Unemployed Art Director

The first year of my freelance career, after being laid off from my full-time gig in ’06, I was fortunate enough to be busy with jobs full time. It looked as if things were going to be ok. My daily work routine hadn’t really changed much since I worked remotely from my home office the last six years of my employment at Ogilvy & Mather. The only big difference was trying to manage a business rather than drawing a salary, and the lack of insurance. I thought that after some time of building up a client base and settling into a process of billing and managing income that I would eventually be able to afford health insurance, put money into my 401k, and all the things that a person should be able to do while running a business. After the first year however, I learned two things: I am not good at managing my own business, and things were not going to get better or even level out.
The second year came and went, bringing new clients while losing others, and income did not increase. My clients had been the same people I worked for previously in the first couple years; fortune 500 companies and marketing agencies based out of large cities like Chicago and New York with budgets to create high quality work. Unfortunately, what I found in that second year was that even the large marketing agencies were operating with smaller budgets and most were pulling a big chunk of the work normally sourced out to freelance creatives like myself, inhouse. Along the way, some cut freelancers out of the budget completely and I was having to replace these sources of work with local based projects from independently owned businesses. It goes without saying that the budgets for creative projects that mom & pop businesses have to work with are minimal.
Now I’m past the third year and the only clients left are mostly local. Anywhere else a freelance designer would be able to make a reasonable living with enough local work while between bigger projects, but this is Detroit in a bad economy. I’m not from here, but I’ve gotten the feeling that creativity, especially as it pertains to marketing, isn’t highly valued in this area.
As the economy has gotten worse in the Detroit area over 2009, the value of creatives has declined with it. Business owners would rather spend less on professional creative resources (designers with experience and talent), opting for cheaper, less qualified help with their marketing and advertising with little or no concern for the overall quality of the work and ultimately a much poorer image of their business as a result. They don’t seem to care as long as they are saving a few bucks. Even worse, most don’t know the difference between professionally designed advertising and hack work. As long as it gets printed, whether or not colors are correct and in registration, or the artwork looks like it was created by a 9 year old that had to piss real bad while doing it, it’s all good.
There’s obviously no future for me living in this area; I have to leave to get back my clients, work and self respect. My problem now is leaving my family again to live alone somewhere else just to have a job. Time off is great on a temporary basis, but a man needs to work to maintain his dignity and self respect. I feel them slipping away with each day as long as I remain in this place.
I believe it’s time to move on.

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