[Review] Frank

Editor’s note: Like all our reviews, this is one is uncompensated and written purely out of curiosity about a new service that might be useful to some of our readers.

As a freelancer, there are two major hurdles to getting booked: 1) being sought after by employers, and 2) actually getting booked. Most freelancers focus the majority of their energy on the first task—as they should—leaving the second task to producers.

But the system of holds and the back-and-forth communication required to get a successful booking sometimes means things fall through the cracks. If you don’t believe me, take a peek at the typical producer’s calendar. Total. Nightmare.

To alleviate some of that confusion for both freelancers and producers, the folks at Haus created Frank. It was made specifically for booking freelancers in the motion design context, but it’s being used by more and more folks for other things (like babysitters and substitute teachers).

Let’s be clear: Frank is not a social network or a portfolio sharing site or some kind of LinkedIn-Facebook-Behance love child. No. That’s not Frank at all.

Frank’s aim is much simpler: To help people book freelancers (and to help freelancers get booked). It’s this laser-like focus that makes Frank so damned easy to use—and that keeps it from devolving into something lesser.

How it Works: Hold, Please

As a producer, I just need to add some contacts by name and email and pick a range of dates for a hold. Frank then sends a hold request to the appropriate contact.

On the freelancer side, you get an email containing a link back to a communication system on Frank.

By keeping the communication in the world of Frank, everything can be tracked and managed (by both sides). It’s much cleaner than a bevy or emails, phone calls and/or IMs, and it ensures that calendars are updated accordingly.

Back on the producer side, when I’m ready to book, I can change the hold to a booking. Frank sends another message, just as before. Easy as pie.

What We Like

  1. It’s private. As a producer, you don’t typically want to share your talent pool with the world. Frank keeps your contacts just that—your contacts.
  2. It’s well-designed. The calendar interface is beautiful and responsive, and the entire process from initial hold request through booking makes intuitive sense.
  3. It’s free for freelancers. There’s no cost to create a profile and to keep your availability updated.

Ideas for Improvement

When a hold is changed to a booking, the automatic email that’s sent to the freelancer wasn’t entirely clear to me the first time I read it.

As a freelancer, I didn’t realize that I was receiving a booking request. The subject line (Are you available?) was the same for the hold and for the booking, and I found that a little confusing. Maybe some sort of indicator that the correspondence is about a booking vs. a holding would have helped.

Once you click through to the Frank communication page, you see a title that says “Booking Request,” but again, I think the change could have been a little more obvious.

The Future of Frank

Frank’s still pretty young, but it seems ready for prime time. I chatted with Jared Plummer, one of the founders of Haus, and he’s optimistic about its future. The main challenge now is getting freelancers into the system, he said.

Producers already “get” it, for obvious reasons, but some freelancers only want to work with certain producers, so they can be touchy about putting their info into a new tool. (Again, that’s why Frank is a private, closed system.)

What Do You Think?

Have you guys already been using Frank? What do you think about it?

About the author

Justin Cone

/ justincone.com
Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.

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33 Comments

sistarr

I guess I don’t see how this empowers the freelancer at all. Quite the opposite actually. It gives even more control over to the producers by knowing exactly how busy you are.

When as freelancers are we going to do away with the hold system? Almost every other business has a retainer system if you want to reserve ones time. Why hasn’t that happened in our field?

Justin Cone

Totally valid point. I do think Frank gives you (the freelancer) a little more clarity on things, though. When a producer requests a hold, you can put them on 2nd or 3rd hold (always reserving 1st hold for yourself), and they won’t know any details.

“Almost every other business has a retainer system if you want to reserve ones time.”

Which other businesses are you referring to? (Genuinely curious here; not being a dick.)

sistarr

Ad agencies (sometimes for 25-30 million a year),Accountants, Lawyers, etc. Basically, anytime when someone wants to reserve your time.

