“Whatever this is becoming, I don’t want it to be an agency”

   —Ken Honeywell, committed freelancer

The Well Done Marketing you know and admire now wasn’t always that well done.

Ken and I, alongside several other mercenaries, had holed up in our comfy Freelance Nation in Broad Ripple. “A Creative Confederacy” our sign said, and we meant it in the best of ways. Yes, the Confederacy has a spotty human right record, but those states aligned to protect each other’s independence. And protect it we did. Full-time offers were gently deflected. Partnership explorations were gracefully laughed off. We were our own nation. We were ornery.

Then Ken started doing the math.

Sure, he was prospering as a bill-by-the-hour writer. But there was a ceiling on that number, and there weren’t enough hours in the day to carry all that he was carrying.

But maybe there was a way to harness all the freelance muscle around us and get it to pull together. Maybe Ken could conjure a virtual agency that generated more than his hourly but didn’t coalesce as a singular shop with all the required care and feeding.

Meetings were held. Pizza and wine appeared and disappeared. Abstractions solidified as ground rules. And I think it worked for about 20 minutes. Which is to say it was probably never really going to work. Clients want teams they can count on. And the best freelancers are stacked up with work they’ve developed on their own. I know I was, and stepped away early.

I watched as Ken’s virtual agency morphed into Well Done Marketing v.1. I watched him hand out the cheeky steak thingys. I watched him leave, and like you, I’ve been watching him build the WDM that arrives this month at double digits. A decade—damn!

I’ve watched from outside, mostly. I’m his friend and fraternity brother, not an employee, vendor, or client. So my view is limited, but my gut is pretty reliable, and I feel like he actually did avoid becoming the agencies he had known before—agencies that were smart but somehow sick in their soul. Or had no soul. Or no smarts. So never underestimate the teaching power of a bad example.

And never, ever, underestimate Ken Honeywell.

“Community” is getting worn down from overuse, but it fits. WDM is a community—a community that activates and elevates multiple communities around it. Amazing, really. There’s some kind of cultural alchemy in force at WDM. Good works become good work. Good people become good business. At the center of all of it is Ken—smart, soulful, and somehow still ornery.

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Greg Perry is a writer and editor (and still a freelancer).