#BizTalk – Sick and the Freelance Makeup Artist

makeup to go blog sick and the freelance makeup artist

…first time for everything.
Admitted into the hospital for surgery 4/24/15

Sick and the freelance makeup artist

If you are a regular visitor of the Makeup to Go Blog or particularly if you follow me on Instagram and or Twitter, you know that I have been down temporarily and in fact was hospitalized due to a knee surgery. This is a first for me in my career. For me prior to this when I’ve talked about being sick, I was talking about I have a cold or maybe even a real bad flu and getting knocked out for a week at a time. Being sick at all as a freelancer is terrible because you’re just watching work and money walk out the door, and G-d forbid it should be a new client who’s never contacted you before! LawedT! But the reality is that even though people treat us like we are not, freelancers are human too and so therefore at some point in our lives we will get sick, possibly seriously so. Now that I’m on the other side of surgery and back on the mend, I’ve thought about what it takes to make it through episodes like this as a Freelancer. Here are my thoughts…

makeup to go blog sick and the freelance makeup artist

Here’s the thing:

– I was for real sick. I had no idea how sick I really was. This was no simple strained ligament situation. In addition to the time spent in the hospital, I had a 6-week at home course of treatment I had to complete during which I was not medically allowed to work.

– I could not have worked if I wanted to. Once I was discharged from the hospital and sent home I could not get out of bed for more than a few minutes at a time. The only way I could amble around was with a walker. I needed help getting into bed, getting food, taking my medicine, pretty much everything (except going to the restroom, thank G-d).

– I was discharged from the hospital on 4/28. It wasn’t until mid-June that I was beginning to walk with a cane. About a week later I could walk up and down limited stairs again. A week after that I could drive my stick shift car again.

– The illness aspect is completely gone and has been for a while Thank Heavens. I’m in physical therapy now and I am doing well, but still nowhere near where I was before I got sick in terms of walking, endurance and mobility.

So if surgery was at the end of April, and I couldn’t walk or drive really until the end of June, that sounds like that was over 8 weeks, doesn’t it? Why yes. Yes it was. And my work still isn’t done yet. I am still – as of 7/16/15 when I’m putting the final touches on this article so it can go up live tomorrow – walking on a cane and having weekly physical therapy. And I’m BEYOND GRATEFUL that my health is where it is now.

So what do you do when you get a complete smackdown that is out of your control?

Be it health, family, or what-have-you? Now that I am out of the weeds and looking back on my experience (instead of still being in the thick of things as I was when I first started this post), here are my real thoughts on surviving a major ordeal. And I’d love to hear from other people who have gone through this in the Comments. 🙂

Needless to say, the more planning you can do before you GET sick, the better off you will be. New & “teenage” artists tend not plan for any type of contingency and just do not give themselves enough of a margin of error. (By “teenage artist” I mean length of time in the makeup profession, not the artists actual age. See this article for an explanation). Anything can potentially happen at any time. You need to have savings. This is why you cannot work for $50 a face, this is why you cannot work for “exposure”, etc. etc. Obviously different people have different financial situations but even if you are in a two income situation, losing one of those incomes can really hurt. And then of course if you are the sole breadwinner responsible for your financial well being, losing income can really really hurt. In either case you do not want to leave life to chance. In my case not only did I lose income during this period, but I had additional medical expenses (mostly hella co-pay fees) in addition to my regular living expenses. Not fun.

In addition to a financial contingency plan, you need to have a contingency plan for your clients.

African-American Anthropologist and novelist Zora Neale Hurston once famously wrote “…all my skin folk ain’t my kinfolk.”, meaning just because someone looks like you it does not mean they are down for you. You cannot trust all makeup artists, not matter how nice they may seem online. People calling themselves makeup artists undercut, steal clients, and engage in all manner of unprofessional behavior all the time. Unfortunately for me, I had to refer several jobs to other artists as I clearly could not work myself. Fortunately, I have cultivated a solid makeup family where I do not have to worry about my generosity making me a patsy. Also, I do not want to refer a wack artist – skills wise or professionalism wise – to my clients. That makes ME look bad. It is nice to know that I can refer jobs without all level of mayhem breaking out. No matter what type of job you are talking about, it is vitally important to the reputation of your business to *never* leave a client hanging. If you were to get sick at a time when you have a 15 person bridal party booked, deposit already paid, etc., would you have a backup plan in place in order to serve your client? No? Time to get on that.

