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Freelance-onomics 101: Bosses are for suckers

James Braly

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Just because you can afford an apartment in Manhattan doesn't mean you can actually buy it. The final decision often rests with the building's Board of Directors. You have to prove your fiscal worthiness, something that's hard to do if you don't have a permanent job. James Braly is a freelance speechwriter. He makes a pretty good living, but on paper he looks like a pauper. He shares his experience of how he convinced the board of a luxury co-op to let him in the door.


JAMES BRALY:"I know you're concerned about my job security," I say to the building's board of directors as I begin my defense of my purchase application. "But a permanent job, with a regular paycheck, working for somebody else? In today's economy, that's really quite risky."

"Risky?" asks the tycoon's wife, her disdainful eyes strangely incongruous above her lovely, placid cheeks. Evidently the plastic surgeon cut her facial muscles. "How is a job risky?"

"Someone with a boss," I say, "must answer to that one person, who could end their career, destroy their lifestyle, on a whim. Tomorrow."

"Interesting," says the real estate developer.

"But in my case," I continue, "as a freelancer, I have many clients who represent three levels of demand: A, B, or C." Demand being one of those words, like widget, that tells a businessperson, 'I speak your language.'

Then I pass out a chart that presents this argument as a kind of Food Pyramid: a foundation of many C Clients, fruits and vegetables; a solid middle section of B Clients, the meat and potatoes; and up at the top, a few choice A Clients, the nuts and sweets.

Of the A Clients, I say, "I never let one control more than 10 percent of my income," neglecting to add that they never give me more than 10 percent of my income. "At each level, if one relationship sours, I replace it with another from the level below. It's like a balanced portfolio of occupational risk. Really, I can't imagine being in a position where one person could end my career."

There's a moment of awkward silence as the board considers my argument.

Then the corporate lawyer starts laughing, nervously. "I hope your boss likes you," he jokes to the board president, whose company is owned by a multinational corporation.

"I hope so too," says the president, dryly, thinking perhaps of his chairman.

As is the tycoon's wife. "I'll have to show this to my husband," she says.

Whereupon they shake my hand and instruct me to call the building tomorrow for their decision.

But there's really no suspense. I can see in their eyes that instead of being afraid of my precarious financial situation, they're now afraid of theirs.

It's the least I could do for my new neighbors.

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