If you’re the type of person who craves variety and enjoys a dynamic atmosphere, being a freelancer or “hired gun” seems like the perfect arrangement. Maybe you’ll be on an assignment at an advertising agency for a week or two, then immediately go to a gig in a corporate or in-house situation. It’s not for everyone, but that’s what you love about being a full-time freelancer: You’re never in the same situation twice. However, you’re always the “new kid,” and this can be a source of frustration. How do you figure out how to fit in to the company culture fast enough to create an environment conducive to doing your best work?

What we mean when we talk about company culture

Company culture is more than a set of rules in a handbook: It’s an outlook or a philosophy about the work, the employees, the lifestyle, and even the physical environment that usually trickles down from the top. In short, a company’s culture might be thought of as its personality.

For example, a company might be seen as relaxed and friendly if executives have open-door policies, they emphasize work/life balance, and employees of all levels are shown appreciation for their unique contributions and talents.

On the other hand, some companies have an unspoken rule that you have to be there before the boss gets in and you shouldn’t leave until after they are gone. You absolutely have to stick to the established way of doing things, and employees may even be required to keep their workspaces in a certain order.

And company culture isn’t always what you expect it to be. I worked in a ginormous, Fortune 50 company that was the very definition of corporate, but their in-house advertising department emphasized collaboration, flexible schedules, and jeans and flip-flops whenever. Conversely, plenty of advertising and design firms may have the foosball table and beer keg, but they’re still exceptionally rigid with policies and conduct. A company’s culture can significantly impact the overall satisfaction, efficiency, and effectiveness of its employees, so you’ve got to figure out the lay of the land pretty quickly.

First things first: Learn what you need to do your job effectively

As a freelancer, you’re expected to hit the ground running and work seamlessly with the team. Unfortunately, the regular employees are often in such a hurry that they aren’t always able to give you a proper download. As soon as your assignment starts (if not before), learn what you need to be efficient and effective in your job:

  • The names and roles of others you’ll be in contact with
  • If you should attend meetings/calls and in what capacity
  • If you’re a creative, if you’ll be responsible for presenting your own work and if you’ll receive feedback directly
  • The company’s workflow and process (e.g., how work is routed, who sees it and when?)

Being able to work quickly and independently is the first step to earning your co-workers’ trust, which can, in turn, break the ice and help you see more of what the company is all about.

Take some time to evaluate the lay of the land

Getting to know a company’s culture requires knowing when to be quiet and watch, and when to speak up and ask questions. If you’re unsure of how to act, err on the side of being overly formal (and that includes attire), at least at first. Hang back and try to fit in without seeming like you’re making too much effort to be one of the gang.

Just remember that the rules aren’t always the same for a freelancer. Even if the rest of the employees don’t start trickling in until 10 a.m. or take 90-minute lunches, don’t assume that you can, too. (Unless you literally can’t do any work without them, in which case, you should explain the situation to your on-site contact so you’re not burning hours.) Sometimes it can really suck because you may not get to take advantage of the perks that a normal employee would receive, such as free food, company outings, summer Fridays, access to the beer fridge, and all those other juicy extras. But it’s always better to ask than assume, unless you want the regular employees to shoot you eye-daggers for daring to think you can partake of their free Friday bagels and shmear.

When in doubt, your on-site contact or supervisor is your best resource for how to navigate the workplace.

Stay positive

Don’t allow yourself to get roped into drama, gossip, or petty squabbles. Keep your interactions with others positive.

One thing that I’ve experienced repeatedly as a freelancer is that the company’s most wretched and bitter employees will immediately seek you out. After all, the regular employees just don’t want to hear them complain anymore, and so these sad or angry people see the freelancer as a new pair of ears for their tirades (which are generally presented in the guise of, “Hey, I’m not sure if you knew this about the company, but …”). Don’t engage. Be courteous, but your easy out is that your time is the company’s money; you’d love to stay and chat, but you’ve got work you need to do.

Love the company culture or hate it, you won’t have long to deal with it.

Sadly, many times freelancers and hired guns are treated indifferently. You may not be able to change that, but if you want to get invited back, you should be seen as someone who blends in and is easy to work with. This is doubly important if you’re working with a recruiter, since you are a reflection on them, and they have the power to get you jobs.

But then, that’s what’s great about being a freelancer: If you decide a company or the company culture isn’t for you, you probably won’t have to be there long, anyway. It’s always nice to know that you can return if you want, but you can also quickly move onto the next gig and never look back.


Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.

