Saturday, June 16, 2012

Weird Science: Freelancer Pheromones

Check out this Nasonov gland. Oooh Baby.

I’m not exactly exposing my Nasonov gland to entice my fellow honeybees into an empty hive, but, these past couple weeks, I’ve had the sneaking suspicion that I’ve got some sort of major pheromone thing going on. While the particulars are still mysterious to me, the cause is obvious – I’m planning a vacation.

Ask any freelancer you find on the streets (it won’t take long, the streets in Minneapolis are lousy with them) to tell you when they experience the biggest uptick in new business, when the most enormous projects get set in motion, and they will answer, to a (wo)man: Three weeks before I leave on vacation.

I’m planning to head to New York next week, and I can’t beat the customers away with a stick. I’ve had a least two phone calls lately that start with “Remember me?” People I haven’t worked for in years have developed sudden, urgent needs for my snappy, sparkling prose. Really? I want to say.  Where were you in the middle of January when I was considering taking on a side hustle as a barista, just to keep cat food on the table?

This must be some complicated kind of science ju-ju, I’ve found myself thinking, because not only does it seem to be attracting customers, but it convinces them to linger, sort of the opposite effect of that classical-music-in-the-convenience-store-to-deter-juvenile-loitering experiment. Because while I’ve noticed that my services are certainly being engaged with incredibly increasing frequency, I’ve also noticed that The Damn Projects are Never Done.  Quick-turn web copy gets a new client direction and requires an entire rewrite. A normally agreeable editor suddenly thinks that just a few more sources will do the trick. I’ve actually heard, for the first time since December (the last time I left town), that phrase that chills the blood of creatives everywhere:  What else have you got?

Many people become freelancers for the utterly stupid reason that they want to “be their own boss.” Sounds great in theory, but I’ve discovered that I’m probably the worst boss I’ve ever worked for – and after a lifetime of agency work, I’ve had some doozies. Nortie the cokehead, Frank the stapler-thrower and Brenda the walking ashtray have nothing on Julie Kendrick, Slavedriver. I am demanding and unforgiving and just a little bit sadistic. I schedule interviews with Canadians at 3 p.m. on a beautiful Friday afternoon. I make myself get up at five a.m. “just to polish the copy one more time before it goes to the client.” Plus, I never take me out to lunch, or tell me “good job,” or offer beneficently, “Take the afternoon off, honey.  You’ve been working too hard.” As if.

Worst of all, I never, ever say “no.” I can’t even turn down the pro bono stuff, even when I am convinced that my brain is going to explode all over the board meeting, necessitating a messy cleanup, but probably a very nice funeral. Trust me, I’ve tried. I form my lips into a little cat butt of “no,” and all that comes out is the chimp-grin of “yes.”

Of course, I love my clients, I’m happy for the work, and it will all get done, somehow, before that flight takes off next week. And there’s one thing that’s more certain than the pre-vacation pheromone attraction – I’ll probably spend all of July reorganizing my file drawers, because nothing is less appealing to a client than a freelancer who has just returned from vacation.

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