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The best things in life are freelance: Bill Kanapaux. Photo by Chris Shields

My Boss, Myself
By John Rodat

Life as a freelancer means never having to punch in— and more often than not, never punching out

Great business opportunity! Work from home! Be your own boss! We’ve all had such thoughts. Stuck in traffic at 8:50 AM, or cramped in our Dilbert-lined cubicles, we’ve all toyed with the idea of finally getting out from under the Man and really taking charge of our professional lives. Then we’ve quailed at the thought of the loss of stability and the benefits and the paid two-week vacation and the very predictability we curse, and we’ve poured ourselves another cup of scorched coffee and clicked a spreadsheet up over our Outlook Express screen and greeted the supervisor with a smile.

Most of us will never actually be our own bosses, and most of us will never, therefore, have an accurate idea what the freelance life entails. Despite TV ads showing jeans-clad entrepreneurs typing away blissfully on their WiFi-laptop rigs, sitting at the end of a mist-shrouded pier or cross-legged in a porch swing, we all know it’s probably not that easy.

“Oh yeah, I’d pull all-nighters,” says Bill Kanapaux, a freelance journalist and Metroland contributor, describing his first foray into the work-at-home world. “Or I would wake up at 5 or 6 in the morning and just go immediately to my computer—I’m still like that. Depending on my mood, I’ll work late into the night, or I’ll wake at 4 and start working.”

Before fully embracing freelance, Kanapaux waded in by working full-time out of his home. He left his office-based gig as a copy editor for a daily newspaper in Providence, R.I., for a position as managing editor of a nationally distributed mental-health newsletter for which he had already been working. Though the newsletter was also based in Providence, Kanapaux and his wife were in the process of moving to Chicago, where she had landed a job. Eager to keep him aboard, the publisher agreed that Kanpaux would become the firm’s first full-time telecommuter. Kanapaux accepted the deal and ran the operation out of an office in his Windy City apartment, relying on the phone, fax and computer—and deadline stress—to get the weekly out.

“In some ways it was a difficult transition,” he recalls. “I still had a lot of support from the staff, but there was no one looking over my shoulder all day. So, the discipline had to be built in. There’s no external motivation, except the deadline—and the deadline doesn’t come until the end of the week. If you’ve wasted a day, you pay the price at the end of the week—but there’s nobody there to remind you of that.”

Though the absence of the looming, expectant specter over the shoulder may sound like a blessing, Kanapaux says the camaraderie and interaction of his days at the daily were, in fact, great perks: “The biggest thing I missed was not being able to walk down the hall and talk to somebody about stories I was working on. Because I’ve always been big on that, the ability to talk with an editor. It’s a way of thinking something through.”

Lest your daydreams be completely dashed, Kanapaux says that the flexible schedule did have its bonus moments: “I used to go to Wednesday afternoon games at Wrigley field; Cubs games start at 2. You could never get away with that if you’re in a regular office—people would hate you. But, you know, as long as your work’s done.”

Maintaining the balance of professional and private life as a telecommuter or when self-employed is a real trick—and often, the scales tip toward the former. The omnipresence of the office means, for many, a nearly endless workday.

After being laid off from his job as creative director for a Manchester, N.H.-based ad firm, Josh Weinstein began freelancing by force of necessity. Some six months later, he found that he had generated enough work to implement a long-held business plan for a cooperative of creative professionals, named—aptly enough—the Creative Co-op.

“My business model is such that I make it clear that there’s one person here, but one of the benefits is that I partner with other professionals and bring in the right person for the job,” Weinstein explains. “If you hire an agency, you get whomever they have in house. Another benefit is that I work more collaboratively with the client. So, it’s a cooperative effort.”

Even so, he says, when it comes right down to it, the Creative Co-op is his baby, and Weinstein is insistent that he will never make excuses to a client based on the smallness of his operation: “I’m never going to say, ‘Oh, this would have been in sooner but it’s only me here.’ Never.”

That buck-stops-here mentality can make for very long hours.

“It’s funny,” he says. “I have a friend who’s a freelancer, and when I went out on my own, we were like, ‘This is great! We’re going to be able to play golf every Friday afternoon, and we can go fishing’—I think we did that once. I had a boat that I used more when I was at the agency. I sold it, not for money reasons, but because I only used it twice all summer.”

When asked how a freelancer can manage to maintain a thriving business and client base and still preserve a quality of life in the face of an unending supply of possible work (or, for the less fortunate, an unending need to obtain work), Weinstein laughs, “I don’t know.”

“I’m trying to get my hobbies back,” he says. “I think you have to consciously close the door and step away: ‘OK, I’m leaving work now.’ But my problem is, if I’m bored around the house, I’ll just go to work, because there’s always something to do.”

Weinstein and Kanapaux both agree that the relationship between the increased control and flexibility of the freelance life and its attendant increased demands and responsibilities is a fundamental tension of the practice—a tension each deals with as a daily aspect of his job.

In addition, Weinstein points out, there’s the strange void created when you step outside a defined hierarchy. “It’s something that I think about now that I’ve got the day-to-day stuff in place,” he says. “What’s the ultimate goal? I mean, I can’t get a promotion. I can’t be made a partner. My name’s already on the door.”

Faced with the prospect of a return to full-time salaried servitude, however, each says they intend to hold fast.

“It’s like being a feral cat,” says Kanapaux. “Once you go feral, it’s hard to go back.”