Most freelancers I know in the photographic/production industries have some of the WORST habits when it comes to self-care. Not just makeup artists, most everyone on that set. From skipping meals and late night eating (and drinking and all whatever else), to working nonstop without rest, etc. We are rewarded for our “grind”, but the only people we’re hurting is ourselves. I know of much worse health crises that have hit artists younger than myself (cancer, strokes, you name it). I am not the first Blog to bring up this very real problem within our Industry. What happened to me was acute, and a bit of a fluke. I was healthy and pain-free before this episode occurred, and I am once again healthy and largely pain-free after receiving excellent medical care.  But a lot of freelancers are wearing themselves down with harsh work-related lifestyle choices that will catch up one day. Get in a habit of self-care now.  OH and for heavens sake GET MEDICAL INSURANCE.   I’d surely be permanently disabled or DEAD (literally) if I didn’t have it.

So that’s the pre-planning. Once you are already sick…

You’ll heal up faster. As I said, when I first went down I had all these illusions of doing this that and the third. Once I realized this was all based on fantasy, I stopped trying to push through the illness and let it just run its course. My reality was – and to an extent still is – my energy level was diminished, I needed a LOT more rest, I could not physically do what I used to do and my thoughts were scrambled (thankfully, that last issue is no longer the case). There was absolutely no way I could do the things I was doing before my illness, no matter how badly I may have wanted to. This is extremely difficult for a freelancer because it is nearly impossible to disengage from your business without worrying about what is going to happen to your business. And that’s real, I had to turn down a lot of work over the weeks I was down. But it’s not like I could do anything about it, and worrying adds stress which delays healing.

Speaking of stress, nothing is more stressful than worrying about money which is why my #1 suggestion is to plan in advance. However, that doesn’t always happen and with things being as expensive as they are…

Quite frankly, even if you did have a contingency it just might not be enough to cover your need. In such cases, you might look into Crowdsourcing. For medical emergencies the crowd source of choice seems to be gofundme.com. If you search “medical crowdsourcing” you will see a few other options that are specific to medical donations. I do recommend finding something that’s specific because generic Crowdsourcing options like Kickstarter and Indiegogo and the like fund their own operations by taking part of the donations in a campaign. Whereas most of the medical crowdsourcing systems do not take their fees from the recipient of the campaign. Also Kickstarter if you don’t hit a specific target you don’t get **anything** whereas with gofundme you can specify a goal amount but the recipient will still receive whatever funds are raised. The variable for success or failure with this method is – of course – your crowd. If you have a crowd of good folks who have money and not just well wishes and intentions then it can be effective. Also if you can branch out to a larger net of people then it can be even more effective. Otherwise if your crowd is just ten broke friends who don’t know anyone else, that won’t get it done LOL

I did not know this existed until one of my doctors brought it up while I was still in the hospital. If you go on permanent disability, you cannot work again or you lose your disability benefits. Temporary benefits are just that: Temporary. Temporary Disability is designed to assist in short-term times of need. In addition to money, you may be able to get some of the other needed services such as temporary disabled parking permits, etc. NOW – I didn’t end up utilizing this. I am not sure what happened to my application, actually, but if you’ve ever been on Unemployment – particularly in California where I am – you know that they can have issues with Freelance workers. However if your state has a Temporary Disability program, it is worth looking into. Goodness knows I wish I had that temporary disabled parking placard!

Stay as active as you can on social media. To be clear, I’m not talking about playing Candy Crush and talking about nothing in makeup groups (OK I do still play Candy Crush). I am talking about taking advantage of a productive activity that you can do even when you are still bed-bound. If you follow me on Instagram (@tdrussellmua), you may have noticed that I posted #ThrowbackThursday and #FlashbackFriday images with a hashtag counting down how soon it would be until I returned (#BackInFourWeeks, #BackInTwoWeeks, etc.). I kept my Facebook page going and relevant, in the Facebook makeup groups I belong to I offered useful advice which often allowed me to unobtrusively mention my blog, on Twitter I tweeted other people’s content along with my own personal updates, etc. The types of jobs I do are not the kinds of jobs that hire artists directly off of a given social media platform (sometimes, but not often) but my social media strategy worked in the sense of keeping my name and work in circulation until I was ready to make my actual comeback.