If you’ve managed to score a full-time freelance job or several assignments that put you at 40+ hours a week, you’re doing a lot of things right! For many of us, that’s the dream: to get a decent paycheck and dependable, regular sources of income, but still have the freedom to travel, make our own schedules, and run our own businesses. (As well as have regular workday naps and wine for lunch!)

However, it isn’t as carefree as it appears to be. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes to maintain this lifestyle. What are the three key things you must do before you make the jump?

1. Keep your clients happy.

Whether you’re working with clients you’ve won yourself or through a staffing agency or recruiter, it’s vitally important to give them a sense of stability. Reassure your clients and colleagues that no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you’ll be able to meet all their deadlines and take calls and meetings at agreed-upon times. If you’re working in another time zone or even another hemisphere, it shouldn’t matter, just so long as you are regular, dependable, and able to complete everything on a schedule that you and your employer or client have already worked out.

The key to making all this happen is communication. If you have the liberty to establish your own hours, let your employers and their clients know, and tell them the best way and time to get in touch with you. It helps to be consistent — a must for those big corporate clients that tend to have regular and regimented schedules.

2. Take care of business.

As a full-time freelancer, you MUST think of yourself as a small-business owner. Even if you’re working enough hours at a staffing agency that they provide you with benefits like health insurance and vacation time, you still need to be proactive with your finances.

The conventional thinking around quitting a job to freelance is that you should have enough money saved to cover your essentials (rent, food, utilities, etc.) for three months. But many sources, including The Muse and New York magazine, recommend anywhere from six to 12 months. This will help give you some cushioning for when you’re waiting on those net-90 (UGHHHH) accounting departments to cut you a check, if you hit a lull with work, or you decide to take a vacation.

Even if you’re only just starting out as a freelancer, find a tax professional who specializes in working with creative staffers. They can give you guidance about the best way to prepare ahead of time for filing taxes and advise you about which expenses are tax deductible. A good tax professional can also recommend investment opportunities to help you reach both your immediate and long-term goals, since you won’t have a 401(k).

3. Market yourself.

As a freelancer, you’re probably already working harder than your FTE counterparts, since you have to invoice, do your own customer service and IT, and probably even order your own office supplies. Unfortunately, you can’t slack when it comes to marketing yourself. In fact, it’s even more important that you spend the extra time to stay top of mind with your clients and prospects, and sell the value of what you do.

Ultimately, how much time you spend marketing yourself depends on your goals. Do you want more clients? Do you want to have the same number of clients, but earn more money for what you’re already doing? Or do you want to climb the ladder, similar to the opportunities you’d be afforded if you were working a full-time job with an employer? You’ll need to compile all your advertising and marketing skills, and then be your own client.

If you’re actively prospecting for new clients, you may need to turn your job search in an integrated marketing campaign. But at the very least, you should have a complete LinkedIn profile, and try to engage with others in your field on the site. Include your website URL, then make sure your website has a way to capture leads. Start to build a list so when you do need to ramp up your efforts, you’ll have likely prospects in place.

Take a deep breath … you got this!

With a little careful planning, you can continue living the dream and being the envy of all your desk-jockey friends.

It really IS hard work. But think of it this way: How much is it worth to you to not only enjoy the freelance lifestyle, but know you’ll be able to take care of yourself for the rest of your life?


Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.

If you’re a freelancer who’s suddenly found yourself with a long gap between assignments, it can be tempting to pack a bag and hit the road. You can, but why not take your computer and engage in a few pursuits that will increase your merits in the eyes of potential employers? None of these extracurriculars requires huge time commitments, but what you get in return will make your efforts worth it.

Find volunteer opportunities

At a time when so many companies and executives are trying to distinguish themselves as good corporate citizens, this matters more than you think.

Nonprofits are hungry for skilled professionals who’ll volunteer their time and expertise in publicity, social media, grant writing, web design, photography, and corporate communications (i.e., the stuff you already do for a living). And unlike working at a professional advertising or marketing firm where you’re expected to already have certain skills, nonprofits are happy to give you some coaching so you can develop new skills.

When picking an organization to volunteer for, don’t just think about your career, think about what matters to you. Even if it has absolutely, positively nothing to do with advertising and marketing, it still matters to potential employers. According to one recent survey, company decision-makers were 82% more likely to choose a candidate with volunteer experience.

If you’re not sure of how or where to get started, check into Volunteer Match.

Offer your work pro bono

Donate your services to a company that needs them. If you were to approach your favorite mom-and-pop shop or local cause that has either no advertising and marketing or horrible advertising and marketing, chances are they’d love to have a pro help out. Even though you could be working with a small or nonexistent budget, you might end up creating some award-show-caliber work, like this amazing poop-joke-inspired campaign that probably never would have been green-lighted by a large, traditional agency.

