Freelancer Lifeline is a resource destination where FX members can find grant opportunities, loan information, digital events, creative tools, and more. We hope it serves as a source of comfort, inspiration, and support as we navigate the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic together.

AI Is Another Technology We Must Embrace

I now have TikTok on my phone, and it’s all because of artificial intelligence (AI).

The connection is not as crazy as it sounds, because each tool is part of the communications revolution that is unfolding before our eyes. It was Burton Kelso who connected the dots during a recent lunch presentation for The Freelance Exchange (FX).

Kelso is a technology guru and the owner of a computer-service company. His main topic was AI, including ChatGPT.

But one of his main messages was that savvy freelancers and solopreneurs have no choice but to at least gain a working knowledge of all the new electronic tools that are out there— be they video apps, AI platforms, or social media sites like LinkedIn.

“Instead of saying, ‘Well, I don’t know anything about LinkedIn,’” Kelso said. “It’s your job to figure out how LinkedIn works, and especially how it can benefit your business.”

The same thing goes for AI, he said. We need to understand it so we can better serve our clients — and remain relevant. The challenge, as with any new technological innovation, is carving out the time to learn how to use it.

Kelso walked us through a dozen AI products, including Dall • E2, which creates art from a text description, and Jenni, a text tool that promises to “supercharge your next research paper” along with crafting blog posts, speeches, and more. He also introduced us to Murf, your new AI friend who makes “studio-quality voice overs in minutes.”

AI is not infallible. Products like ChatGPT generate copy with mistakes and falsehoods.

Yet, it’s hard to fathom that Dall • E2 does not pose a challenge to graphic artists or that Jenni or Murf do not threaten the livelihoods of writers or broadcast specialists. 

“People do business with people,” Kelso reassured his audience.

I agree, but in a recent conversation, one local nonprofit executive told me he uses ChatGPT to generate rough drafts of blog posts. He is smart enough to double-check the supposed facts the AI tool includes, and he also massages the text to make it sound more like him. Nevertheless, he considers it a huge timesaver and did not dispute my assertion that AI could eat into my business. 

Humans can produce better material, but I can certainly envision a cost-conscious manager slashing a freelance budget or eliminating a position when AI can generate something that is adequate.

Part of me says, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” There’s nothing stopping me from using AI to draft narratives. I could be more efficient for my clients and free up time for other things.

But I don’t want to do that. I like the creative process. It’s why I have stuck with journalism and writing for so long.

I hope that’s not a step down the road to professional extinction, but with all the advances of AI, it’s hard not to worry.

From my many years in newspapers, I know what a fatal mistake it can be to misjudge the threat of a new communications technology. The internet was a long way toward destroying our business model before industry executives started fighting back. But by then, it was too little, too late.

So, I will heed Kelso’s advice. I pledge to dig into some of these AI platforms — and I might kill two birds with one stone by posting about my experiences on LinkedIn!

Also, on my list is gaining some proficiency with TikTok, but the app has already paid some personal dividends. Our 13-year-old son smiled when I told him I had downloaded it, and then he took a little bit of time to give dear old dad a quick tutorial.

Guest blogger: Mike Sherry is the principal of OnPoint Communications, which specializes in storytelling for nonprofits. With more than 30 years of print and online journalism experience, Mike produces narratives that drive fund development and marketing success. His cost-effective approach ensures that his content serves many purposes, including copy for e-newsletters, grant applications, gratitude reports, websites, and more.

Media Planning and Buying 101

What is media planning and buying?

I’ve been asked that question more times than I care to count during the past 20 years. The easiest way to describe media planning and buying is by saying, “It’s discovering where the people you want to target will be and then buying space or time.” Sounds simple, right?

Let me break it down a little further.

In media planning, you locate the intended audience by studying habits, demographics, and other characteristics.

