When you quit a job to launch a tech startup or e-commerce business, you’re lauded as an entrepreneur. But when you quit your job to start your own freelance business, people think you’re unemployed. It’s time to end that.
In 2016, my co-founder and I left big ad agencies in pursuit of more meaningful work. We decided to go independent specifically to work with organizations that were making a positive social impact. During the 2018 midterm elections, we launched a series of awareness campaigns with several voting rights organizations to combat voter suppression. At that point, we, like so many other independents, were forming and managing tons of project-based creative teams in order to hit our goals — teams of writers, designers, developers, and more. In deploying over 150 teams in just 18 months, we learned two important lessons:
1. The same people who were willing to overpay an “agency” would underpay “freelancers.”
2. It’s chaotic and challenging to scale a business without any technology built for highly-skilled creative teams.
We believe that freelancers, like us, are founders. They’re full-stack entrepreneurs managing their own clients, finances, sales pipelines, and networks of collaborators (and we have the research to prove it). The creative industry doesn’t see them as business owners with a desire to scale up and create jobs for their communities. Instead, independents’ talents are commodified by platforms like Fiverr, which proactively drives wages down by promoting the idea that people can and should deliver skilled services for as little as $5.
At the same time, brands and companies of all sizes are out here dramatically overpaying for agencies who are actively marking their rates up by 500% to pay for bloated overhead and expensive executive leadership, with very little going into the pockets of the people actually doing the work.
These dynamics create a losing situation. Expensive agencies get in the way of brands being able to directly pay for high-quality talent, while those who have gone independent are told to lower their rates and accept less for the exact same quality of work.
We built Virtual Studios to give creative entrepreneurs tools to team up and thrive, and to change the way the world treats independent creative businesses.
When we talked to independents in our community about how they decide when to raise their rates, we found out that there are plenty of reasons why most people should’ve done it ages ago. Charging under market value and not billing for back-office time were the most common mistakes people make when pricing projects, but both are hard to measure when industry data is so obscure.
Now, we’re fundamentally questioning who gets to decide what people are worth in a system that’s intentionally shrouded in mystery. Today’s spectrum stretches from huge brick & mortar agencies owned by holding companies like Omnicom and WPP charging millions of dollars for the same exact digital campaign that an independent team of ex-agency talent might charge $50,000 for. That’s what happens when prices and rates are kept behind closed doors, negotiated in silos, or solely based on relationships. And that’s why my co-founder and I set out to build a pricing recommendation engine that ushers in a new era of transparency and collective action in advertising. Money and growth should be at the center of our conversation as creative business owners, not an uncomfortable afterthought.
Our North Star is to stop the race to the bottom.
Right now, our “freelance” ecosystem leads independents to pitch themselves as a commodity, rather than as an agent with the power to affect great change within an organization. Today, wages are still driven by an economy that views people as products— one that puts the power in the hands of the buyers to say, “if you won’t do it for pennies, we’ll find someone who will.” It’s a dehumanizing and toxic power dynamic that discourages advocating for oneself. At Wethos, our operating system takes the price tag off of people and instead puts a price on the work itself, all while empowering people with the collective knowledge of what others are charging. Now, independents have more confidence to say no to low wages and impossibly small budgets that stretch their teams too thin.
Our platform is primarily focused on helping these business owners with money management and team formation, because we know first-hand how powerful it is to have reliable infrastructure when making the transition from scrappy to scalable. There’s untapped potential in streamlining the added complexities of teaming up with other independents to offer your clients a wider range of services. Wethos Virtual Studios™ makes it so easy to grow a services-based business that future generations won’t ever know how painful it was to juggle multiple spreadsheets with hours, negotiated rates, availability, balances due, and all the other details needed to manage project-based creative teams.
How many more independents would team up and scale if it weren’t so damn complicated to do so? How many more would go after big meaningful projects, create jobs for their communities, or focus on their growth?
Independents are business owners through and through, but the world doesn’t see them as a scaleable, viable, job-creators— yet. The next small business revolution doesn’t look like what you think it does, and we believe our platform will fundamentally change the viability of starting and scaling your own small agency. Our vision is to create a growth ecosystem for the next generation of creative entrepreneurs that centers around making more money, leveraging your power and influence ethically, and creating more meaningful jobs for your communities.