The goal of Hardly Hustle is to provide inspiration, drive and motivation in a 10 minute read or less. What you see is what you get. This is hot off the press without an editing team.
Maari Casey is up.
Who are you and what do you do? Maari Casey is the Founder & Owner of Uncompany, a freelance collective designed to connect clients with high-caliber talent.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. 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 did it take / how did you get started? After freelancing for some time I saw the need that existed. I saw that as a freelancer I needed more structure and support and then I saw my clients struggling to tap into this large workforce. I realized that there needed to be something that tied freelancing together into a reliable system. There needed to be a community, an ongoing education component and also, of course, a way to find reliable and sustainable work.
What does the future look like for you and your hustle? It’s full of opportunity. This is a workforce that is, has been and now even more so, will be BOOMING. Covid has exposed some of the problems with how we work as a culture and now I think businesses will be tapping into alternative staffing. This will open up new ways, tools, communities for this group and clients that see the value. We’ve also 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.
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 drives / motivates you?
The drive to create a business that makes peoples lives better. Freelancing can be so freeing and empowering. Freelancing allowed me to build a life that I loved and still do work that I enjoyed. I feel like too often we have to give most of our life to work at the sacrifice and health of our lives. I believe that if we can make freelancing more sustainable for people then the focus can shift to building a healthier working environment.
What advice would you give someone interested in doing what you do?
Well in terms of starting your own business I think you need to get your money in order. Understand business and what it means. Talk to a lot of people but don’t loose sight of what your goal is. Have a simple and clear focus. Don’t spend too much time making things perfect. Create an MVP, test it, tweak it, test it again. Oh, and don’t freaking wait for “someday when". I could go on and on about this question.
What has been the hardest part of the hustle?
It can be lonely and it’s a rollercoaster of emotions. It’s like a fear, joy, abundance, scarcity, exhilarating burrito. You enjoy that almost everyday.
What are a few resources that you'd recommend?
Well, I read a lot and listen to a lot of podcasts. A few:
Any book by Ryan Holiday
Built to Sell
The Artist Way
Bird by Bird
I love the Jen Sincero books, they are super fun and funny.
Better Life Lab
The Unmistakable Creative
ReWork (those guys are the best)
Side or full-time hustle?
List the founders
How many hours a week do you work on this hustle?
# of Employees?
2 FT and 2-3 contract
When did you start?
I’ve been independent for 10 years, running Unco full time since 2015
How much did it cost to launch?
My first site/database was designed by me and cost me $4k
What were your funding methods and ballpark amount raised?
Bootstrapped all the way
Any call to action?
If you are interested in building a custom freelance bench or finding amazing freelancers all simplified within a workable system then give Uncompany a call.