You could also join up with Taproot, an organization that recruits and mobilizes entire advertising and marketing teams and hooks them up with worthy nonprofits. Sometimes the ask can be simple, such as recreating a flier or a direct mailer. But Taproot also works on huge, global issues with multifaceted campaigns that allow you to really sink your teeth in and make a difference. Generally, the organization appreciates that its members are working professionals, so the time commitment can be as few as five hours per week, and they even assemble virtual teams.

Build new skills

There’s always something new to learn in advertising and marketing, so take advantage of your downtime to acquire some knowledge or brush up on your skills. (And better still, get some shiny new bullets for your resume.)

If you work in art and design (or you want to), try skills-focused platforms like Lynda or Adobe. I’ve already raved about Coursera, the platform that offers real courses from top international colleges and universities. Udemy is a similar idea, but gives users the freedom to mix and match lessons to assemble their own custom course.

Learning another language may not immediately lead to increased job opportunities, but it’s one of those resume bullets that demonstrates your versatility and motivation.

Take your passion project to the next level

Having a meaningful pursuit outside of your job doesn’t just relieve stress, it makes you more creative and may protect your brain against the effects of aging. If you have a creative hobby you really love, figure out how to take it to the next level. If you enjoy baking, try making some instructional videos for YouTube, or put your creations on Instagram. If you like writing (preferably something besides ads!), set up a blog on WordPress. Use your phone to make a short film. Really put those right-brain skills to use!

Showcasing these side projects in a special section on your professional portfolio demonstrates how well-rounded you are. Even if you’re exploring an avenue that isn’t directly related to your professional skill set, it shows your ambition, creativity, and tenacity.

But you don’t have to do anything at all

Burnout is real, especially for recent grads and those in more junior roles. And often, freelancers are only called in at the last minute or when the workload balloons to the point where the normal staff can’t handle it anymore. It’s great if you have the initiative to put your extra free time to use, but if you need a breather, take one before jumping back on the merry-go-round.


Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.

Success in any industry (and in life) comes from being able to manage relationships and make connections with people who are different from you. And nowhere is that truer than in advertising and marketing — industries that tend to attract big and distinctive personalities.

Even though they’re dynamic industries filled with a diverse array of people, over time, you’ll notice you run into the same personality types over and over. Below are a few of the most challenging types of people, as well as how to handle them.

“My Way or the Highway”

Not saying it’s always the creative director, but there’s often a higher-up who rules with an iron fist. “Having strong ideas” doesn’t begin to describe this person, who frequently says things like, “I don’t want to micromanage you,” or “I’m eager to see what you come up with,” and then is only pleased if you’ve followed their orders to the letter. You often wonder why you’re being paid to do the work when this person would prefer to do it themselves, or just hire a production artist to execute their vision.

Where you’ll find them: This exacting personality type often works at the executive level — and it’s usually because they’re good at what they do (and of course, they know it).

How to deal: If this person is your boss, then yes, you should do it their way. But in addition to providing the expected/dictated solution, also try presenting what you think is the right approach. Back your ideas up with research and data (but don’t get too disappointed if they get shot down anyway). You may never be able to win this personality type over, but learn as much as you can from the situation, as it undoubtedly won’t be the last time you encounter someone like this.

The Drama Queen/King

You know the type I’m talking about: the one who is always freaking out about everything — a meeting getting moved up by an hour, a figure on a spreadsheet being wrong, the client having notes on the creative. Then, in addition to whatever low-grade turmoil that exists, they create more by reacting disproportionately, then get angry when they think they’re the only person taking the problem seriously.

Where you’ll find them: As a creative, it’s easy for me to point the finger and say, “It’s always account people,” but the reality is, they’re not limited to any one department. One of their redeeming qualities is that Drama Kings and Queens usually have amazing organization skills, and they’re generally prized by their managers for their follow-through and their ability to make stuff happen.

How to deal: Keep a respectful distance. Their anxiety is often contagious, and unless you can let it roll off your back, it will get under your skin. Be forthcoming and flexible, take them seriously, but refuse to get caught up in the chaos.

The Snake

Unfortunately, there are some terrible, lying, underhanded people who work in this industry. True story: A friend of a friend was interning at an ad agency you’ve probably heard of. She was an exceptionally bright woman in her early 20s, and she brought a unique perspective that impressed most of the creative team. The creative director, however, didn’t much care for her. Long story short, he dismissed her, but not before swiping a few of her ideas and then presenting them as his own to a huge client.

