When you want to get away but are short on cash
The Short Version
Not everyone has their parents’ credit cards to finance their galavanting around the world but we still want our shot at fun, adventure, and, be honest, a chance to escape the lunacy of the president and his administration. How does one finance any kind of escape? There’s a new player on the web that aims to help solve that problem by allowing companies to hire freelancers by paying for their travel, room, and board. Sounds good, doesn’t it? We decided to check it out.
A Little More DetailI had gone through the process of reading the morning’s news and was in the process of banging my head on the desk yet again when I came across this article in AdWeek that captured both my attention and my imagination. The article introduces a new service that aims to connect companies with freelancers in an effort to save companies money and provide freelancers with the adventure and escape that we all want. Well, most of us. I do know a couple of people who are afraid to leave their own living room.
The website is Wanderbrief and it works like some other freelance-oriented services in that it collects “briefs” from companies and then tries to match those with freelancer’s skills. Companies get to review the profiles of appropriate freelancers and then negotiate a deal. The company pays travel, room, and board and the freelancer completes the assigned project on location. Sounds like a nice way to get out of town for a few days, doesn’t it? The projects range from 1-4 weeks, so we can fit them in between the actual paying assignments so that the lights stay on at home and we don’t come home to find all our junk on the curb. They also hold the potential for increasing one’s network and thereby increasing the amount of paid work one gets.
We really liked how the article sounded, so we decided to take a slightly deeper look.
Jumping Through The Hoops
Remember, this is still a new site and service and there are places where that really shows. The form for freelancers to join is really short. The “bio” section has a 100 character limit, so they don’t really want to know too much about you. They want to check your socials and the top three items on your bucket list, so have those handy.
They only require that you list two projects, but more can be added (we don’t know that there’s a limit). The kicker here is that you can’t upload files, such as photographs and such. You have to provide a link to online content instead. Now, that could be something on Facebook or Instagram, but stop and think about what could happen after someone looks at the content you link. They start with that picture, but then they continue browsing through all your other pictures, including that one of you smashed off your ass at the Irish pub crawl this weekend. If you don’t already have your own website, ya’ might want to take care of that before you start in on this.
I was rather surprised by how short the form was. I understand the need for brevity, especially given the short attention span of many creatives. However, there are some simple things that I think would help companies make a better decision, such as:
- Do you hold a valid passport?
- Have you ever been denied a visa, and if so, why?
- Have you ever been convicted of a felony (including DUI)? Trust me, we’ve lost team members at customs because of this one.
- Have you ever been denied a bond?
These are issues that regularly come up when freelancing and it always concerns me when a prospective client doesn’t ask them. But again, the service is new. I’m sure they’ll adapt as they grow.
We Have Some Questions
Our initial experience on the Wanderbrief website was surprisingly short. It took about 15 minutes to complete the form, so now all we have to do is wait. On one hand, this seems like a lot of fun. However, after downloading the Ts & Cs, we have some questions that don’t seem to be answered anywhere on the website. These are things that come mostly from our experience and/or tails from friends who’ve gone through hell while traveling. With Wanderbrief being new, they’ve not had much chance for bad stuff to happen, but be sure that it will. We’d like to know someone is thinking about these things in advance.
- How are we defining “room and board?” While I don’t ever expect a client to put us up in four-star facilities, I don’t appreciate the cheapskate who offers the pullout bed in his den at home, either. “Board” usually refers to meals, but how much, how many, and how often? I’ve gone hungry on assignments like this. I don’t like it. You probably wouldn’t, either.
- Who’s responsible if you get stranded? This is a biggie. I’ve never had to deal with it personally, but almost every traveling model I know has encountered it at least once. Worst case scenario was a couple who were in Spain, left with no money, on a holiday weekend, and no way to get back home. Not every company is nice. Folks need to know someone has their back.
- What are the freelancer’s rights if the company requests something different from the original agreement? The conversation starts with something like, “Our scope has changed and I know we talked about you doing xyz, but now we really need you to do lmn instead.” As long as the two are related, no problem. Unfortunately, if they’re not and if the freelancer tries to refuse then the company starts making threats that can be uncomfortable, such as not paying for things. Worst case scenario: the company’s representative requests sexual favors. Sure, it’s illegal, but if that person holds your ticket home you’ve got a problem.
- How thoroughly are companies vetted? The Internet makes it relatively easy for small companies of one or two people look a lot bigger than they actually are. If companies are not thoroughly vetted, freelancers could find themselves essentially working for an individual, which doesn’t do much to pad the resume and makes the financials a bit shaky. Have you ever stood at a hotel desk and had them tell you the client’s credit card was declined? It’s not a fun situation. They expect payment from you. We need to know that companies are secure enough to handle the details.
- How are disagreements between the company and the freelancer handled? Again, this is something that’s inevitable for anyone who freelances. We turn in a finished project. The client says, “That’s not what I asked for.” Both the company and the freelancer stand to lose in these situations. What law applies? Is arbitration an option? If so, who handles that? Since Wanderbrief is an international company, this matter really needs to be resolved before they send freelancers roaming across the countryside.
- What happens if a freelancer becomes ill and is unable to complete a project? We hate it when this happens, but it does happen. You arrive in a city, your stomach feels a bit queasy, and the next thing you know you’re heaving up airplane food. Gross. Disgusting. You may try to ride it out, but if it doesn’t let up after a couple of days one may have little choice but to throw in the towel and go home. So, what happens? Is the company still on the hook for the full bill? Do you re-schedule and start over next month? You really want to know before you’re trying to handle calls between moments of intestinal pain.
Companies are likely to have some similar questions regarding their rights as well, and if the company side of the website is as brief as the freelancer side, agreeing to a project could mean taking on considerable risks on both sides.
I love this concept. While it’s certainly not for everyone, for those who are available to travel this service is a godsend. I want to see it do well. However, there is a lot that is missing as far as mitigating risks and legal liabilities. I would worry especially about international travel where political situations can force a change in travel plans without any warning. The US government has proven too erratic and too unstable to be trusted. Rex Tillerson’s State Department is still missing hundreds of key employees so going to the nearest consulate may not provide any help at all.
I’m anxious to see what happens next. How long will it take for us to get a brief we can consider accepting? What additional information becomes available when we enter into that conversation? I’m assuming there are more details behind that curtain. I look forward to seeing what they are.
We’ll update this story if/when something happens that makes a difference. In the meantime, go ahead and check it out for yourself. This might be just the thing to help you retain your sanity a moment longer.