Some Great Advice for Freelance Creatives from Jim Shields, Creative Director of Twist and Shout

Yesterday, I attended a small informal talk given by Jim Shields, who is the creative owner of a production company called Twist and Shout, jointly-based in Dallas, TX and Leicester, England.

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That's us. Jim is on the far right. Nice room, eh?

He's writing a book about taking control of your creative freelance career, and, as I am also writing a book regarding the same topic(albeit with a focus on those just starting out in the business), I thought it wise to attend. I was not disappointed.

We had to finagle our way into taking over the backroom area of Mudsmith, politely asking the regular denizens of this faux-mahogany mansionesque faux-reading-room area if they really wanted to sit and listen to a 2 hour talk on career strategy for freelance creatives. Once the 7 or so of us were settled, Jim began to speak about what it means to freelance as a creative and how to be the captain of your own ship(my cliché, not his).

I took notes. Here's what I took away:

  • You can either be "Some Guy", "That Guy", or "THE Guy"

Some Guy - ex. "We need some guy who can operate a camera."

That Guy - ex. "We need to hire that one guy who is shoots documentaries."

THE Guy - ex. "WE ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE RON FRICKE!"

Jim spoke at length about how in smaller markets it's typical for creatives to fashion themselves as jacks-of-all-trades, and how, when all creatives do pretty much the same thing, they become a commodity instead of thinking, feeling, problem-solving creatives.

It's important to specialize. That's how you stand out in the crowd.

  • The Danger of Replicating Mediocrity

A lot of times clients just want what the next guy has. And that's fine, I guess, but it's definitely not a great feeling to be hired to copy someone else's work.

One of the great concepts of the talk was the idea that every project can be approached with the question, "What's the problem we are solving?"

Giving your client a carbon copy of a website or a video or other piece of content really isn't solving any problem except, "I need a video" or "I need a new website", and in that case, it's kind of just money down the drain, because the opportunity has been missed to create content that's tailored to solving a particular need or issue.

  • Use Your Blog as a Tool

Jim spoke about using your blog and social media to "raise a tribe", which to me, means a community of people who share your specific focus, people who are excited about the same nitty-gritty niche parts of your field that you are.

Your "tribe" is defined as a group of people(typically around 200 people after the initial two years of "raising a tribe", according to Jim) that actively participates and is engaged in the content you post. Hopefully you recipocrate that engagement by staying involved in their social media output. Kind of like an ongoing conversation.

Also, a blog is a great way for potential clients to get to know you before up you meet them. Establishing yourself as an expert online gives you added caché in booking and negotiating the terms of projects.

You can use your blog to educate your clients, as well. One example is writing posts on how you solved particular problems and then pointing to those posts as needed if and when you are negotiating the terms of a project with a client.

It's a good thing to be hyperspecific in your blog. Jim spoke of the importance of finding the focus of what you do - "your cause" - by "writing about what makes you angry".

In Jim's case, what made him angry is how corporations often mistreat their employees and customers by seeing them as numbers and not as creative, problem-solving human beings(my words). Knowing that allowed him to find his cause.

Here a piece by Twist and Shout which imagines how a corporation would propose marriage to their girlfriend:

The Proposal from Twist and Shout on Vimeo.

Most recently, Jim and director/partner-in-crime Rob McCollum created Restricted Intelligence, a webseries about information security that is aimed at corporate clients in that field.

Restricted Intelligence - 30 second teaser from Twist and Shout on Vimeo.

It was a great talk. You can follow Jim at @jimshout on twitter and you can like Twist and Shout on facebook.