Maari Casey, is the Founder & Owner of Uncompany, a freelance collective designed to connect clients with high-caliber talent.
What’s your background?
My background started in advertising as an art director. My dream from college was to use advertising to get me out of my small town in WV and it worked! My career in advertising gave me a lot of what I wanted; travel, cool friends, exciting work. I worked hard and long hours and spent most of my brain space thinking and obsessing about work. It all seemed so freakin’ important that nothing else could interrupt it.
Then, despite my efforts, life decided to take an unexpected turn. In 6 months I had what I now refer to as the “epic unraveling”. It was 2008 and I was traveling back from a shoot in New York with colleagues and clients when I got a call from my mom. She’d been diagnosed with a terminal illness. In that one moment, everything changed. I sat under a hand dryer in a public bathroom, trying to pull it together and make myself presentable. That moment is forever engrained in my mind. Following this news, my life seemed to systematically unravel. Shortly following, my then fiance and I were hit by a van, AS PEDESTRIANS. Remarkably we only suffered concussions and broken bones but we were shaken. We lost a grandparent suddenly. My father spent a month in intensive care after an incident that almost took his life. Through all of the chaos, I found myself grasping to maintain at work. Truly. I was literally crawling through the sand in Key Biscayne at a shoot, still dizzy from the van accident with a boot on my foot. I worked tirelessly from the ICU, simultaneously watching after my father, caring for my mother and handicapped brother from our hotel room. I worked. I worked more. I worked even when my body and my mind and the entire world around me was screaming at me to STOP ALREADY.
Something in me finally came to a halt. There had to be a better way. I think life has a way of keeping your priorities in check and mine were out of balance. It was time to assess what really mattered. My health, my time and the well-being of those I loved mattered more than the banner ads and obligatory happy hours that were consuming my time. My skills were quality without a doubt but I needed to be in charge of my efforts, personally and professionally. I needed to take control.
My journey to freelancing was born out of hardship. It was my mother’s illness and that time of pain that forced me to adjust my priorities and take a leap of faith. Out of hardship came something beautiful: freedom, gratitude and balance. It gave me time to remember my mother’s life, and time to regain the health I needed. Heck, time to remember birthdays and call old friends back and not feel rushed and stressed while grocery shopping! Freelancing allowed me to work when it made sense for me, and the quality of my work improved as a result. Most importantly, the overall quality of my LIFE improved. I ate better, I traveled and I learned how to design my life with work as a supporting role, not as the star of the 24/7 show.
Why did you start Uncompany?
I started Uncompany for a couple of reasons. I saw a need and I wanted to help.
There were SO many talented people who were opting to work as an independent, many of them leaving their careers at the peak. Their talents were overshadowed by agency politics, excessive working hours, lack of free time and self-care. These people were willing to risk the stability of regular client work and steady paychecks for a better, more fulfilling life and profession. On the flipside, as I was working with clients, I saw them also stressed, overworked and in need of specialized skill sets and motivated partners, but they constantly struggled to find the right solutions. I knew that I could help build a meaningful connection between the two groups, advocate for better ways of working and develop an operating system and resource for freelancers that had never formerly existed.
In addition to seeing a path to connect freelance talent with clients that would benefit from their specific skills, I also wanted to pay it forward. Transitioning from full-time to freelance was liberating, all of a sudden my professional confidence was fueling my personal confidence and visa versa. I wanted to be a pillar of support for other freelancers who were in search of a more meaningful life. Okay, so I’m not hopping on a plane to South Africa to shoot a Superbowl spot in the near future, but I am my own boss, I have meaningful client relationships and I do meaningful work that I get to choose. Moreover, I have meaningful personal relationships, and I take care of myself and my family unapologetically. I have happy, stress-free memories that I would have never had working full time. That’s worth more than any award at Cannes.
What are your plans for Uncompany?
OH boy, so many things. We’ve evolved our brand positioning and are rolling out a fresh look & feel across all channels. We’re cultivating a freelancer-exclusive community through Facebook where freelancers can connect with each other, learn and converse about how they navigate life, clients, and decision making. We want to unite the Freelance community and learn how we can be better partners, and also share valuable resources and tools to benefit people operating independently. We are developing an educational program where Uncompany will educate clients about the value of freelance talent and help them understand how easy it can be to work with independent contractors. There’s a true stigma associated with the word “freelancer”, and everything we do today and into the future revolves around removing that stigma and showcasing incredible freelance talent, and results client can see in working with someone outside of a traditional agency model. We will also be growing. Our plans to expand in the US will begin in Atlanta; a thriving market rich in competitive clients and talented, creative individuals.
My longer-term vision for Uncompany is that it becomes an operating system for freelancers and clients to connect easily and quickly for on-going work, both individually and with teams. We say that we are making Unconventional Working More Workable. That’s the goal here. We’ll continue to work to eliminate the pain points of working with freelancers, and build up the meaning and value of the freelancing community as a whole.
What makes Uncompany different?
Our outlook, really. We are on a mission to elevate the intrinsic value of freelance talent. Freelancers are not a plan B. They aren’t people who couldn’t make it in the agency world, or a commodity just waiting for any opportunity to come their way. They are entrepreneurs, self-starters, experts who are highly proficient in their craft. And each time a freelancer chooses to engage with a client, the only thing at stake is their own integrity. That is pretty hard core, in my opinion. This is the definition of “freelancer” that I’m on a pursuit to showcase with Uncompany. We also are realists here. Clients don’t have it easy these days. They are being tasked with delivering against more aggressive goals, with less time, and far less money. That’s the beauty in our model. Freelancers offer a solution to flexible staffing while still retaining a high level of work. This flexibility can help alleviate turnover in businesses and allows quick growth without dramatically increasing the overhead from staffing full time employees or working with a large agency.
We see our freelancers as independently-owned businesses, and we treat them as such. We trust that they understand how to run their business, and price their work. We trust them to communicate clearly with clients and operate with integrity at all times.
If I’m being really honest, it’s our philosophy that leveraging a freelance staffing model can be a permanent solution for start-ups and growing companies. A 50/50 ratio of freelance to full-time staff members to manage the ebb and flow of business allows for healthy, nimble operations and subject-matter experts to roll on and off as the business progresses.
Any final thoughts?
We are in a pivotal time right now. The growing economy of freelancers will soon match the number of full-time workers. We can no longer view contract working as an outlier. It’s here to stay and it’s quickly becoming the career-model of choice for working Millennials. It’s time businesses saw that their capabilities are not limited by who is within their walls but who is within their network.
Favorite quote or advice?
Quote: “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” -Robert Frost
Advice: Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress.