Should I Stay or Should I Go Solo?

A Guide For Ad Execs Wondering Whether to Try the Freelance Life

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Martin Bihl
Martin Bihl
If we've learned nothing else from this recession, we have learned this: Job security is an illusion. (Although, to paraphrase Woody Allen, as illusions go, it's one of the best.)

The good people are pushed out the door with the bad. Experienced with the inexperienced. The smart with the stupid, tall with the short, raw with the cooked, left-brained with the right-brained with the non-brained. Which begs the question a lot of folks in this industry are already asking themselves: If there's no job security, does it really matter whether you're employed by an agency or by yourself?

Yes, it does. Because not everyone is cut out for self-employment. Unfortunately, they often don't learn it until it's too late. So here are three reasons why you should stay -- or, barring that, why you should try to get hired at another agency if you get fired.

Three reasons to stay
You don't want to be responsible for everything. When you're on your own, you don't just do the work, you also find the work, manage the work, bill the work and pay for the work. You spend an insane amount of time doing a lot of stuff that's currently done by people you know only via the company directory and e-mail. It's one of the paradoxes of life, but really, it shouldn't surprise you. A big company hires you for a specific skill set, which you do over and over again. When you're on your own, you can't afford to hire all those specialists -- so you become them. If you don't want to, don't go.

You see the potential in being part of something big and global. Most agencies are part of a global organization that is truly remarkable, and if they ever put it to work in a meaningful way (you know, more than just something to mention on the website) we'd see some really incredible breakthroughs. And I have to believe that very soon, someone will figure it out, and you may not want to be on the outside looking in. By the same token, there's very little chance that you're going to walk out of your current setup with an international network like the one your agency has right now. Unless, of course, your name ends in "orrell."

You need someone to hate. Sometimes the only thing that can get you out of bed in the morning is that some idiot scheduled a meeting for 7:30 that you absolutely have to be in. But when you're on your own, there's no one to hate but yourself, and if you're cool with yourself, well, it's very easy to find yourself lying on the couch watching Dr. Phil all day. And while it might seem reasonable to hate Dr. Phil, it is way less lucrative than hating your co-workers.

OK, but hold on a sec. Because just as there are people who aren't cut out for self-employment, there are some folks who aren't really cut out for working in an agency. These people spend years banging their heads against the wall (because of "job security") rather than finding out that they'd be much happier on their own. Here are three reasons you might just be one of those people.

Three reasons to go
You get to do the work you want to do. Think your agency is going in the wrong direction? Think that the new client is killing the soul of the company -- and everyone else? Fine. Hitting the bricks gives you the opportunity to design a roster and workload that's exactly what you believe in. Only "great" work? Only "work that's finished by 5 p.m."? Only work "that celebrates the mystery of kittens"? It's up to you. It's not easy, of course, but then neither is doing work you hate, over and over again.

You may be more cost-effective than your agency. Business, of course, is always about making money. In this economy, however, it may actually be about how to lose less. Going out on your own instantly makes you more cost-effective to your future clients sure, but also to your old employer, who is no longer saddled with paying your social security, withholding and health care (Note: You now have to pay your own social security, withholding and health care). Admittedly, this is a short term reason, but careers -- and agencies -- have been started on less.

There's nowhere else to go. Just because the economy sucks doesn't mean that brick wall (or, if you prefer, glass ceiling) you're banging your head against is any less real. Sometimes your career demands that you step out for a while. Especially if you have an insight into the business that your current employer can't take advantage of. Remember, all the stuff that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak brought out under the Apple name was stuff that HP had and didn't know what to do with. If you're in the same boat, you'd be a fool to stick around -- no matter what the economy says.

Of course, it's up to you. And it always is. The trouble is we forget that when we're up to our necks in work, which is why -- unfortunately -- these downturns sometimes provide the wake up call we need.

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