At about the 6-week mark, when I was starting to feel better and some of my mobility was returning, I started to conceptualize my return to working and doing the things necessary to make that happen. I knew I needed to;
– collect any outstanding images I had
– update the designs/layouts on both my Blog and my Portfolio website
– do an email promo to existing clients
– do a promo blast to new clients
– start writing new blog content

and so on. Again, if you are ready, you do not have to get ready. Therefore I didn’t want to wait until I was physically ready to be working again to do all the prep work. I did not want to wait until the day before I planned to relaunch the Blog to start writing content. I did all that prep work in advance so that I could get work rolling back in once I was physically capable. Probably the most important item on that list was contacting my EXISTING clients. As I have said before, people who already know and like you are more likely to give you a call than a new client that needs time to cultivate. They are also more likely to make some concessions for you. On my first shoot back I needed to sit frequently. Whereas a new client who has not worked with me before might have been turned off by that request, this long time existing client knows me and my work and that I do very much pay attention on set. They kept a chair on set for me and it was all good.

To say it has been a wild few months doesn’t even really say it

…but I am officially back at work now. I can get all schmaltzy and philosophical here and maybe I will in a future post because this experience has definitely changed me as a person, which will of course ultimately affect me as an artist in ways that are likely yet to be seen. But this is #BizTalk so, for now, I’ll keep it strictly biz. How am I now? I’m great! I’m a bit slower work-wise than I probably would be had I not had to take time off, but because of Proper Prior Planning I am not in a desperate situation at all. I got to take all of the time off that I needed, and ease my way back into working at a pace that’s been comfortable for me. I have great upcoming personal projects and jobs and I cannot wait to share the fabulosity as it happens. The worst is now truly behind me, and I can resume planning and working towards my future. And I could not be more grateful for that.

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#BizTalk – Movin’ On Up

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Many of my BizTalk posts are geared towards those starting out in their careers, but this one is for folks in what I call the “Teenage Years”; The 3-6 year doldrums. I have witnessed and lived through this career phase and it seems to be a break point. It can either be an amazing time of growth and career transformation, or it can be easy to get stuck in a rut. I’ve been fortunate to have worked on very good projects throughout my career, but this phase almost took me out. I remember feeling SO stuck and SO lost and SO in need of some help and direction. Help came in unlikely places and “luck” manifested after some very hard work. Fortunately, I was able to go in the upwards/transformative direction ultimately signing with my first agent around this time. Are you feeling a little lost, alone and abandoned? Here are some tips to keep ya going and hopefully rise on up!

I put this first because this guides all the other suggestions to follow. You cannot get anywhere if you do not know where you are trying to go. When you are first starting out it makes sense to try everything and get as many experiences as you can so you can see what this industry is really like and what you really like to do. After a while, however, it is really in your best interest to start honing in on what it is SPECIFICALLY that you want to accomplish in your career and start doing it. Getting into the Union and becoming a Department Head of Makeup for feature films requires a completely different path from working Runway and becoming a lead artist for Runway shows. This is not to say that you can never do different things, but it is to say that you cannot do everything all at once. AND it is also to say that if you decide that you do want to completely change streams, that may require starting over again from scratch. Therefore it is beneficial to take some time to plan out what you want to do, where you want to go, and how you plan to get there.

Test Up Not Down(tm)
This is a phrase I coined a long time ago on a wayback makeup message board (which my phrase was wrongly attributed to the founder of that board and a bunch of other wrong folks. NOPE.
This is a Tania D. Russell original).

Basically what I’m saying is that EVERY TIME you test, you should be striving for better than what you’ve had before. And if you are not shooting with Tier 1 magazines all the time and turning your book over that way, you should be testing regularly. A lot of why people’s portfolios never move is because they’re basically doing the same thing over and over. And if you’re working in photography – or if you want to work in photography – if your portfolio doesn’t evolve, neither will your career. Period. ALSO check the folks you’re shooting with. If they are not evolving, it may be time to find some new people to work with.

Know a When to Fold ‘Em
There comes a point when you need to let certain types of jobs go because they are – quite frankly – beneath your station. Continuing to do them will not only not get you anywhere, but they may actually drag your value and cache down. I know out of Freelancers Fear, I personally kept doing headshots and model tests for far beyond their expiration date. Yes it was a little bit of money, but it wasn’t much else (not adding to my portfolio, not adding to my clients/resume, often not great working conditions, etc.) After a while you need to ask yourself,

If you’re doing such great other projects, why are you doing this little job?

Because trust me, other people are wondering the same thing.