I go along with the hold system begrudgingly, but I really despise it especially when post-houses abuse it by putting 5-10 people on hold just for the sake of having them available. Also, I just don’t like the idea that I need to get ‘permission’ from someone else to take a job. Book me or don’t book me or pay me a fee for the inconvenience of being on hold

Like you said, you can always give yourself a first hold, to avoid the whole buying/selling aspect of holds, so I can see Frank being useful for those people.

monovich

I agree. I did away with accepting holds almost completely after things hit the fan in’08. I’d hold, decline other work, then the hold would evaporate when the project got killed because of the economy.

Obviously the economy has improved quite a bit (at least in this industry), but I’ve still kept my mostly no-hold policy in effect. If people want to book me, they can book me. First come first served. I do know that this has cost me work (including a sweet three month on-site shoot in France), and has frustrated some producers, but the vast majority of people that I work with have understood and our working relationship is strong enough that they put up with “no holds” anyway.

In the end I think the system will always be somewhat Darwinian. Producers hold the cards/weight in the booking negotiation much of the time, but if you can advance to the point in your career where you hold some quality/dependability cards, you can negotiate things like holds/bookings on a more even playing field… and you can tell them “call me back when the project is 100%”

Bran Dougherty-Johnson

This looks like a great system if you want to be booked anytime by anyone. But if you want some control over your bookings, you might want to do it the old-fashioned way – by talking to an actual producer and finding out what the project, schedule and terms are. If the job is serious, and you want to take it on, then they can book you. If not, ask them to call back when the job is a go.

I agree with mononvich, gugy and sistarr and momographic. The hold system as currently being practiced isn’t really working. What was once a system of gentleman’s agreements is now a deathrace. Companies should really rethink their habit of using production coordinators to try to blanket hold freelancers for two or three month stretches.

And I fully agree with the idea of either retainers or deposits for holds. If there’s no penalty for putting a hold on a freelancer and then just dropping it without letting them know, producers will just keep doing it. It’s sort of like overtime which is intended to discourage the employer from abusing the worker.

Justin Cone

You guys are making some totally valid points, but please consider for a minute someone who’s just gotten out of school or who’s new to freelancing. Turn down a hold? Tell a producer to “call him back”? Ask for a deposit?

Seriously?

As monovich says, you have to get to a certain point in your career to even have that license, much less exercise it.

I’m not saying the hold system is good or fair or whatever. I’m just thinking that a lot of what is said about “the state of the industry” comes from veterans, which makes sense. But the attendant solutions offered often benefit veterans—sometimes at the expense of newcomers.

Perhaps there’s a general feeling that building a barrier to entry is a good thing? Is that some new form of job security?

monovich

Yes hopefully I was clear that I think not playing in the hold system can/will cost you work. Frank looks to be a pretty elegant solution if you do straight-up holds, and I certainly think its better than putting one of those “available for booking” status icons on one’s own website.

Maybe being any sort of veteran in the industry turns you into a curmudgeon. “Damn those kids and their fancy booking websites!”

Brian Gossett

@ Justin: I think that most “fresh out school” artists should think about staffing at a studio rather than freelancing. It’s one thing to get out of school and think about how the industry actually works and how to work on projects with a team, it’s a whole other beast to try to take it on independently. I know from working both on staff and freelancing and as teaching and how my former students have faired in the pool.

I think veteran trailblazers will create the industry standards for freelance artists and young hungry up and comers will have to pay their dues, as they always have, and then eventually adopt what the veterans have set as the standard when they themselves become the veterans.

I agree, a retainer would be nice. I’d be curious to know how that works out for any freelancer as I wouldn’t quite have the audacity to ask for one even at this point in my career.

I’ll leave in stating this. Frank seems cool, but I’ll never join as I would never give up one of the most advantageous parts of freelancing which is this: I, and only I, know where I am working and how busy I am and have been or will be in the near future. When I am available is my business, and it will continue to be.

momographic

Agreed.

Frank looks like a well built interface, but the bigger problem here is the hold system in general.

For me, there is a lack of checks and balances. As a producer, I can hold you for 3 days, or 3 months, and then choose to use all of the hold, part of the hold, or just not use the hold at all. Meanwhile, as a freelance artist, I’m telling other perspective clients that I can’t give my 1st hold and I’m loosing work because of it.

