Should You Go With Freelance Work or a Full-Time Job? |

Should You Go With Freelance Work or a Full-Time Job?

Is it better to be a full-time office employee or a freelancer? Ask third-generation ad guy Rob Showell and he’ll say he loves both.

“I have come to love this business and the people and the ideas in it,” says Showell, who is now the Program Coordinator of Langara College’s Advertising Copywriting Certificate Program in Vancouver.

In addition to flexibility, Showell says another advantage to freelancing was being free of the office politics.

The new Copywriting program is the latest addition to Langara’s creative industry training grounds, which already boasts an impressive Communication Arts program that Rethink ad agency has been providing scholarships for during the last four years.

Ad agencies with offices in the west coast used to advise would-be copywriters to go to Toronto for training because Humber College was previously the only school in Canada offering an Advertising Copywriting program. Now with agency leaders like Chris Staples (Rethink), Alvin Wasserman (Wasserman + Partners Advertising), and Alan Russell (formerly with DDB, Palmer Jarvis, Grey Canada and BBDO) on the advisory council of Langara’s Copywriting program, up-and-coming copywriting creatives in Canada can choose where to train.

Prior to becoming the coordinator of Langara’s Advertising Copywriting Certificate Program, Showell worked for local and national ad agencies, partnered in a boutique creative shop and freelanced as a copywriter for hire for over 30 years. He has a Bessie, a New York Art Directors Award and a Lotus Best of Show Award among his credits.

“There’s no way I would have had the longevity of a career that I have if I hadn’t spent those first 12 years in agencies, moving every few years, working on better stuff all the time, with bigger budgets,” says Showell, highlighting the importance of strategy when navigating a creative career.

Though he came from an ad family, Showell says, “Nothing crystallizes the understanding of how the agency structure works better than working in one.”

Connections, deep knowledge and awards

Growing up, family dinner conversations in the Showell household revolved around good and bad advertising, and Sundays were spent at his father’s office. However, even though his grandfather was an art director and fine arts professor in Montreal, and his father was a copywriter/creative director/broadcaster in Toronto, his family connections hindered his start in the ad industry.

“Nepotism didn’t work for me,” laughs Showell, recalling his early days of job hunting after finishing a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and Sociology at York University in Toronto.

Still, unless a freelancer has built a good reputation or has a premium skill, freelancers are often brought into agencies to off-load the work no one else wants to do.

“Whenever I went into a job interview, no one wanted to talk to me, they just wanted to talk about their old Russ Showell stories.”

To get away from his father’s shadow, Rob Showell headed west to Vancouver. In Vancouver, it was his deep knowledge of the business that landed him a job as a copywriter.

“When I arrived in Vancouver, I only had a wardrobe that would classify me as a creative. If I had a suit and tie, I might have applied to be an account associate.”

Working full-time as a copywriter in several ad agencies allowed Showell to build his portfolio and his network of connections. In addition, working on varied ad campaigns with progressively bigger budgets led to award-winning work.

“I wouldn’t have won those awards if I hadn’t come up through the agency system.”

Freelance switch

The year Showell won several awards was the year he decided to go solo.

“Stepping off into freelance at that point was really easy,” says Showell, who was seeking more flexibility at that stage of his career.

“I was an associate creative director, so I was overseeing other peoples work. The hours got longer and longer, the weekends get shorter and shorter. I left when my son was 6 and my daughter was 4, [so that I could] coach my son’s t-ball team.”

In addition to flexibility, Showell says another advantage to freelancing was being free of the office politics.

“In an agency, it’s very competitive. You get media buyers who don’t understand creative people and vice versa,” says Showell, “And I’ve never been very good at or very interested in office politics.”

“If you’re a freelancer, you’re a hired gun. Going in there, ‘I don’t care [about the office politics], just give me the brief and let’s get to work.’ My job is to supply ideas and answers to problems. When the job’s over, it’s over. It’s much cleaner.”

He adds, “You just have to try and remember to get a piece for your portfolio.”

Despite the advantages in setting up a solo shop, freelancers are often brought into agencies to off-load the work no one else wants to do.

In addition, Showell says, “You feel like an outsider as a freelancer, like you’re not part of the club.”