Network, Network, Network!
And I do not mean Social Media. I know when I was in the doldrums, I spent too much time online on places such as the message board I just mentioned, the original incarnation of Model Mayhem, etc. Going to these places made me feel as though I was doing something when actually they served as a distraction from the real work I needed to be doing; meeting people in real life. I see it happening now on Facebook and the like. Social Media is great and it can be a great tool HOWEVER it is just a tool. Life still happens in real life, not all Virtual all the time. What broke me out of my rut was arranging meetings with any and everyone who would agree to meet me and look at my book. Eventually word of mouth kicked in, I started getting referrals for little gigs here and there, I met photographers, and the ball started rolling again.

Promote, Promote, Promote!
Unless your name is Pat McGrath (or Tom Pecheaux, Dick Page, Charlotte Tilbury, and the like), you cannot take it for granted that folks remember who you are. Once folks start working, it’s easy to get out of the habit of doing your promotions, particularly if you have a few regular clients who keep you busy. DO NOT FALL INTO THE TRAP. Keep your promotions up! Change can happen at any time and it may not be a change you want or like. The commercial production company you work with may merge with another company or close up shop entirely. The photographer you shoot with all the time may move. The staff who used to hire you regularly at the e-comm company were all laid off and the new folks do not know you and have their own crew they work with. And so on, and so on. All three of those scenarios have happened to me at least once. The onus is on you (or you in partnership with your agent if you are represented) to keep your name in circulation so that you do not have massive work droughts.

Keep Assisting
I would have loved to have had more of an opportunity to assist in my career, and in fact I’d still be open to it. I am slayed by the number of young artists – including a lot of my former students – who start working a little and think they’re above assisting now. Oh my young Padwan! What you do not know is a lot. Amongst the many reasons I can think of; There are certain types of jobs/clients that you will *never* get access to without assisting, since the marketplace is so glutted with “makeup artists” a lot of agencies will want to know who you’ve assisted, and these are still artists who’ve been in the biz longer than you and who have experienced and know more than you. Period. Humble yourself and you may learn something that can help take you to the next level.

makeup to go blog biz talk movin on up

#BizTalk: Gimmie A Break

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I’m not here now but I will be soon…

Welp, between the Affordable Care Act, the IRS and working on set, this week in Makeup to Go didn’t happen. I have some posts in the tank but they aren’t finished yet and I do not want to jack up some junk posts (an average post takes me about 4 hours to complete). I am shooting again today (night shoot. EEK!) and then I am taking my weekend 100% off. I might not even tweet. Sometimes ya just gotta scream “Gimmie a Break!”.

The importance of days off cannot be overstated for freelancers. I see in our makeup culture – which is really just a reflection of our larger culture – endless posts bragging about hustling, grinding, “I Love My Job”, not sleeping, haven’t had a day off in XX number of days, etc. It sounds sexy. We’re not lazy “artistes” hanging out in the local coffee house, we’re business people on our grind. I have totally done it. I cannot search, but I know I have a LOT of tweets with the hash tag “EverydayImHustlin” because – most times- it’s true. However, I’ve been a working freelancer for around 15ish years now. Freelancer burnout is real. I have seen a lot of people leave the profession in my time as a working makeup artist. Make no mistake there is ALWAYS something to do. I can think of about 20 things I really need to do over this weekend. But I’m not going to. I am going to do the top 5 today, go to my gig tonight, and then enjoy my weekend. The rest of my tasks will be there on Monday morning waiting for me, and I’ll be more refreshed and in a better mind-set to tackle them. When you are first building your career, yes it’s a true statement that you should do at least one thing to progress your career everyday. That said, you want to be balanced. Because the thing is – as all freelancers know – there really are times when you are booked out 2 or 3 weeks at a time when you really cannot do anything else. If you are not yet at that point in your career, its coming so be ready. When you do have precious time off, you have to take advantage. Spending time in the sun is just important as sending “one more email”. Having coffee with a friend is just as important as working on your website. In a business where YOU are your product, you do not want to present potential clients/customers with damaged goods. “Mental Health” days are an important part of keeping yourself whole, and being whole is integral to maintaining stamina and creativity as an artist. This weekend I’ll be judging a Easter Cake Bakeoff (I’m an avid baker in addition to doing makeup, and I have a little side-business TDRBakes), hitting the beach and enjoying the start of the NBA Playoffs. Some time on Sunday night I’ll finish off my articles for next week.

Let me use a trick from Marie Forleo and leave you with a potential “tweetable”: “There’s always something to do, but you don’t always have to do it all.” via @makeuptogo