Working Not Working is not your typical freelance agency.
For starters, much of the site has been created by the freelancers registered with the agency. David Schwen, Member #1544, designed the header image. Chris Streger, Member #1883, made the logo for the site’s blog, Free Range. (Yes, every freelancer’s name is listed alongside a membership number.)
The agency also has a magazine, where you can read about the projects that WNW freelancers are currently creating. It feels like a curated museum of freelance inspiration, proving that the site’s users are fulfilling their dreams.
Another interesting component that separates Working Not Working from other freelance job sites gives WNW its name: each freelancer’s availability—working, not working, available soon—is advertised in huge font.
And then there are the job ads. I couldn’t see them all because I wasn’t a WNW member, but here’s the sample ad: “Union Made Creative is looking for a cross between Michael Jordan and Michael Bierut for their Senior Designer position in San Francisco. Must love meticulous design and be able to dunk from the foul line.”
Even though I’ve never been able to dunk from any line, I’ve got plenty of freelance skills. I decided to register with the site and see if I could track down leads.
My options were to sign up via Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook. I picked Twitter, filled out the form—copywriter, Seattle, currently working—and then learned I could not actually sign up until I received an invite code based on a referral from a current member or a company that uses the site.
So how does a freelancer get a precious invite code? And what happens once you’re in? It was time for me to dig up some more information.
I started by talking to Justin Gignac, co-founder of Working Not Working. His email signature, true to concept, reads “Currently WORKING.”
What was the BIG IDEA behind Working Not Working?
I had this animated GIF on my freelance portfolio site that either read “Working,” “Not working,” or “Working soon.” I created it because I wanted clients to know whether I was currently available for work. It got to the point where clients would call me and say “I see from your website that you’re working, but are any of your friends available?”
Co-founder Adam Tompkins and I realized that if this system of Working/Not Working could work for me, it could probably work for everybody.
There are two things that make Working Not Working different from other job sites. The first piece is, of course, the “Working/Not Working/Working Soon” component, but the other piece is this sense that you’re curating a group of really high-quality freelancers.
We only accept about 10 percent of people who apply. We wanted to attract the top creative companies to the site, and we wanted to make sure that when these companies come on, nine out of every 10 candidates will be people who they want to hire.
How does a person become a freelancer for Working Not Working? I went through your application process and saw you needed an invite to get in, which is different from other job sites where you submit a portfolio.
We started the site by inviting the 300 best freelancers we knew, and we gave them each a few invites to distribute to the best people they knew.
At one point we tried letting people submit portfolios, but what happened was we would have to go through those portfolios one by one. We’d spend all day going through 100 portfolios, and by the end of the day, 200 more people would have sent us portfolios. It was never-ending. By the time we had 7,000 freelancers on our waiting list, waiting for us to review their portfolios, it was clear that there was no way we’d ever be able to get through all of them.
It’s a good problem to have, but it’s an impossible task. So we put the invites back in the hands of our members, and let them curate the community.
Your job ads are also different from other job ads I’ve seen. Your ads have components like “must like BBQ” and “must be able to dunk from the foul line,” which don’t have a lot to do with a candidate’s freelancing skills. What prompted that choice?
This is part of the way we’re trying to re-think how freelancers and companies connect. If we’re going to make a job board, let’s re-think it from the ground up and make it a job board that top creatives and companies will actually want to use.
If you’re a company looking for a senior designer, you don’t really need to explain every detail of that job and what that job entails. The person you’re looking for already knows how to do that. Instead, you need to explain where the job is, why it’s a great opportunity, what the people are like, what the culture is like, and why a person would want to work there. So we created templates that would let people post job ads in under five minutes that answered those questions.
We wanted to keep our job ads simple; all you really need is enough information for a creative to see the ad and think, “Oh, that sounds interesting.” Then, the creatives can click “I’m interested,” and the managers are automatically connected to their information.
I was also able to talk to one of WNW’s freelancers, Leta Sobierajski (Member #2846, currently WORKING), and ask her about her WNW experience from a user’s perspective.
What type of work do you do? I’ve seen your bio, so I know you’ve worked for a lot of companies like Google and Ogilvy & Mather.
I’m a graphic designer and art director. I do a lot of tactile work, and I incorporate a lot of photography into my work as well. I also cover branding, websites, and apps.
How did you find out about Working Not Working?
When I was working full-time, I saw people post about it from time to time, and I was curious about it. I didn’t really get into it until I went freelance over a year ago, but I had a few friends who already had accounts there, so I was able to ask them what it was about.
When did you register? Did you get an invite?
I’d say around April 2013. None of my friends had invites, so I ended up getting an invite from a random person.
How has registering with Working Not Working improved your freelance career?
It’s great that you have the option to change your status, so that you can fluctuate between WORKING and NOT WORKING. I definitely had people follow me on the site and reach out to me and I’ve done a couple of jobs through Working Not Working. It’s quite effective, and I think that the owners have worked hard to introduce the website to potential clients.
Has WNW been your exclusive source of work since registering?
I’d say that I receive 25 percent of my work through Working Not Working. I have a lot of online press as well, which helps me out a bit, but WNW has definitely been great. When I finish my other work, I change my status on Working Not Working, and the response from clients is quite immediate.
What else would you like people to know about Working Not Working?
I only have good things to say about it. It has a beautiful interface, especially compared to other job websites, which are often so ugly to look at. I’ve also met the people who run the company, which just totally reinstates the reason why I want to be a part of it. The community is so great.
After talking to Gignac and Sobierajski, I totally got it. WNW is a freelance job site, but it’s something else too—an exclusive place for companies and freelancers to skip the hurdles usually involved in hiring.
The entire site is really just a metaphorical dunk from the foul line.