Being self-employed is as common in the creative industries as the skinny latte. The freedom, the flexibility, the downright coolness of such a lifestyle is appealing to the creative who doesn’t want to be hemmed in by the daily grind of nine to five.
A few years back, I was overtaken by a desire to jump off the merry-go-round and escape being in the same place every day. So, nervously, I left a nice steady job to follow ‘the call of the wild’ and try my hand at freelancing.
But working for yourself is a different beast for everyone who tries it. Different people struggle with different elements – some hate to do their own tax return, whilst others hate networking. When I first ‘went freelance’, I sought advice from as many others as I could. The overwhelming piece of advice was to ‘say yes to everything’ and this Danny Wallace ‘Yes Man’ approach has led me to some interesting places. I’ve inevitably taken on some jobs that I was probably not the best person for, but an interesting thing happens in these situations; you learn something.
You swim out of your depth, you flounce around a bit, but eventually you find your way back to shore. And isn’t that what most of us want from our working lives? To be challenged, to progress and, of course, to be rewarded?
The swimming analogy is fitting, so bear with me while I labour this. When freelancing, you become aware of tidal patterns which would likely pass you by unnoticed when in the luxurious position of receiving a monthly salary. For example, I have given up trying to work in August. I just go on holiday like everyone else! Likewise, I can’t get a straight answer out of potential clients as Christmas begins to loom, and these seasonal waves are just the start.
Sometimes I’ll land a client who might carry me along for some months, but sitting back and just enjoying the ride is dangerous as you still need to be hustling for that next wave. The trick is hopping from one job to the next, without ever letting your attention or quality drop for any one client. Repeat business is a self-employed person’s lifeblood after all!
This is where freelancing becomes less a science than an art form. All you can realistically do is say yes to everything, making the most of smaller jobs while remembering that once your foot is in the door something more exciting, or profitable, could be around the corner.
Overall, for me, I’d have to say that the positives of striking out on my own far outweigh the negatives. For each client that takes too long to pay, there’s another who pays promptly and is thankful for your efforts. Above all, my hopes to continually work with different people, in different locations, have come to fruition – even if I’ve had to accept the uncertainty of not knowing where the next cheque is coming from.
Freelancing is never going to be for everyone. But if you can hang in there, learn to live with the fluctuations in your bank balance, keep smiling and remember that one thing leads to another, then jump in and get paddling.
Marc Leverton is a freelance writer who has written for The Guardian and The Big Issue. He is the author of “How to work as a freelance journalist”, “Glastonbury Festival: Myths and Legends” and a lecturer in Journalism and Publishing for Bath Spa University and UWE.
Illustrated by Kwennie Cheng
- One Thing I Know