Don’t worry, there are resource guides to help you find all this information. Examples include Comscore, SRDS, Nielsen, Quantcast and many more. All those tools analyze behaviors that range from TV viewership to social media preferences, app downloads, and even favorite restaurants. So if you want to find women ages 25-54 who eat healthy, you would know where to find this audience, whether it was nationally, regionally or locally.

Media buying is where you purchase the space or time to reach your target audience.

It could be on the tops of cabs, sides of buses, or on TV or radio. The ad space or time slot allows you to reach people at optimum times, such as between 6 and 7 in the morning or Tuesday thru Thursday, if you are buying ad space on broadcast or the internet. Maybe there’s a new restaurant or theater you want to promote, so you might consider advertising on a bus, billboard, or some other place outside of the home. Your vendor will tell you how many people you reached and how many times you reached them.

When media planning and buying work together, you find the right media mix that best hits your target audience.

Once you’ve found the perfect space or time to purchase, you’ll want to complement the media with the right creative element. You can buy media all day long, but if the creative isn’t good and geared towards your target audience, no one will care.

For example, advertising Louboutin in Sports Illustrated makes no sense. But if you are marketing Nikes, that’s a different story. The opposite applies as well: You can have the best creative imaginable … but if no one sees it, what was the point in creating it!?

Advertising campaigns often overlook media buying and planning, just like Star Wars viewers might under appreciate Chewbacca. The loyal Wookie was an asset no matter what the circumstances … just like media planning and buying is integral to any advertising campaign. 

Even if you aren’t sure you completely understand media planning and buying, you can at least appreciate how it works!

Guest blogger, Kelly Dobyns Ziegler, has been buying media for over 20 years. She has worked in small, medium and large agencies in the Kansas City area. In 2021, Kelly started her own solopreneur career at Numerical Tree. She started her company on the principal that understanding and utilizing data is the smartest way to grow any business. Find out what works and build on it. When data leads, growth ultimately follows.

FX is Now Celebrating 20 Years!

January 2023 marked 20 years for The Freelance Exchange of Kansas City.

Twenty years of helping advertising and marketing freelancers in the KC region and beyond. Twenty years of serving as KC’s premier, free, and easy-to-use resource to find freelance talent.

So, how did FX come to be?

Here’s the story as told by our Founder, Julie Cortés:

“It all started on a whim. I’d been very active and serving on the board of a large industry organization. When my term came to an end, I wondered what was next.

I looked around at the existing professional clubs in town and wondered why no one had anything specifically for freelancers … no discounted rates for membership or events, no programming directed at the self-employed, no nothing.

Even though I’d made these requests while active in the one organization, no one seemed to care. Yet, I knew there was a huge need for it.

So, I decided to do something about it.

I was familiar with an effort that local industry headhunter, Don Dye (may he rest in peace), had spearheaded previously, getting a small group of freelancers together for lunch on a regular basis. I also knew that, at that point in time, he’d had to hang up his hat in doing that when he went to take a full-time job.

Not wanting to step on toes, I called him up to see if I could resurrect the idea. “You have at it, kid!” he told me.

And so I did.

I opened up my Rolodex and industry club roster, and emailed roughly 50 freelancers, asking to get together. In January of 2003, we met at McCoy’s in Westport where about 20 people showed up.

Everyone seemed to love the idea of a community just for freelancers. Ideas were running rampant. “You should do monthly luncheons!” “You should have a freelance directory!” “You should have a ‘company’ holiday party!”

The energy was inspiring. Yet I knew I couldn’t do it alone.

I asked for volunteers and was able to quickly form a board of directors. We got to work and wrote bylaws, club policies, developed a brand, planned programs, and determined membership levels and pricing.

Within six months we were up and running as an official not-for-profit 501(c)6 industry organization and, just a couple months after that, we’d already surpassed 100 members!”

Things just took off from there. FX hosted its first Portfolio Showcase that next year, produced a printed and digital membership directory, and held plenty of monthly educational and social events. Throughout the years, it’s hosted award shows, participated in philanthropy efforts, and helped plan holiday parties with other local industry clubs.