I believe there is some give and take here, but when I’m asked for a month hold that isn’t really attached to a set job, more to just have talent on hold for a set period of time, it makes it that much more infuriating to think I just lost good work over a job that didn’t even exist.

I know personally that one of the larger record labels in town, when securing photographers, at the bare minimum discloses the band they will work with, the stylist, and the job time frame. They have a very similar hold system, but all holds typically turn into bookings at least 2 weeks prior to the shoot.

jared.plummer

Hello Sistarr, regarding “producers by knowing exactly how busy you are”… as a freelancer, when you respond to a hold or booking, you can choose to make it private.

For instance, if you mark a hold or booking ‘private’, then any other producer who views your profile will see you as available during that time period.

Additionally, you control the hold level. You can accept multiple first holds if you want for the same period of time. Each of the producers will see you as just ‘on hold’. Producers only see the hold level you set when responding to their request. Hold levels are not public in Frank, they are always private between you and the producer.

As a freelancer, you have complete control over the visibility of your schedule within Frank.

sistarr

Jared,

I apologize if it sounded as if I was bagging on the software as that wasn’t my intention. My frustration lies in the hold system that I am suppose to honor, which I do and not the software.

I’m sure Frank is a great tool for the hold system, it is just not for me. Now, if there was a function where producers had to pay a token fee (set by the freelancer) to put me on hold through Frank, I would consider using the software as that would show the seriousness of the producer as well as making the inconvenience of being on hold worth it.

gugy

I hate the hold system.
Producers abuse it and at the end they know how busy are you so they can offer less money if things are slow on your end.
Another thing is when they never contact you back to gives a heads up. So when you contact back hear that lame old, I am sorry excuse.
Companies should pay a small fee to hold freelancers and not use them. But that’s a pipe dream in our industry.

sk

Maybe its’ because the industry is a bit smaller in the UK, but in my (limited) experience producer’s have nearly always either booked my time or not. When I have been put on a ‘pencil’, as they seem to call it here, I’ve always been confirmed later, and from memory I think there was an implicit understanding that I reserved the right to not be available – they weren’t booking me so I wasn’t ‘booking them in’.

It always worked fine for me – I guess it’s the equivalent of having only second holds. A whole system like that puts more power in the hands of the freelancer but if you start off with a first hold system the only way to achieve it would be by the freelancers insisting upon it one by one. ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’ if that isn’t too patronising.

If someone asked me to hold my time with zero real guarantee of work there’s no way I’d agree, or would have even when I was starting out. It would always have struck me as disrespectful if not downright demeaning. There are always other clients out there and I have enough faith in my abilities to think that I can still find enough good work.

I’m not proselytizing, just telling my story. Maybe I’ve just been naive, lucky and stubborn.

someofmywork

Likewise, I’d not heard of the hold system since I work in the UK and know of it more as ‘being pencilled’ here. In 12yrs of freelancing, being pencilled has generally meant literally that, a producer checking my availability, pencilling it down and usually calling me back, at the latest, a couple of days later to confirm it. Often if the actual work falls through nearer the time, the companies I’ve worked with have been decent enough to honour the booking and find other work for me to do. In the past year though I’ve been working for a large production house, who always pencil me and only maybe 2 out of about 8 pencilings have come through as confirmed bookings, sometimes being cancelled as late as the Friday night before the Monday start, not leaving me much time to find other work. The last time this happened, maybe unprofessionally so, I voiced my disapproval on Twitter and got in bother with them about it, so I guess they won’t be calling to pencil me any more, which is a shame, but maybe for the best as they’ve lost me more money on missed chances with other agencies than I’ve made working for them this year.

Reckon for the future, until something’s 100% confirmed I’m going to have to consider myself as still looking for and willing to accept other work.

ThatGuy

It’s interesting to see how ‘the industry’ operates in different counties.

I’m working in the New Zealand motion graphic industry, and it looks like we have a similar system to the U.K. where Freelancers are ‘penciled-in’. There is an understanding that, unless we are paid for our services to be retained, we are still able to look for and accept other work. A first-in-first-served policy pure and simple.