In addition to stealing ideas, The Snake may try and throw you under the bus, or leave you hanging after they’ve told you they’d help.

Where you’ll find them: Unfortunately, Snakes are everywhere. Besides being scary and unpredictable, they can have a demoralizing effect on their immediate colleagues.

How to deal: The best defense against The Snake is to create a paper trail and document your interactions with them. Counteract some of The Snake’s power by making allies with people who can vouch for your skills and generally provide you with an alibi.

The Cheerleader

Every agency or firm has a few: they’re those people who are the first to respond on a group email chain, or they’re sharing links themselves. This person probably talks in full-on business babble, and their speech is peppered with phrases like action items, taking this offline, platform-agnostic, and other words that make you wonder if you are working in the same business. Cheerleaders like playing by the rules, which can be extremely frustrating for those who are interested in groundbreaking creative or strategy.

Where you’ll find them: Many advertising and marketing professionals start out their careers in Cheerleader mode, so consequently, Cheerleaders tend to congregate in the junior and mid-level ranks.

How to deal: Cheerleaders are mostly harmless, and upper management and clients alike usually love them (which is why they make great allies). Stay on a Cheerleader’s good side by occasionally thanking them for sharing an article, or telling them how much you appreciate their enthusiasm.

The Introvert

In a profession that’s all about collaboration and camaraderie, the introvert stands out by going out of their way to avoid social interactions. They often appear disinterested (or pained) in meetings. They do great work, but they display no outward signs of wanting to be a team player.

Where you’ll find them: Introverts usually thrive in positions that don’t require a lot of one-on-one or direct client contact. They excel at work that requires focus, so you may find a lot of them in production, IT, and media. There’s also a pervasive and legitimate stereotype that many creatives tend toward introversion (though those who want to move up the ranks will need to adopt a more extroverted and open demeanor).

How to deal: Don’t let the quiet fool you. The Introvert probably has a headful of ideas even if they don’t look like they’re engaged, because they spend their time listening and not talking. Give Introverts their own space, and be friendly without being overbearing. The best compliment you can pay an Introvert is asking for their opinion and truly listening to their ideas.

Of course, these are just a few examples, and even these archetypes have variations. For example, it’s not uncommon for Snakes to also have the “My Way or the Highway” attitude. The longer you stay in the business, the more you’ll learn about coping and even thriving with these types of people. The best way to insulate yourself is to be good at your job, and good at leaving your job at the office when you go home!


Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.

On your resume, you only need to indicate the time frame you worked at a job. But often, those horribly redundant paper applications that even senior professionals have to fill out ask if you’ve ever been terminated from a job, so if you’ve been fired, it will probably come up during your interview. It’s tempting to sweep it under the rug, but your potential employer may contact previous employers to get the story, so it behooves you to be honest.

Fired vs. Being Laid Off

If your separation was due to a layoff, you shouldn’t be afraid of saying so. That’s just how the industry goes, and your interviewer probably understands. However, refrain from saying too much about the circumstances. You don’t want to appear as if you’re divulging sensitive or confidential information or look like you’re badmouthing your former bosses.

If, however, you were fired from a former job, it gets trickier. The good news is that you can still tell the truth in a way that keeps you in the running. Below are a few ways you might answer the question.

If you were fired because your work wasn’t meeting expectations:

“I really feel like I let my employer down. They have a reputation for producing terrific, innovative work, and I guess I didn’t understand exactly how high their standards were. I understand how important it is for a company like that to keep exceeding their clients’ expectations, and since being let go, I’ve taken steps to improve my own work, such as enrolling in a portfolio class and investing in online workshops.”

If you were fired for insubordination or because you were seen as a “problem child”:

“One of the many great things about working for the company was that they encouraged their employees to speak up and take ownership of their work. I’m the type of person who puts a lot of thought, effort and research into my opinions and positions, and I think it’s important to be able to articulate why you believe or support something. Unfortunately, I took it a little too far. I never meant to come across as being insubordinate or hard to work with, as I know how important it is to maintain good working relationships.”

If you were fired for not showing up, being drunk or under the influence, or other personal problems:

“I loved working at that company, but unfortunately, I was having some major challenges in my personal life. I let my issues get in the way of my performance and my professional life. Since being let go, I’ve been able to take a breather, seek professional help, and I’m in a much better place.”

If you were fired because you just couldn’t get along with key people, or a VP just didn’t like you (hey, it happens more than you might think):

“My former company was such a dynamic workplace, and they placed a premium on maintaining that company culture. Even though I work hard and it’s important to me to do my job to the best of my abilities, they thought I just didn’t fit the culture. I appreciate how important it is to fit in and be seen as team player, and this just wasn’t a good match.”