The club was founded on a mission of offering continuing education and community for advertising/marketing freelancers, while also serving as a resource to make it easy for ad agencies and businesses alike to find freelance talent they needed.

That mission continues to this day as we continue to find innovative ways to inspire, motivate, and gather. In addition to our monthly luncheons and social meetups, we continue the tradition of the Portfolio Showcase and joint holiday party, while additionally offering a Freelance Bootcamp and other educational, networking, outreach, and promotional opportunities. 

We are forever grateful to the volunteers who’ve helped us achieve this big milestone, the sponsors and associate members who’ve helped fund our efforts, and the hundreds, if not thousands, of freelancers who’ve come through our doors throughout the years.

As we look back and reflect on the successes of FX throughout the last 20 years, we can’t help but be excited for what the next 20 have in store.

Not a member? Join today. Need a freelancer? Find freelance talent here.

Want to get involved? Attend an upcoming event or volunteer.

Stay up-to-date with all things FX. Follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter or sign up for our email newsletter.

FX is Proud to Support the Freelancers Union

It was a pivotal moment in early January: literally freelancers supporting freelancers. The Freelance Exchange (FX) of Kansas City presented a significant donation to the Freelancers Union in New York City. With a large Publisher’s Clearinghouse-type check, our member-at-large, Jeremy Lips, hand-delivered this surprise in person. You may have seen the picture or video on social media.

What is the Freelancers Union?

Freelancers Union is the largest organization representing the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. workforce: independent workers. It offers a powerful support system and voice through policy advocacy, benefits, resources, and community. Its goal is to secure a better future for freelancers as a whole.

Since it was founded in 1995, the organization has:

  • provided high-quality, affordable, and portable health insurance
  • advocated for new healthcare models for the self-employed
  • fought for and won protections for freelance workers
  • enacted the Freelance Isn’t Free legislation, giving freelancers protections from nonpayment. 

How is FX Working with Freelancers Union?

In the spring of 2022, our founder and president, Julie Cortés, was invited to speak at and sit on a panel at a regional conference in western New York. Sitting alongside her on the panel was Freelancers Union’s president and executive director Rafael Espinal. Since meeting, the two have been Zooming regularly to discuss the different ways FX and the Union can work together. 

As it’s always been a dream to take FX national, this seemed like a good place to start. If you look around, you’ll see that other industry-related organizations such as Ad Club, AIGA, PRSA, BMA, Social Media Club, etc., all have a national presence … chapters in other cities as well as a national umbrella for club management and national benefits. There are no national professional organizations just for freelancers. Now celebrating our 20-year anniversary, and knowing we’ve got a successful business model, what better time than the present to see this dream come true? 

The second part of this partnership is to introduce and help pass the Freelance Isn’t Free (FIF) Law here in Kansas City, if not statewide in Missouri and Kansas as well. This groundbreaking law is designed to protect freelancers from nonpayment. How many of you have received late payments from clients … or no payments at all? Unfortunately, it happens all too often. This is exactly what the legislation aims to combat. 

This law would apply to both sole proprietors and those incorporated as either an independent LLC, S-Corp, or C-Corp. Since its inception in 2017, FIF has passed already in New York City, Minneapolis, and Seattle. Los Angeles is currently under review. While a national law would be ideal, these baby steps will help move us toward that pie in the sky. Our goal is to bring it to the Midwest to help protect freelancers here, as well as to set an example and encourage those in other smaller to midsize cities to do the same. To learn more, visit the law’s plain language guide here.

Couldn’t We Do This on Our Own?

We could, but why reinvent the wheel? 

