HOW TO LEVERAGE THE SHIT OUT OF WORKING NOT WORKING
WNW Member #184 Greg Collins is an award-winning copywriter, picking up hardware at Cannes, One Show, Clios, and D&AD. He also knows how to leverage the shit out of WNW. We sat down with Greg so he could impart his wisdom. (P.S. We swear we didn't pay him - he's just really passionate about the site.)
Who are you and what’s your story?
I’m a left-handed creative director/copywriter/itinerant photographer/overall hyphenate who’s lived in NYC for almost three years…actually, my stuff lives in NYC, because I seem to work out of town a lot (I was gone 9 months last year). Previously, I lived and worked in L.A. for a number of years and way before that, I grew up in a small and hardscrabble town in East Tennessee—“Dollywood-adjacent” in realtors’ parlance.
I come from an interesting family. At different points in their lives, my grandfather was a tough-as-nails moonshiner, my dad is a 6’3” tall former champion race car driver and my mom—all 5’’1” of her—once ran onto the race track in the middle of my dad’s final race and pulled him out of his upside down and wrecked race car mere seconds before it burst into flames. And she did it while being six months pregnant with me at the time. I like to think that what happened on that hot September Tennessee night had an indelible effect on my curiosity, my courage and my drive. (Uma Thurman in “Kill Bill” has nothing on my mom.)
What’s a piece of your work that you love and why?
Easily the campaign Emil Nisowski and I did to launch Chevrolet’s sponsorship of Manchester United. The agency, Commonwealth//McCann—a very nice group of people and extremely gracious hosts, btw—trusted us to create, lead and produce a ginormous global 360 campaign—in eight different languages. So far, the launch film has gotten about 17 million views across the various social networks and is one of the most liked, seen and shared films in the histories of Chevrolet and General Motors. And, it’s number one in all those same categories at Manchester United—even dwarfing the announcement of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
Throughout the process, I was somehow cognizant enough to realize that even if I were on staff, I may never experience something that amazing in my career ever again, so I did my best to step back and enjoy as much of it as possible. The core group of us were—and are still—like family. You don’t get that tight-knit familial feeling very often as a freelancer.
How’d you learn about Working Not Working?
The last gig I did before I left L.A. was a pitch at RPA with Phil Covitz, a wildly talented art director who was one of the first members of WNW. While we were working together, he was kind enough to tell me about it. For what’s happened in my career since them because of WNW, I can’t thank him enough (thanks, Phil!).
Are a lot of your friends and colleagues on WNW?
Absolutely! And we all like the fact that everyone in the community is held to a high standard of excellence. There’s a lot of great and hard-working people on WNW, and I’m genuinely and extremely proud to be a part of this loose circle of talent. It’s like a fraternity you’d actually want to be in.
Anyone on the site whose work you admire that you’d like to give a shout out to?
Hmmm…how about my current rotation of art directors: John Boone, John Figone, Greg Wells, Emil Nisowski, Brian Tafel and Russell Heubach. Oh-and some art directors I’d love to work with one day: Rick Ardito, Nate Naylor, Mark Schruntek, Ron Villacarillo, and Laura Potsic. All of them are great people and great art directors.
What’s your favorite thing about WNW?
When I lived in L.A., I worked really hard to build connections and establish relationships with all the agencies in town as well as up and down the west coast. However, when I moved to NYC, it took about two seconds for me to realize that it’s super-hard, if not impossible to crack an agency’s rotation of go-to freelancers. Often times, recruiters and creative directors are simply too busy to even meet up for a quick cup of coffee with a stranger—I can appreciate that. So I had to reboot and pretty much start from scratch. WNW gave me a leg up by helping me get on people’s radar screens—and some of them have been kind (or some might say desperate) enough to book me.
How often do you update your status?
I update it literally the nanosecond my status changes one way or the other, or, I flip it to “available soon” if my Freelancer’s Spider Sense® tells me on Wednesday that Friday is probably the last day on a particular gig, even though the creative services manager or CD hasn’t come by to have the ol’ “Hey, you know we love having you here, buuuut…” talk.
How much work have have you gotten through WNW?