Rehearse it ahead of time and put it in your own words

The above are just examples of ways you might be able to address a firing, but they’re not the only ways to approach the answer. No matter how you decide to approach it, make sure your answer hits the right points: you’re sorry, you can accept responsibility for your situation, and you learned from the experience.

But once you figure out your answer, don’t waste any more energy worrying about it. Instead, spend time getting your portfolio in shape, preparing to engage and build a rapport with your interviewer, cementing a great first impression, and presenting the best version of your true self so an employer will realize that you’d be a great addition to both their workforce and their culture. Remember, interviewing can be unpleasant even in the best of situations, but the more you do it, the better you get. And before long, you won’t need to do it again!


Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.

There will come a time in your advertising or marketing career when you will think one of the following:

“I am sick and tired of working these long hours.”
“I am sick and tired of working for a total moron.”
“I am sick and tired of working these long hours just to make the total moron I work for rich.”

Whether it’s a craving to be in control of your life, your career, your finances, or your creative output, many of us daydream about striking out on our own and opening an agency. Yet very few of us know what it takes, and many more of us doubt we could make a go of it.

Joven Orozco thought he could, and so he did. His agency, Jovenville, has been around in one incarnation or another for more than 20 years. Today, his 10-person agency (give or take) counts blue-chip companies such as Mattel, the City of Santa Monica, and Disney as clients. Joven took the rare route of almost never working for someone else; instead, he knew, right out of college, that he wanted to have his own company.

(In full disclosure, I’ve freelanced for Joven for almost 10 years and I consider him a friend as well as a boss and a kick-butt creative director.)

I interviewed Joven about his experiences. Besides being food for thought for anyone who’s ever considered leaving the nest, he also reveals insights that can help freelancers get better at managing their own businesses.

Why did you decide to open your own agency so early in your career?
I figured, “If I fail, I can always get a job.” In 1995, the design industry was booming, and I had five separate job offers. I was planning on working in entertainment and living the Hollywood lifestyle, but instead, I came across an opportunity in Newport Beach that set me up as an independent contractor inside a design consultancy. The deal was: I would pay rent for a cubicle and they’d feed me work when they were over capacity or needed creative help. I was also able to bring in my own clients and utilize the space as I pleased. It truly was a beauty salon business model!

The design consultancy also offered me guidance on how to set up my firm, how to run it and deal with clients. The guys who ran it were about 10-15 years older than me, had many years of agency experience and decided to create an agency that was different. Not only did I learn more than I would have working many years in an agency, I learned anything is possible.

Were you ever scared that you might not make it?
Yes. There have been times when I’ve missed several mortgage payments. I can lose it all any day … even today. Fear is a good thing.

How did you go after new clients?
I’ve always done a lot of promotional campaigns for the agency. We’ve become more sophisticated with a fully integrated marketing effort to go after specific niche clients.

Positioning is everything. If you’re an expert in a space, there are people willing to work with you, even if you’re not in their region. Most generalist design firms become commodities and are priced out to the lowest bid.

Since you own your own agency, you aren’t just involved with the creative. What other “hats” do you wear to keep the doors open?
Vision hat: Determine the strategic direction of the business
Sales hat: Close new business
Strategy hat: Strategy for client brands
Leader hat: Encourage staff to grow and be better

What are the five most essential characteristics for anyone wanting to try something like this?
Risk-taker, risk-taker, risk-taker, risk-taker, risk-taker.
It takes a certain kind of entrepreneur who can take on certain levels of risks … I say risk-taker five times:

    1. Sometimes you have to walk away from unprofitable projects. That’s hard to handle.
    2. Sometimes you have to disagree with the client and convince them to go another direction from the approved scope of work.
    3. Sometimes you have to ask for more money at the risk of losing the client.
    4. Sometimes you have to reposition your firm because of a decline in your specialized industry.
    5. Sometimes you have to change the design direction the night before the client presentation.

What’s the best part of your job?
Freedom. I’ve been able to design a life/company that allows us to go home at 6 and not work weekends. We bring our experiences back into our work: It’s really tough to create when stressed out, so we, as a family, always help each other out. There’s plenty of good, profitable work out there, and if a client doesn’t appreciate what good design can do for their business, we just don’t work with them again. So basically … freedom to do whatever I want to do.

Are you up for the challenge?
If you want to open your own agency or business, it may require you to flex beyond your current skill set, but think of the payoff: being able to choose your own clients, make your own schedule (most of the time, anyway), and be in control of your life while doing the work you believe in.

