Freelance at 50: A further follow-on...
A view from Justin Cernis

Freelance at 50: A further follow-on...

In response to Paul Burke's advice for going freelance after being made redundant, Justin Cernis considers why creatives should embrace change.

First, a confidence boost.

Check all 52 of the Campaign A List party pics on Campaignlive.co.uk. Either the photographer is unconsciously biased towards older people, or most of the very talented people in this industry seem to be over 50.

The correlation between age, talent and success is an absolute truth. Take heart.

And carry this thought for a day or two:

Skyfall National Gallery scene
Q: "Age is no guarantee of efficiency."
Bond: "And youth is no guarantee of innovation."

Another truth: change is uncomfortable. It's a fact, but very liberating if you embrace it.

To do that, you may need to make some tough choices and perhaps a few sacrifices along the way. Do it with energy. In the end, it will be OK.

And if it isn’t OK, then it isn’t… yada, yada.

If you’re over 50, a "creative" and out of work – and still hanker for a sort of traditional career agency side of the business – you have a number of options.

Cross your fingers – and carry on as you are in the hope that projects and briefs will eventually come your way. Good luck with that.

Either you are resistant to change or you might not have caught up with it yet – but you probably need to reframe yourself, what you do and what you can offer. And change how you think about things.

Don’t think of yourself as a freelancer. You’re a talented, experienced, creative individual who solves creative problems. By the day, month, whatever. Loyalties – forget them. It’s a commercial transaction. It’s not personal. It’s business. Toughen up.

You’re creatively fluid.

Not so much your personal brand, but more what your value proposition is. What can you offer that others can’t? Or at least be very clear about what it is that you can offer. And, strangely enough, a shelf full of Pencils won’t do it.

Against your competitive set (ie younger, cheaper and, to a degree, people your age who are simply better than you), what can you do better than they can?

How can you deliver that in a way that might be compelling to someone making a budget/resource decision (ie agility, flexibility, speed, added value etc)?

You may be quicker because experience has taught you the shortcuts. Or you may be quicker because you can see the real opportunity in a brief that others can’t – or use insight in an insightful way.

Forget about the work in your book as individual campaigns. Think about what you know cumulatively – about launching brands, standing out in brutally competitive markets, developing new routes to market, producing work that actually sells and how tone of voice is critically important. And possibly how to squeeze every single ounce of value out of every production dollar.

Reorder your work along those lines. You’ll probably discover what you are truly great at – and that focus alone will help. It may make you a specialist that could be very much in demand.

If you are a personal brand, then you probably need a rebrand – if this is your chosen route. Turn yourself into a challenger brand. Big agency talent, delivered in unique ways, for less – or the same amount, if you think you are truly premium and value your own craft skills.

As much as technology has shrunk the world, it has also increased the size of opportunity for strategically sound people who know how to create persuasive, noticeable, implementable, on-brand ideas.

Talent and creativity are not perishable skills, provided you stay relevant and keep up to date. But as a curious, inquisitive person, you are probably already doing that.

Go direct to client, work in-house, connect with crowdfunding sites for all those brands that are raising money but might not have a big organising idea to build it on.

That might not be big bucks to start with, but it will widen your world of connections.

Cozy up to PR, media and strategy agencies. A readily available, brand-literate creative resource is always welcome – and if you have to help out on a couple of unpaid pitches, that might be the price.

But you’re savvy enough to know what’s a real opportunity and what’s a piss-take use of your talent.

Spend a couple of hundred pounds on Squarespace and launch your own website/digital book. Advertise yourself. Be creative. Network like crazy.

Ask your bank if they have a business network. Go to its events. Meet companies that have budgets and need creativity – but don’t necessarily want an agency. Do the same with your nearest business school. Go in to do a talk about creativity. Meet some of the people who will be creating the brands of tomorrow.

Give back. Sign up to Pimp My Cause. Help a struggling charity with your expertise. Or mentor young emerging talent. You’ll meet new people and opportunities too.

And, along the way, when a brief comes in from an agency, think about taking it – if you have the time.

Basically, either way, it’s a hustle. Do it with grace and style. If you’re already doing it. Great.

I love Paul, but don’t be "old Charlie" – be new Charlie.

And if life in the bosom of an agency or broadening your creative skills within the industry isn’t your preferred route and you have another calling, then your options are unlimited.

Outside the world of advertising, it’s a very big world. As a clever, talented, creative, resourceful individual, you’ll be unbeatable.

Age is immaterial if you want it to be.

Justin Cernis is founder of The Cernis Collective and sportswear brand .001

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