone. That's where the vouching system comes in. Through that, the founders believe the most talented people will rise to the top, and survival of the fittest will help to keep the site user-friendly. Of course, this means this might not be the right place for those just coming out of school with little or no experience--no matter how talented they are.

One issue Gignac and Tompkins hope the site's paywall system will stave off is the hot-button topic of freelancer payments. As sites like the Freelancer's Union's "World's Longest Invoice" show, unpaid invoices are a major problem for independent workers. "If agencies are paying a monthly subscription, we hope they are serious about the work," said Gignac. "Anything that will help the [freelance] industry get a little structure will be good."

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