Freelancers Union has the national connections to help us reach our goal of taking FX national. While the concept ought to be easily replicated in other cities, the problem lies in finding the movers and shakers (the volunteers) in those other cities to run the organization. Between its national (free) membership and community events, Freelancers Union has those connections

Additionally, Freelancers Union has literally written the playbook and put together the toolkit to help introduce, advocate, and pass the Freelance Isn’t Free law. They’ve already been helping us in identifying and contacting the appropriate local representatives and have provided guidance with the language of the proposed Law for the Missouri state legislature. 

This donation was approved unanimously amongst The Freelance Exchange Board, as we feel it will help strengthen our bond with the Freelancers Union, show a vested interest, and help us continue to give back to the freelance community. 

We are excited for what the future holds and cannot wait to see our dreams come to fruition!

If you have any questions or want to get involved with any of these efforts, please contact us. If you’d like to make a donation as well to the Freelancers Union, you can do that here

Freelance Web Designers and Developers Enter Field from Other Professions

Isn’t it interesting how skills developed in one field ultimately redirect you into a vastly different career? Some of The Freelance Exchange’s web designers and developers are prime examples of this phenomenon.

For instance, Brian White started building up expertise to support his skate company. After teaching himself logo design, White screen printed shirts, hats, and other clothes in his garage to sell around town. He got into web design and development so he could sell his wares online.

“I learned the basics and built a new site for my company every six months,” he wrote in response to a questionnaire we sent to all of FX’s web design and development members. “This taught me the skills to … do outside business, and I started making websites for other companies.”

The road to becoming a freelance web designer and developer began for Sarah Humphrey when she worked as an urban planning consultant.

Her company needed someone to create websites that supported its projects. She embraced the opportunity because it played to her strengths of writing and organizing information, and because it combined creativity with technical skills.

It was certainly not lost on her that she was also mastering high-demand skills.

But LuLu Cao might win the prize for the most unconventional path into freelance web design and development. With a master’s degree in philosophy from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Cao has taught college-level courses in her field.

The pivot to a full-stack developer seems like less of a leap when Cao explains her interest in philosophy, a passion she would pursue full time were it not for the real-world concerns of finance and employment. Philosophy, Cao wrote, cultivates critical thinking and challenges beliefs.

“It’s the most useful discipline in developing one’s knowledge and wisdom,” she wrote.

That sure sounds like a good underpinning for work as a freelance web designer and developer.

The field of web design and development has certainly changed through the years.

Our respondents noted a lot more drag-and-drop functions, the proliferation of do-it-yourself options, the emergence of mobile apps, and the explosion of e-commerce.

But don’t be fooled, they said.

The work is not easy and freelance web designers and developers are not interchangeable.

Doing the work right takes skill and patience, Humphrey wrote. She advised web freelancers to use all the free and low-cost tools available online to learn new skills.

One of the most common misperceptions of the field, White wrote, is that the work is easy and anyone can do it. “There are things in this field that literally take five-plus years to learn.”

As Humphrey and Cao demonstrate, web work is not just a guy thing. That is a misguided belief that Cao would like to put to rest.

“I know many excellent female programmers who have expressed tremendous enthusiasm and shown great talents in coding, learning to code, and solving coding challenges,” she wrote.

Yet as technical as the skills are, succeeding as a freelance web designer and developer still requires old-school concepts of customer service and perseverance.

Think small steps and be consistent, White advised, and don’t think success will come overnight. Earning five-star reviews and referrals are the way to go.

“When people are ‘behind’ you, they will drop your name to others and the work will roll in,” he wrote. “This is the best way to build a business and takes time.”

Humphrey also noted that, while it’s important to stay up on the technological changes in the field, it’s just as important to keep the client’s needs in mind.

Remember, she wrote, “clients usually need one good solution for their digital marketing needs — they are more interested in making sure it achieves their marketing objectives than knowing it is the absolute newest way of doing something.”

The FX of KC is for Freelancers, Contractors, Consultants and whatever else you call yourself. There’s a place for you here! Want to learn more about FX of KC