While freelancing has increased during the last two decades, professionals like Rob Showell have returned to full-time work after freelancing.

This may explain why, after freelancing, and then running a boutique agency with his brother and a friend, Showell returned to agency work before moving on to become the program coordinator for Langara’s Advertising Copywriting Certificate program.

New Year, New You

Whether you’re thinking of making the switch from full-time to freelance, or vice versa in the new year, we’ve compiled a few additional resources to help you consider the route that fits you best!

Freelancing has become a trendy mainstream career option over the last 20 years, and while Rob Showell has enjoyed both full-time and freelance work, many freelancers will say it’s not all roses and candy, as evident in this humourous exchange between Vancouver copywriter by Carey Sessoms and cartoonist Matthew Inman.

In addition, a recent study shows that people who work from home put in more hours than those who work in an office.

Freelance to full-time:

While freelancing has increased during the last two decades, professionals like Rob Showell have returned to full-time work after freelancing.

This article on Freelance Switch walks through the question, “Should I continue freelancing or find a full-time job?”

Full-time to freelance:

Of course, if you’ve only known full-time work, perhaps you’ve dreamed about taking the plunge into freelancing. This article on the website Brandscaping walks through 10 steps you can take to becoming a freelancer.

Is it better to be a full-time office employee or a freelancer? While you’re researching, networking, and increasing your skill set for your next career move, be honest with yourself when you answer the question, because the answer will revolve around which route is better for you.

  • Lou Anne Reddon

    I’ve always had a way with words, a love of language and an interest in advertising. The first ad I ever wrote was for toothpaste in Grade 1! (Dad was a dentist).

    However, those interests weren’t enough. Without having had the experience of working in the business world, I wouldn’t have developed the marketing chops and mindset that my freelance clients now find so invaluable.

    Hands-on experience in a high-volume, print production retail environment inculcated a work ethic and respect for deadlines unmatched in my student years and, it seems, not quite embraced by many other freelancers.

    If I had to do things over again, I probably would have temped for various companies after earning my degree, to see which industries I was best suited for and to gain that real life business experience.

    At that point in time, there were no advertising certificate programs and no such thing as “online” copywriting courses! (I graduated from university two years before the IBM PC was introduced).

    Then I still would have worked full-time for many years before feeling confident enough in my skills to seek work as a freelancer.

    In looking at various sites and blogs aimed at freelancers, lack of confidence and fear of rejection appear to be epidemic. A full-time job and skill-building courses should provide the cure for such ills.

    Having said all this, I realize that the world of work has changed drastically and there simply aren’t as many full-time opportunities available as when I started. Freelancing may be the only viable alternative for many.

    I would encourage those people to constantly develop their writing skills, their business experience and to have only enough ego to take pride in a job well done.

    • JLggM

      Thank you for your insight, Lou Anne. Many up-and-coming writers would agree with your approach.

  • Simon Davies MMRS BA (Hons)

    Freelance…, but only when you’ve self developed as an individual from working full time in business and having gained the skill sets required, experiences, confidence, desire, and drive to do so. Freelance is not all that easy, and if you don’t have drive, passion, and determination then its not for you. I am a recent addition to the freelance, self employed arena, having worked full time in marketing research for over 15 years. You are a different person, you are you’re own boss and I feel a sense of being able to give more. Enjoying it so far… Here’s to the future.

    • JLggM

      Thanks for your thoughts on this, Simon. The freelancers I have met who have done well for themselves either have a knack for business, or have years of previous experience working within a business.

  • Vickie Fagan

    I have been a freelancer for 5 years now and constantly wrestle with the question. There are many benefits to freelancing, no more Sunday night dread for one! I do love it, though it is challenging to constantly be responsible for feeding the machine. I must say, in today’s workforce, I don’t believe anyone feels the level of job security that we were afforded many years ago so to me, I can feel vulnerable making money for a company or I can feel vulnerable making money for myself. Apart from a sense of isolation, (being in the video production industry, I spend many hours editing alone) I love being in charge of my workflow even when it can be overwhelming. Work and home life boundaries are non- existent but that is okay too. I am most creative outside of conventional work hours anyway. There are many networking groups out there that are perfect for the freelance worker to keep involved, like this one! I also love the client range I have developed, always something new. Work finally doesn’t feel like work.