To learn more about Jovenville and the type of work you can do when you open your own agency and call the shots, visit Jovenville.com.


Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.

You’ve probably been told that you should treat looking for a job as a job in itself — that is, approach it with the same degree of conviction, professionalism and tenacity as you would if you were getting paid for it. But you should also apply your best professional skills and acumen to turn your resume, portfolio and online presence into an integrated marketing campaign.

Instead of making random updates to your resume and thinking about your portfolio independently, treat them like they’re part of your integrated marketing campaign. Unlike the old days when a resume sent in to a “help wanted” ad was the only part of you a potential employer saw, there are now countless ways employers and recruiters might find you. It can range from Googling you and viewing your portfolio to downloading your resume from a job board to going down the “people also viewed” rabbit hole on LinkedIn. How can you create your own integrated marketing campaign to make each impression count even more?

Think synergy

Synergy is one of the most overused words in advertising or marketing, but it’s an important concept. By creating families of related things, the individual parts add up to something more than if you were simply creating one-offs. That’s the whole idea behind this: that your resume, your portfolio, your business card, your social media feed and even your invoices all look like they belong in the same family or are part of the same personal brand.

If you’re on the art side, this probably comes more naturally to you. But if you’re a copywriter, think about making sure your color palette, font choices/typography, and use of graphics or images align consistently.

Don’t get hung up on your brand being an expression of your personality.

When you’re developing your personal brand, don’t focus so much on the “personal” aspect. Obviously, you should find your own marketing materials attractive (since you’re probably going to look at them hundreds of times during your job search), but don’t get hung up on reflecting aspects of yourself like what a girly-girl you are, or that you’re into tech, or that everyone thinks you’d be a great comedian. You can give your visual identity a style, but make sure it complements your skills and aspirations.

Art directors, designers and illustrators are expected to have more flair in their creations, but avoid jokey or garish fonts. Be creative, but don’t give a hiring manager any reason to automatically dismiss you before you even get to the interview stage.

However, DO find a way to include some of those important points that make you, you. If your extracurriculars have even a shred of relevance to your career (e.g., you do improv, you run a fashion blog, you’re teaching yourself to code), find a way to include it. Increasingly, employers are looking at potential candidates for what they add to the company culture, and the more your resume can reflect your authentic self, the better.

Tailor your resume and your portfolio, too

If you’re like me, you probably have a million variations of your resume on your computer, each tailored to a slightly different opportunity. (Though I hope, unlike me, you come up with a system for naming them so you know exactly what you’re sending out.) But what about your portfolio?

Tailoring your portfolio can be more time intensive, but it will give your job search a boost by showing a would-be employer you have exactly the kind of skills and experience they’re looking for.

For example, if I’m pursuing a specific opportunity, such as going after a client in hospitality or tourism, or responding to an ad seeking an expert in branded content, I’ll create a page that showcases about eight to 10 relevant examples. (Portfolio templates on platforms like Squarespace make the exercise practically “drag and drop” so I’m done in an hour.) I also still provide a link to my portfolio, since that provides a more thorough review of my skills.

If you’re competent with InDesign, you can also set up a portfolio template, and then quickly switch in and out projects based on the job you’re applying for. The extra work that goes into either one of these solutions is worth it to better your odds, and employers will really appreciate your effort.

Boost your LinkedIn presence

Your social media presence matters in your job search. And chances are that LinkedIn is the first place potential employers will go. Make sure your LinkedIn summary syncs up with what you’re putting on your resume. Use either a professional headshot or a simple, appropriate photo — don’t break out your best Blue Steel; just look well put-together and like you’re at least making an effort. Include a link to your portfolio. Again, treat this like another aspect of a job, and make your actions on this platform strategic: share and comment on posts that are relevant to your ambitions, join a targeted group such as B2B Technology Marketing Community or Search Engine Land, and network with others in your industry. And never, ever, ever spam your contacts with, “Hey, can you help me get a job?”

Remember: It takes more than one TV commercial to make a sale

Just like a single billboard or banner ad is often not enough to get a consumer to pick up the phone, your own YOU campaign may require a few touches to get it to stick. This is especially true for freelancers who are marketing their services to new clients. Make sure each one of those touches works to support your job search or has been tailored for a specific opportunity or to highlight a particular skill set.

You also may need to tinker with your campaign to improve your results. When you make it to the interview stage, don’t be afraid to ask what appealed in your resume or portfolio. If you hear the same thing often enough, think about making similar changes throughout. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from professionals you trust, either. Keep at it, and before long, you’ll go from going through the motions to having a job!


Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.

