Make Your Own Career #1: Freelancing

Over the course of November I’m freelancing at Bath Spa University running a series of events on enterprising career paths.

Bath Spa University has a vested interest in supporting enterprising students for several key reasons:

  • They have a higher than average number of students in self-employment 6 months after graduation (12-14% compared to nationally 5-6% according to DLHE data).
  • Like a lot of Arts Schools they have a lot of degree programmes that lead up to the creative industries as a sector, which is increasingly ‘precarious’ and dominated by contracting, portfolio working, and freelancers (hence the high rates of self-employment).
  • Student interest in entrepreneurship of all forms continues to swell year on year with more seeing it as a viable career pathway.

So this autumn we have a 3-part series on different strands of enterprising careers, starting with Freelancing. The essential structure of the event is one or more workshops led by experts plus good Q&A opportunities for the students to engage and network. The events are supplemented by great resources on the BathSparks web-page (locked inside the Bath Spa intranet – sorry!) and further prompts and tools shared via social media.

For this event I enlisted a couple of real experts in starting out and managing a freelance career: Philiy Page of Creative Women International and Helen Forsyth of Find a Creative Pro whose shared insights and advice I’ve tried to summarise below:

Be a Brand.

As an emerging freelancer its difficult to stand out and establish credibility – you may have little professional work to shout about. You need to think like a brand and establish yourself as a leader in your field – can you establish credibility and leadership by developing and recording personal projects, volunteering your services to charities, critiquing others, writing reviews, or curating good content?

The Banana Test.

You will need to hone how you pitch what it is you do – and the value that you can provide for a client. Can you articulate your pitch written on a banana? If it doesn’t fit onto the banana it is too long!

Mastermind Groups.

It really helps at the early stages to have some peer support, can you gather some people going through the same process as you to kick ideas around with you and share experiences?

Six Degrees of Separation.

Supposedly we’re all connected by just six connections (according to LinkedIn I know someone who knows someone who does in fact know Kevin Bacon) – make the most of your own networks and those of your friends to identify dream clients.

Brief well.

Managing expectations is critical for freelance work – do you and your client actually understand the outcomes and process that you’ve agreed to? Is there any chance of misunderstanding and confusion? Be clear about outcomes, timelines, costs, processes, and communications.

Get a contract EVERY time.

Contracts set down those expectations and clarify agreements in case of future dispute. Whilst it might feel extreme even a simple contract can make a world of difference, and its professional! Even casual work for friends should be bound by contract, just in case.

Communicate professionally.

Pick the right methods (email, phone, face to face) and try not to find yourself communicating by snap-chat in the small hours of the morning, or via Facebook where clients can also see your holiday photos. Be professional and set the tone. Tools like Slack and Basecamp can be good options.

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