The Sneakerhead’s Guide to Gigging

By Tom Braley August 28th, 2014

Everybody should have a passion in life. Lucky for me, I’ve got two: words and sneakers. I only started to enjoy writing later on in life, but I’ve always loved sneakers. In fact, as a kid, mum thought I was weird because of my obsession with them.

Anyway, as I grew up, I needed a way to fund my growing collection, so I became a copywriter. These days, that’s what I do. I write freelance and rock sweet-ass kicks.

Since I’m pretty sure a fresh pair of sneaks can solve almost any problem in life, when I agreed to guest blog about freelancing, I thought sneakers could probably help me out here, too.

Taking the design of my favorite shoe (Nike’s Air Max 1) as a template, I identified the nine essential elements you need for a profitable freelance career. Here’s what I found out from my footwear…

Best Air Max

Image via Dishwab/Flickr

The logo 

Adidas. Nike. Jordan. The biggest names in the sneaker game all have something else in common: an instantly recognizable logo. So if you want to make your freelance business a success, take your cue from these guys and give some thought to your brand.

Come up with the equivalent of the Adidas trefoil or Nike’s swoosh—a look, a line, or a logo—something to put on your business card or website that lets clients know who you are and what you’re about.

Think about what you do. Consider the type of clients you want to work with, and whether or not you’re going to use your own name or create a company. Are you going to be edgy or straight? Low-cost or high-end? Decide what you want to convey, then create an image that fits.

The laces 

For me, shoelaces represent having the ability to adjust, and if you want to be a successful freelancer, that flexibility is essential.

You may even have to change the way you work on a client-by-client basis. Some clients are easygoing; some micromanage. Some briefs are boring; some projects are fun. Every day can be different when you freelance, and that’s all part of the charm.

So laces represent the fact you need to be able to change it up. When the work’s rolling in, it’s all gravy. However, if it slows down, you may have to cut back on those Air Jordans.

The insole

The insole provides a steady, comfortable base for your foot. As a freelancer, you need the same support, both mentally and physically, for your career.

It’s really important because when you work from your home, the line between your job and personal life can easily blur. And without the luxury of being able to leave your work at the office, it can become really hard to switch off at the end of the day.

The best way to combat this is by making sure you have a comfortable workspace away from the rest of your house. Arrange a home office, find a coffee shop, or rent a studio you can head off to that’s distinctly separate from the rest of your home.

The midsole

The midsole offers cushioning and comfort when you’re rocking your sneaks, running from crazies, or throwing shapes on the dance floor.

When you’re a freelancer, it’s nice to have a little comfort, too. And to me, comfort is having a small financial cushion.

I’d say aim to save about three months worth of salary to cover your living expenses if work dries up. It’s not essential, but the bills will keep coming in even if the jobs don’t. And no matter how hard you’re out there looking for work, it might be a while until you find the right opportunities.

The upper

The upper, which I consider the coolest part of any sneaker, connects the throat (where you thread the laces) to the midsole. It’s typically how you distinguish one model from the next.

For me, the equivalent of the upper in the freelance world is your portfolio.

It’s what catches your eye and makes you take it off the shelf for closer inspection. Your portfolio needs to have the same effect on clients when you’re out there looking for work. It’s got to make people notice you. Many uppers also consist of a mix of textures and materials. Even though you have a specialty, a portfolio which shows a little variety will help you appeal to a variety of clients.

The heel counter

Every sneaker needs a heel counter to protect the back of the foot, and every freelancer needs a bean counter. If you don’t know what a bean counter is, it’s slang for accountant (at least in the U.K.).

Finding a good accountant is probably one of the best things you can do as a freelancer. They’ll help you avoid a lot of pain and frustration—especially if you suck at math.

My advice is to try to find an accountant who deals specifically with the self-employed. To me, the easiest way to accomplish this through a word-of-mouth recommendation, which leads me nicely onto our next part of the sneaker…

The tongue 

This analogy is a bit more literal. Shoes have tongues, and so do you. Practice using yours. Because if you want to make it in the gig economy, you need to learn how to network effectively in order to find new clients.

Eventually, you’re going to find yourself in an office pitching for work or talking to a prospect at a bar, so brush up on your social skills. If you can master your mouth, not only will land a lot more work, but you’ll be able to negotiate much better deals as well.

The toe box

No prizes for guessing where you find the toe box. It keeps your foot soldiers safe, and (in theory), stops you from screaming in agony when you stub them on the couch. I think this safety net is just like a freelance contract.

I’m no lawyer, so the only advice I can offer you is this: Do a little bit of research on the Internet, seek out a legal eagle, and understand what rights you have as a contract worker. When a client doesn’t pay or the scope of a project starts to creep, you’ll have a necessary safeguard in place. That’s why I never wear open-toed sandals.

The sole

The sole is the heart of the sneaker. Without it, everything falls apart. That’s akin to your career ambition.

Whatever type of freelance work you do, it has to be your calling. Otherwise, why the hell do it in the first place? If you’re not totally into the hustle, save yourself a lot of aggravation and stay in the nine-to-five.

When times get tough, that passion for your job is going to help you continue to drive your career forward. You can clean off dirt on the outside of a sneaker and change the laces, but the sole needs to always be in tact.

So what do you think, did I miss anything out on my quest for an extreme metaphor? Let me know in a bit. For now, I’m off to buy some new Nikes.

Tom Braley is the senior copywriter and content creator for Thrive Software. They’re the brains behind Solo—a project management, time-tracking, and productivity app for creative freelancers. 

Image by Marcio Jose Sanchez
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