Sure, it seems like this “pencil-you-in” system is not as convenient for Producers or Agencys… but in the end, if your services have been put on hold (preventing you from accepting other work), then they should financially compensated you for that privilege. However, upon reading some of your comments, it looks like I’ve taken that right / concept for granted.

On the surface, it looks like FRANK is a visually pleasing and easy way for Freelancers to get and organise work… but it appears that it is more set-up to benefit Producers than the Freelancers, which sadly, seems like the norm in the US.

I have trouble trying to imagine working as a Freelancer in a system that is staked up against me … can i assume that this system of ‘holds’ didn’t always exist in the US..???. It is completely advantageous for Producers and Agencys to be able to hold talent without paying compensation. Having an outside perspective, i’m intrigued about how this system came about. Was it an initiative developed over time by Agencys ? or was it due to over saturation of talented animators in the market ?… Any insights /suggestions?

two.oh

I think this is a great concept. The holding system is not going to go away, since it is a necessary compromise between the producer and artist. If it were to go away, do we really believe bookings will be treated the same way? ‘Bookings’ will just become ‘Holds’; same concept, different name.

It’s good that people are talking about this, because it goes to show you that everyone has different opinions on the matter. But because of that, it shows you that the industry lacks a standard that we need to tackle headfirst. The freelancing concept works great for artists, but since there is no union to enforce late fees, penalties, and cancellations, there must be a new approach. The industry is no longer young, and I think it’s time artists start protecting themselves with professional standards

Instead of saying this is a bad system, we need to make it better. I’m pretty tired of having to schedule everything in iCal and check through emails to see what previous bookings I forgot to mark in; and for that reason, I think FRANK is a very interesting approach.

If artists don’t want producers looking at their bookings, then they could just add in a privacy functionality that hides who is actually booking them, that way you can give yourself a first hold, or hide them altogether.

All too often I hear artist complain that the more transparency there is in the booking system, the less money they’ll make. I call BS on that. It’s not up to someone else to tell you how much your day rate is. It’s a business decision on the artist’ side to compromise, or leave the deal on the table.

Yes, producers abuse the holding system, but it’s ultimately up to you to challenge, keep your rate firm, and enforce a standard. If artists were to allow more transparency on their schedules, then I believe it’s also important for vendors to do the same. Maybe there could be some kind of history or graph of how often vendors drop their holds and bookings, what some of their holding policies are, or possibly even some kind of small rating system that is monitored closely so that there are no signs of abuse.

Hate it or love it, the holding system won’t go away. I think we just need to make it better, and FRANK could be an interesting approach to that.

mattonium

I think Frank can be a great idea and I am pretty familiar with it. Justin, your review centers around the viewpoint of a producer in many ways. Holds can work out fine, if used honestly. Unfortunately, in this business they seldom are. I’ve been put on hold for jobs that don’t exist, put on hold to “be in the mix,” put on hold for a month only to find out they need you for a week, etc.

I only take “holds” from people I know well, and if I don’t know them, I’ve had other people vouch for their integrity. I’ve had people call me, ask about my availability, and ask to put me on hold. I don’t even know what company they’re from, what their project is, how long it is, who it is for, what my rate would be, etc. Who would expect you to block off your time for an unknown? Well, a mograph producer, sometimes. Not all of them, just some of them. It is a real problem in this industry.

As for revealing your schedule, I would never do that, unless a producer is willing to show me their budget, my schedule is my business, and their budget is their business. That’s the way it has to be. I’ve never bought a house and asked to see the sellers financial situation so I could see what leverage I may or may not have.

bobtilton

Well put. And this really is a social networking tool, if I can be slightly bold to say so. It just revolves around specific jobs and conversations. Frank seems to encourage conversation, and fit nicely into a dialogue between producers and talent. If a producer has any shred of empathy for people doing work for him/her, this seems like a great container for that exchange. And if the producer is a jerk about holds, I think it would be amplified by this tool (“Just tick the box, dammit”).

But saying that, holds are a horrible idea, and sidle up along side spec in the category of creepy behavior. Perhaps the creators of Frank might be able to empower the freelancer a bit more? Not sure how – but maybe the tool isn’t so fundamentally rooted in this unfortunate practice.