Most advertising creatives are “big picture” kind of people, and there are probably a great many reasons we didn’t pursue careers in law or finance — which means very few of us take the time to read the contracts we sign, or to debate the merits of being a W2 employee versus being a 1099 independent contractor.

While neither sexy nor glamorous, the paperwork you do on that first day of your job can have an enormous impact on your career and on your finances. For example, the contract you sign may limit your job opportunities once you leave the company. And depending on which tax form you fill out, you could owe a lot more at the end of the year even though you may see more in your paycheck every week.

Below is a brief explanation of all the things you’re committing to when you sign an advertising contract or fill out a form for the IRS. Don’t stop learning here — do your own research so you can protect yourself and plan for your future.

What’s in a Typical Agency Contract

It’s nothing personal against you, but advertising contracts are put in place to guarantee that employees don’t run off with an agency’s clients or try to profit off work that was created with the agency’s resources. Whether you’re an independent contractor or a full-time employee, you may need to sign a contract before you begin work.

If you’re a good, conscientious employee, you won’t have much to worry about. But it’s still worth taking a few minutes to read through the contract, especially since you’re signing a document that may limit your opportunities once you leave the company.

Non-compete Clauses

You’ve worked on a particular account, probably become friendly with their brand manager and other executives, and know their business inside and out. What’s to keep you from leaving the agency, contacting the client on your own, and proposing to do work for them at a fraction of the price the agency charged them?

A non-compete clause, that’s what. These safeguards are written into most standard agency contracts. Should you leave the agency for any reason, it’s meant to prohibit you from reaching out to their clients (or really, any of the clients who are with the agency while you are) and proposing to do work for them. Depending on the specific wording, you may also be prohibited from going to another agency and then working with certain clients, usually for a specified time like one or two years.

Ownership of Designs, Inventions, and Work Product

That website that you worked so hard on for one of your clients — conceiving it, researching it, and writing all the content? That’s not actually yours. At least, not if you’ve signed a contract with a clause about ownership of design. This is basically saying that while you’re an employee, your employer owns all the creative output produced on the premises or created using the company’s resources. That means they own it, always and forever, without you receiving any additional compensation. This also applies to things you create that have nothing to do with the company, but do on company time or using company property.

Confidentiality Agreement

This language prohibits you from revealing protected or confidential information about either the agency or its clients. However, this one isn’t always as black and white as “working for Pepsi and then running to Coca-Cola to sell the secret formula.” Where many creative people run afoul of this is by including work-in-progress or internal communications in their portfolio. Both have the potential to reveal confidential information about a company, and as such, the advertising agency could step in and take legal action against you.

If you worked on a project that you want to include in your portfolio and you’re not sure if you’re on the right side of the agreement, your best bet is to discuss this with your creative director or another executive who understands both the company’s policies and how agreeable (or not) the client in question would be. You may be given a thumbs-up, providing you strip out identifying and confidential information, and then put it on a password-protected page. Or you may be flat-out denied, which is a bummer, but it’s better than being sued.

Filling out Forms for the IRS

At your new job, you will either be considered an employee, or if you’re a freelancer, an independent contractor. Your status will have a huge impact on your paycheck, as well as how you file your taxes at the end of the year.

If you’re an employee, you’ll receive a W2 form from your employer.

Prior to your employment, you’ll fill out a form that asks for information such as your address and Social Security number. You’ll also be able to claim allowances or dependents. If you’re a W2 employee, your employer will withhold applicable taxes (Social Security, state and federal income tax, Medicare tax) as well as payment for your benefits, such as medical, dental or transit. Basically, so much will be taken out of your paycheck that you will get sticker shock, but at least at the end of the year you will owe less in taxes and may even get money back.

If you’ve claimed allowances or dependents, you’ll have less taken out of every paycheck, but you could end up owing more at the end of the year.

If you’re a freelancer or independent contractor, then you’ll receive a 1099.

Even if you’re an independent contractor, you’ll still need to fill out tax forms. But when you get your paycheck, nothing will be deducted from it. For example, if you work 20 hours at a rate of $40 per hour, then your paycheck will be $800. Technically, you are not on the company’s payroll, and when you invoice your client, you’re seen as a vendor, no different than outsourced IT or repair services.
But you are responsible for paying not only state and federal income tax on these earnings, but also both your share and your employer’s (again, that’s you) share for Social Security and Medicare taxes. Currently that amounts to 15.3% on earnings of up to $127,200, and this is on top of all the other taxes. (But at least some portion of it’s tax-deductible.) Freelancer rates are often much higher compared to regular employees, and that’s to cover all these taxes and payments, along with the fact that outside contractors aren’t eligible for benefits.