In 2013, about 70% of my income came via WNW. Last year, roughly 80-85%. Put it this way-only three of my gigs in 2014 were not via WNW. If this doesn’t qualify me for case study poster child status or get me a free t-shirt or a flask or maybe even a pony, then dammit, I’m not sure what does.
What are your tips for getting the most out of your WNW experience?
UPDATE YOUR STATUS. It’s the best habit a WNW member can have. Last summer, I went from being booked to being available to getting booked on something else in less than an hour via WNW. Sure, it was a fluke, but it’s proof that you never know.
POST YOUR WORK ON YOUR WNW PAGE. For the recruiters and shops out there who don’t know you and your work, posting samples on your page is a quick make-or-break look at your stuff. Oh-and post the one piece that is your strongest and/or newest first, because the first image is what shows up in the search results.
SEND YOUR NEW WORK AND YOUR SIDE HUSTLES TO WNW. Free Range is a great source of inspiration and a much broader stage for exposure that you as a freelancer might not get otherwise; as WNW grows and expands into future iterations, your work is only gonna get more and more page views, so why create in obscurity? For me, personally, when I look at the Free Range blog, I see the cool stuff people are making after hours and it’s a solid reminder for me to get off my ass and get to work on passion projects because it both reminds you and tells the world that you are more than the sum of your paid 9-5 work.
FIND A NEW +1. It sucks when I’m free and then—ruh-roh—I get an email looking for a team and all my usual go-to partners are jamming elsewhere. That’s when I bust out the WNW search engine to find help. At the very worst, I can hopefully make a new contact that could yield something down the road. Even if you’re not in a crunch, it’s a tremendous way to network and reach out to people whose work you admire for future collaboration purposes. Pro tip: art directors, if you want to save even more time looking for a writer, simply type my name into the search box (SFX: Dr. Evil laugh).
KNOW THY FRENEMY. Use the WNW search engine to see what your fellow freelancers are doing. How they present themselves. How they stage their work. What website templates they’re using. You can look at their examples to help craft your own unique online persona and shape the presentation of your body of work.
TO FOLLOW IS TO NETWORK. If a recruiter follows you on the site, always reach out and thank them, then build a dialogue from there. It’s a foot in the door, and it’s a door they’ve opened for you, versus you having to kick it in Rambo-style (and if said door happens to be made out of steel, you’re gonna break your foot anyway).
DON'T BE SO PROVINCIAL. Some WNW members are ultra-specific about where they live, for instance, Mill Valley or even West Carroll Gardens. Community pride is great and all, but it doesn’t help you and your work get found when someone does a broader search, say for art directors in San Francisco or designers in NYC. Change your location to the broader market.
What is the biggest misconception about WNW/freelancing?
That if you simply have a WNW page, then the game will magically come to you. Actually, it won’t, and it’s a very expensive lesson to learn, in regards to potential lost revenue. Historically, I think a lot of folks have thought of WNW as merely a storefront and nothing more. It’s much more than that—it’s an invaluable tool to help market yourself.
What is the best piece of advice you can offer other WNW members and fellow freelancers?
Relax into your downtime. Without question, it is the number one enemy of a freelancer’s psyche. I’ve seen quite a few people make the leap (or get shoved off the ledge via layoffs), only to just go nuts if they're not booked 24/7 the minute they go freelance. Consequently, they have a meltdown and then six months later, they take a staff job that’s even worse than the one they left, which will inevitably make them even more miserable. I’ve seen that movie about a billion times and it always ends the exact same way. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s not what freelancing is about.
To counter this, you can do three things: Network—and then network some more. Save your money, so you won’t freak out during slow times or be forced into taking a bad job or gig. And yes-work. On. Your. Passions. If you don’t have any, find some, because at the end of the day, no one will ever go to their deathbed saying “aw, man…if I had only had another day to finesse that shelf talker way back in 2014…”
What have we not asked that you’d like to talk about?
I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t show some side hustle stuff, myself. For me, lately, that’s been photography. Mostly street/found imagery from my travels that go beyond merely being a travelbrag®. That said, this year, I’m moving into doing more conceptually-driven story-driven work, versus building hypothetical narrative out of what the streets offer up. It’s a nice break to be able to sit and visualize stuff that’s just for me for a change.