?

gorociao

I don’t know how you would create this — and it certainly would bring its own problems — but an interesting way to tip the scales for freelancers is a reputation builder of sorts. I have a mental note re: producers who like to reserve for swaths of time vs. up-front producers who really just contact you when they are serious about jobs. It’s hard for me to ever take the former seriously. I like to think I aim to be flexible with those companies who are most limber and honest with me. It would be great to try to encourage transparency somehow within frank. If I could see a percentage re: how often someone holds people vs. books people… Almost like a producer’s RBI? Or something of the like?

Again, admit, this is idealistic and isn’t without problems.

gorociao

To that note, I’d also say, you’d probably want to highlight exceptional/efficient producers as opposed to shunning. No one would likely participate if “bad” behavior was pointed out. Make good examples of right and fair as opposed to murky.

gugy

My policy is:
Want to put me on hold, great.
When I get a call for another confirmed gig I say, just one minute, call the first producer and say thank you and move to the confirmed gig.
Most producers abuse the hold system, so unless is someone you really trust and did many business through the years, I just take with a large grain of salt these inquiries.

producer25

As a producer I’m not sure what the issue is for putting someone on hold. If I call a freelancer I ask them if they are available and either FIRM book them or HOLD for the time period. If someone else is looking to book the freelancer if I have them on HOLD then it’s up to me to book or release the hold. I don’t think I’d be passing up a 3 week gig in France because of a hold.

monovich

I didn’t pass on the gig because of the hold, I passed on holding and lost the gig, and it wasn’t until later that they causally told me that the gig I’d passed on was the France thing. I’m not sure I know anyone who would knowingly refuse a project that good.

bfarn

I’ve found that very few producers are willing to put me on a fourth hold, or even follow their own rules. As a (fortunately busy) freelancer, I know it gets very hairy dealing with half a dozen noncommittal studios at a time. Nobody’s willing to book, nobody wants to be anything but my first hold, nobody returns emails in a timely manner, nobody gives a straight answer. I’ve been “released” from holds the day before my booking before, I’ve had producers get genuinely angry when I challenge their hold. I’ve had five holds all fall through at the same time. I’m glad to have survived long enough in this field that my reputation gets me work – but I’ve been burned enough times that I’m likely going to switch to a no-holds policy before the year is out.

bfarn

Ok so, aside from the philosophical problems freelancers have with the hold system, Frank seems like bad news for anyone looking to get work at a new studio.

I regularly get emails from producers when I’m unavailable – I can’t take the gig, but it starts a conversation. If I can, I’ll make time to stop by and introduce myself, and even if it doesn’t work out at least I know I’m on their radar.

If my schedule was public, and a producer skipped right past me because my green availability bar doesn’t line up with theirs, then we both lose out.

Gabriel Rocha

Excellent point! I think the first contact is very important as well. If not for an immediate job, maybe for the future. As a freelancer, getting to know more people and studios is kind of the main key for sure!

kmfix

My experiences with holds haven’t been good for the most part. I’ve had studios not book me because of the potential that my hold schedule will get in the way of their job, and then the hold turns to vapor leaving me with neither job.

I’m very much considering a no hold policy.

alba

Nothing too impressive here except that it speeds up or simplifies the producer/scheduler’s task of “blanket” holding artists.

I don’t see how this helps the artist’s side at all.

And regarding the Hold System, it is sort of broken but It’s lazy and selfish for producers to blanket hold anyone for weeks/months without a specific project in mind. This might be great for newer artists trying to develop relationships, get experience. But for the ones who’ve been doing this for a while, it becomes conversational diplomacy, where the artist has to politely decline the blanket hold while not upsetting the relationship.

Why is anyone talking about 3rd and 4th holds? Doesn’t everyone know the old trick by now?

e

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Paul Hargrave

I think the dilemma here is the potential for lack of choice. Something I was just faced with. I’d be happy to accept a booking or hold, but what if I don’t want to do so through Frank. 

Fortunately, I had the producers direct email through a previous job. I responded saying, I chose not to use Frank at this time. And if that was ok, I accept the booking. We’ll see how that turns out.

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