“A Fond Farewell to the Free(lance) Life” By Zaar Taha

By The Minneapolis Egotist / /

By Zaar Taha | Partner at We Creative | wecreativepartners.com

A lot has gone down since I last wrote one of these. (How’s that for the understatement of the century?) But no need for me to dive into politics or pandemics here — I like to think of this as a safe space or perhaps even an escape for anyone who actually reads it. Instead I’ll just say that I hope everyone is staying safe and sane, and that for those who’ve lost loved ones, you have my deepest sympathies and I pray their memories live on in your hearts.

Please understand that I say what I’m about to say with the utmost humility and an endless amount of gratitude: things have gone pretty okay for me professionally during these otherwise trying times. Sure, I’ve put in the hard work, fostered many relationships over the years, and been the beneficiary of some ridiculous luck. But with eyes wide open, I also fully acknowledge the many advantages I’ve had in my life.

So, about this farewell to freelance. It’s actually long overdue. But with everything that’s unfolded over the past year, it seemed awfully petty to be writing about my career. And if you believe it’s still petty, please please please stop reading now. No hard feelings here.

The short story is, I hung up my freelance writer shoes (you know, the black leather Cons with the zippers) and teamed up with a good friend and great designer to start a mini agency all our own. We named it We Creative, as in Me + He + You = We.

Here’s the long-ish story.

Back in the summer of 2011, I left BBDO for an Associate Creative Director position at design juggernaut FAME, trading one window office in the Minneapolis skyline for another. In my first week, my calendar was brimming with meetings with other agency leaders. One such meet-and-greet was with Creative Director, Eric Weiss. It’s funny, I always recall our first encounter as somewhat unnecessarily contentious — like I’d taken a wrong turn and ended up in the lion’s den. But with time and further observation, I found Eric to be a fair leader, willing teacher and a ferociously passionate creative. Oh, and someone I would soon call my good friend.

Fast forward to the summer of 2013. Riley Hayes Advertising was in the market for new creative leadership. To me, it looked like an exciting opportunity to take the reins of a department and put all my years of agency experience to the test. I just didn’t want to go without my pal and partner, Eric. (That, and I was terrified I’d fail miserably on my own.) So instead, we pitched ourselves as a leadership team, and before we knew it, we were embarking on an adventure I’d only ever dreamed about (and dreaded).

The more closely I worked with Eric, the more we bickered and pushed one another, the more I felt he was my true complement. (Can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to convince him that the opposite was also true. I keed, I keed.) In fact, we often entertained the idea of starting our own agency someday, and truth be told, I’d never considered such a harebrained scheme with anyone else. After all, throughout our five-year stint at the agency, we built a team of talented creatives, earned the trust of clients, and helped win new business along with industry awards. It was all the proof we needed to know we could do it all for ourselves. This wouldn’t be our final stop. There was so much more to come.

After leaving Riley Hayes, Eric and I kept in close touch, working together on small projects whenever possible, often meeting up at the Caribou between our houses. With both of us now free agents, you’d think it would’ve been the perfect time to dive headfirst into starting our own shop. But with more bills piling up than potential clients, we dutifully put the dream on hold to take care of our own responsibilities. Eric would work independently with a couple of clients and I would go the way of the wild. It was such a rare and extraordinary time, a ride I’m so glad I took, all documented in previous jottings of The Free(lance) Life. 

I really did savor my freelance days, helping out great agencies like Fast Horse, Colle McVoy, Latitude, Friends & Neighbors, among others. I always felt welcome and wanted. But it just wasn’t the same. Something was missing. People knew who I was, but they didn’t really know me. So often I’d find myself floating on an open sea, rudderless, when I was so used to having my feet planted firmly on solid ground.

That watery, in-limbo feeling didn’t come to an end until the start of 2020.

Through one of our many great relationships, Eric and I were invited in for a chat with a growing, locally based health guidance group. What started out as an introductory meeting quickly turned into meaningful project work — a lot of it. Then, just one month later, we were recommended to an established Southern Minnesota rancher who was looking to bring his new American Wagyu beef product to market.

The open sea parted. Solid ground emerged. Our little agency took its first breath. 

I guess you just never know how these things might come to be. For some, it’s a carefully plotted, step-by-step endeavor that starts with a business plan and at least one SWOT analysis. For me, head still spinning, it felt like it just kind of… happened.

Today, just as it was at the start, We Creative is still just two dudes with Macs and home office write offs. Our clients always know they’re getting the A team because 1) we don’t have a staff so there is no B team and 2) we have no interest in ever hiring B-level talent. Out of necessity, we’ve been diligently working to hone our account management, project management and business development skills (oh my!). We’ve sought out partnerships with printers, developers and media experts. And we’ve been preparing ourselves to welcome the many growing pains ahead.

To date, we’ve been blessed with some of the most amazingly diverse client partnerships, emphasis on partnerships. If you’ve ever been in the business, you know this isn’t always the case — setting the wrong precedent can often lead to the dreaded client-vendor relationship. Turns out, when you don’t act like a vendor, you’ve got a heckuva lot better chance of not being treated like one. Or maybe it’s just more of that ridiculous luck.

Over the past several months, we’ve had the pleasure of working on an important initiative for a trusted cab company. We’ve helped rebrand a recognized leader in polyurethane products. We’ve recently announced new branding for an innovator in plant-based technologies. We’re nearing an important launch date with our friends down at the ranch. And we continue to be very active both strategically and creatively with the health guidance pros. Without exception, in each of these successes, true partnership has been the main ingredient. Me + He + You = We.

So as I bid my fond farewell to the wild ways of the freelance life, I hope you’ll join me, my good friend Eric and We on our new, perhaps even wilder adventure. You can follow all of We Creative’s work, thoughts and growing pains on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.


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