Early to rise: Yannig Tanguy of Crown Point Bread Company.Photo by Teri Currie

Not By Bread Alone
By Kate Sipher

Area producers find a new outlet for their wares at the Troy Winter Farmers’ Market

Donna Mullen was at a crossroads. She was expecting her first child and looking for ways to stay at home and raise her baby, as well as boost her family’s income. Mullen lives on a farm in Gansevoort (“10 miles from anywhere,” as she puts it), and it struck her while pondering the future that she needed to make the farm more economical—“more cost-effective,” she says.

Her solution came in the form of the Troy Waterfront Farmers’ Market, which made its debut in 2000, around the same time Mullen’s desire for change kicked in. She was among that market’s first vendors. “I didn’t want to do the 9-to-5 thing anymore,” she remembers, “and this would give me an option to open up some other marketing avenues.”

Farmers’ markets aren’t new—they exist all over the place in the summer, and vary widely in products, quality and quantity. The Troy Waterfront Farmers’ Market, which happens on summer Saturdays along the Hudson, is a unique bird in the farmers’-market realm in that it’s a producer-only market, which means the products must be made, grown and raised locally. Produce must be grown by the vendors; meat must be raised by the vendors; bread must be baked by the vendors; crafts must be handmade—you get the picture. And those are the people you see behind the tables.

But the hardworking volunteers and vendors of that market have taken it one step further: They’ve made their market year-round—a rare feat and a difficult one to pull off for a market consisting of locally produced wares.

The winter market, which takes place a couple of blocks from the summer location in the Uncle Sam Atrium on Broadway and 3rd Street, evolved from a desire for a continued season. A few vendors, volunteers and members of the board spearheaded the effort.

“Once we knew that there was interest on the consumer’s end, we went around and tried to find farmers interested in supplying products for this time of year,” says Mullen.

For example, the winter’s event isn’t overflowing with green, leafy vegetables, and ripe, succulent fruits. The vegetables are likely to be of the root variety—carrots, onions, etc.—and the fruit is likely to be within jelly. “You’re going to have really gourmet sausages and cheeses and fancy desserts,” Mullen says. “More comfort foods. If you have to bear the winter up here in the Northeast, you might as well feel comfortable and full.”

The search for vendors turned out to be more fruitful than expected, since, as Mullen notes, it was a real crapshoot for the farmers. They’d be traversing unknown territory in an attempt to utilize the winter downtime. But many joined on, and the customers followed.

Amy Braig-Lindstrom, now the winter market’s manager, herself a vendor and a tireless volunteer, claims they would have been happy if six vendors partook. There hasn’t been a Saturday all winter, however, with fewer than 16 vendors—and the average is 20, according to Lindstrom’s calculations. That’s 20 different small-business people spread out inside an empty building, selling their wares. From nothing came something.

The city of Troy rolled out the red carpet when the summer market was looking for residency, and their gracious invitation—in the form of donations of garbage bins and picnic tables from the Department of Parks and Recreation, financial grants and staff support—was accepted.

The choice for the market’s winter location, the woefully underutilized Uncle Sam Atrium in downtown Troy, has also proved to be an accommodating experience. The property-management company responsible for the building, Bryce Associates, was supportive by offering low rental costs, plus staff support and maintenance. Even the building’s interior, the space that the vendors inhabit on winter Saturdays, is inviting (although you might not expect that from the building’s exterior, an urban-renewal nightmare). Trees and bushes mingle with pools of water, and sunlight (if it’s sunny—mere daylight if it’s not) streams in through the many clear panes of glass that line the ceiling, the high point of which seems to be 100 feet tall.

The market’s presence within the relatively unused building fills many needs: those of consumers as a destination for organic, natural, handmade and unique products; those of city residents as a social gathering place, which the community-minded residents of Troy happily soak up; those of city businesses in the form of increased foot traffic, and, obviously, those of the vendors, in the form of a low-rent storefront. Roughly seven of the winter market’s vendors are Troy-based.

Mullen never had a storefront. She did have a yard full of sheep, though. “I’m not sure if what I have to offer would be appealing enough [for people] to drive to where I live,” she says. The farmers’ market gives her a solid option to sell her goods. “The urban market involves more people. My product is lamb. Not everybody likes lamb. I have to look for a larger population to tap into before I can [absorb] the cost of opening up a store.”

Allen and Robin Bentz of Ridvan Bakery understand the costs inherent in maintaining a store, as their retail business once inhabited a Jay Street storefront in Schenectady. They reached a point in their operations where they had to either expand the business and hire people, or do it from home.

“Fortunately, as a small baker we were able to do that,” Bentz says. “Certainly there are other kinds of operations where you can’t.” Timing played a role in their arrival on the Troy farmers’ market scene as well. “Out of left field we had the opportunity to participate in the farmers’ market,” Bentz says. The Lindstroms, whom Bentz knew from the Schenectady store, recruited the bakery.

“We did a 90-degree turn,” Bentz claims. The low overhead increases the couple’s profit margin. And by just concentrating on baking, rather than the enormous effort involved in advertising and other store upkeep, they’ve been able to cut the amount of work they do in half.

“We got spoiled. It’s the first market that we participated in,” says Bentz. “We got involved in some other markets, and we realized that it was absolutely fortuitous that we were introduced to this marketing opportunity by Matt and Amy.”

There’s another bonus inherent in the farmers’-market method that the Bentz’s enjoy: a symbiotic relationship. “You join into a marketing organization. You both contribute to it and benefit from it,” he says. “There’s a balance between what you contribute to the market and what you get out of it.”

He then has to abruptly end our conversation to tend to his bread, explaining a downside to his trade: “The oven is a tyrant.”


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