Help is available!

If you have questions, ask your human resources professional or recruiter. It’s their job to translate all these concepts into simple language and explain the impact on your finances and your life.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, find a good tax professional ASAP! They can give you advice on all the little things you can do to keep more of your money at the end of the year.


Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.

The best way to consistently crank out “B-minus,” mediocre copy is to read nothing but ads and industry publications. Even the best ad copy is just a narrow window into the possibilities of language that should get your head exploding with ideas. For the creative who wants to become a better copywriter, these people can inspire you to get to the next level.

Malcolm Gladwell

You may not know his name, but you’ve probably heard the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to truly become a master of something, which Malcolm Gladwell wrote about at length in his 2008 book, “Outliers.” He’s a walking, breathing TED Talk: he’s brilliant, insightful, and ever in search of questions without answers.

Across books like “Outliers,” “Tipping Point,” “Blink,” and “David and Goliath,” his omnivorous intellect romps through questions like how fashion trends (and disease epidemics) get started, why the best Canadian hockey players are born in January and February, and how much information is the right amount and how much results in “analysis paralysis.”

A playful brain is probably one of the most important assets a copywriter can have, and you could do worse than trying to emulate Gladwell’s broad-ranging curiosity. Read Gladwell and then challenge yourself to “think different” before your next big creative assignment.

Allie Brosh

Allie Brosh was in school to become a scientist when she started Hyperbole and a Half, a comic and blog that explores the trials and tribulations of marching to the beat of a different drummer, as well as catalogues her struggles with mental illness. It is poignant, true to life, and spit-liquid-out-your-nose funny; usually all those things, at once. In 2013, AdAge lauded her as one of the 50 most influential creative figures in the world. Bill Gates is a fan.

She uses everything in her arsenal to tell a story and solve a problem creatively: Brosh is not a fine artist, but she adopted Paintbrush graphics to great effect. Even though her blog reaches millions, her stories make you feel like they were written especially for you. It’s not a cliché to say that the Brosh brand is strong.

Sadly, Brosh seems to have fallen off the map; Hyperbole and a Half has been dormant since 2013. It still lives online (and there’s also a book), and it’s an excellent resource for anyone needing a creative boost.

Stephen King

One of the things I love about Stephen King’s first few books is his utter devotion to spinning a good yarn. He works lean and mean, without getting bogged down in unnecessary subplots, yet he still manages to fully animate his characters and the worlds they live in. While maybe not everyone has the stomach for books like “The Shining,” “Cujo,” or “Carrie,” they show King at the height of his story-telling powers—and what is advertising, if not storytelling?

Another reason King is on the list: his nonfiction book “On Writing” is one of the most insightful books on the craft, combining interesting personal anecdotes with practical observations and advice for anyone who writes (yes, copywriters, too).

David Sedaris

If you’re an NPR nerd like me, then you’re probably already familiar with David Sedaris, whose quirky personal essays about topics such as family, being an American living abroad, and the merits of taxidermy as holiday gifts regularly grace the pages of The New Yorker. No one is better at finding humor in the mundane than Sedaris, who’s often referred to as this generation’s Mark Twain.

There’s a longstanding debate as to whether ads should be funny or not — especially because we’re in an era when emotional realness is the flavor of the day. By mining the relatable, the human, and the everyday, Sedaris creates humor that connects with the emotions.

Sedaris is easy to read, and The New Yorker archives are a good starting point for anyone who wants to get to know his work.

James Ellroy

You may already know James Ellroy as a screenwriter on the award-winning neo-noir film, “LA Confidential”, or as the author of the true crime opus, “Black Dahlia.” Ellroy’s enviable career had a nightmarish start: His mother’s grisly, unsolved murder started him on a path that first detoured into petty crimes and general antisocial behavior until he found redemption behind a typewriter.

What makes Ellroy a standout is his use of dialogue: It’s staccato and alive and creates a vivid portrait of the person speaking. Even if you removed everything but the dialogue, you’d understand the characters and have a rich, cohesive narrative. Still, he does not skimp on the details or action, writing prose that is both evocative and descriptive.

In advertising, we’re often told that we need to show, rather than tell. Ellroy uses words to paint graphic pictures and then further burnishes those images with his tone and pacing.

Just read it (and see it and listen to it)

Don’t stop with these five sources: One of the most important parts of becoming a better copywriter is constantly seeking out things that stoke your imagination and fire up the language center of your brain — it doesn’t need to be the written word! Keep challenging yourself to find not only the best culture, but anything that’s new and different.


Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.