(parts of this post are an adaptation of a comment on Peter McDermott’s Google+ post about teamwork and social media)
Last week we left our heroine in the dire straits of her mid-twenties-identity-crisis. Little did she know it was not an identity crisis at all, but merely preparation for what lay ahead!
What happened between 2007 and 2012, while not best forgotten, is at least best glossed over. Let’s just say, Danielle survived. She grew up and became D’nelle. BIPI survived alongside me, thank goodness. Those 5 years were not an easy time for her, either. She was at turns neglected and overworked, and in 2010 when I started- unwillingly, mind you – to run her full time, there were some growing pains. What was her “hook”? More to the point, what did I even want to do with my life, much less the life of a corporation that had been mostly a crutch for its entire existence?
Well, boys and girls, I will tell you.
For two years now, I’ve sailed BIPI under the flag of a Digital Branding Firm, wherein I was the head cook and bottle washer. I made the trash and I took it out. I’ve been at turns desperately thankful for the luxuries she’s afforded me and desperately anxious over how to keep her going. It hasn’t seemed satsifying or sustainable to simply be a one-woman show, an EIN-glorified freelancer. I have, time and again, turned to my professional contacts for help with projects that have been either out of my scope or out of my ability to complete in a timely manner.
Now, thanks to a chance meeting and drink with one Peter McDermott, what I’ve been trying to do all along has become sharply and clearly into focus.
BIPI is a Digital Remodeling Contractor.
Whether she’s the first or not, I don’t know – it occurs to me now that I ought to go hunting to see if such a beast exists elsewhere (because, lord knows, I’d love to cheat and learn from others’ mistakes).
Here is the conundrum that I have faced over the past two-five years: it had seemed to me that “going it alone” was the only alternative to “working for the man” – in fact, the system I have participated in since I graduated college is clearly set up to be one or the other. And, by that, I mean, the business models that most of us are familiar with are either freelance or agency. Either we’re a lone freelance wolf, a gun for hire (a tip of the hat here to my darling roadie who has exposed me to a fascinating world of gun-for-hire rock’n’roll road crews) – or we’re sucking at the corporate teat.
Just to be clear, here’s how it seems to me that the digital marketing industry most often works:
Freelancer has built a relationship with Susie Client and she pays her (at her SSN) money to manage her email campaigns. But she needs a website UX overhaul. Hey, awesome, Freelancer can do that, too! But she ALSO needs her logo re-thought, 500 business cards printed, a facebook squeeze page with website integration, a linked-in group built & moderated, and an ebook rewritten & redesigned to coincide with her UX overhaul. That’s quite a lot of work for Freelancer, who wants to specialize only in email marketing and UX.
So, Freelancer contacts 3 colleagues, a graphic designer, a social platform specialist and a printer. If she’s lucky, maybe one of those colleagues will have a business (like, LLC, corp, etc.), but it’s mostly likely that her colleagues will also be freelancers working under their SSNs for 1099 income. Maybe she coordinates amongst all of them, or maybe she doesn’t, but regardless, Susie Client is in a weird position of paying 4 different people, interacting with 4 different people, trying to coordinate amongst them and getting frustrated. Freelancer isn’t equipped to take on paying her colleagues, nor does she have the time or the expertise. Not only that, but Susie Client doesn’t have time for this nonsense either.
What I would like to see happen is for there to emerge a player who is the tech equivalent of a Remodeling Contractor. This person owns a business and is essentially a project contractor, doing the dirty work of owning an EIN, coordinating their subcontractors’ schedules, vetting subs, creating space for collaboration, and project managing as the point person for Susie Client, who only has to deal with the one person. Agencies work like this, with an Account Manager taking on the role of point-of-contact… but Agencies are “real jobs”. Freelancers don’t want real jobs.
And, more importantly, Susie Client doesn’t want or need an agency.
This is, officially, the new direction for BIPI in 2012. Sure, I’ll still be getting my hands dirty. But in this brave new world where freelance is too little and agency is too much, I’m taking a new (well, maybe not new. My parents did it for 25 years, after all) path.
I want to know all the best freelancers so that I can provide the exact solution that my clients need. And, yes, I want to keep it local, but more importantly I want to keep it connected. I want to feel like I’m leading a team. I love that my graphic designer, Kindell Moore, works with me at Starbucks. I love that my writing superstar, Sarah Pressler, is someone who I have grown to know and trust solely through really rich Facebook interaction that started from a random personal connection. I love that my life-saving Drupal developer, Rudy Barrett, came to me through my work with the Plugged In, Inc. productions of BarCamp & PodCamp here in Nashville.
I want to find clients who need this kind of service so that I can make a living helping people based on my experience. I’ve already been plugging away at this with Linda Morse‘s shopping cart and John Navin’s Personal Balance Blueprint overhaul, but it’s time to make this official. It’s time to see myself as a contractor more often than as a writer/developer/analyst/designer.
So. What do you guys think? Can BIPI turn her Remodeling Contractor dreams into a digital reality? More importantly, will my feet ever stay warm when I’m sitting at my desk?
I’ll keep you all updated. Meanwhile – help me figure this out!