My Freelance Journey – Blog 5: Highs and Lows

AMA conference 2018 © Brian Roberts Images
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MY FREELANCE JOURNEY is a new bi-monthly blog series where we follow Arts Marketing and Fundraising consultant Beckie Smith on her journey into life as a freelancer   

HIGHS and LOWS 

 Those of you with children will know that there are certain phrases that people say so often they become annoying. “They grow up so fast”, “Everything is just a phase”, “We’ve all been there”. Silently, you shout back “I wish they would grow up”, “This isn’t a phase, they are like this all the time” and “Yes, well good for you, I’m here right now and it sucks!” 

I soon learned there are equally annoying phrases associated with freelancing. “It’s feast or famine”, “Make hay when the sun shines” and” It’s not what you know but who you know.”  

Let’s talk about that feast and famine.  

I’ve been a freelancer for about 3 months now, and twice already I’ve planned to take over the world. I think – if I get all of these clients, on top of my existing ones (and they come in at the same time) I’ll need to employ people. I’ll need to get offices, I’ll need a health and safety policy, I’ll be able to call myself a ‘firm”. Suddenly I’m standing in front of a massive glass window with the Bristol city-scape below me, like ‘Jessica’ in Suits. I’ll need a copywriter, a campaign specialist, an internal marketer (because I’ll be too busy to manage my own twitter feed) and of course I’ll need a ‘Donna’  (only in my firm she is most likely to be called Caroline!).  

But the reality is that you will win some of the clients, but not all, and will still need to manage your own twitter feed.  

Your clients won’t all come in at once; instead they will come in staggered, meaning that if you’re lucky you’ll have enough work to keep you going, hopefully with something else in the pipeline. Clients will often change their timescales. You probably won’t need staff after all, and you can cancel your office order entirely, because your dining room table will be just fine for a little while longer.  

When you become freelance, you put so much emotional investment into your plans, it is (almost) as mentally consuming as having a child. Making your website live is like ‘labour day’ and every small success of ‘your first external phone call’ or ‘first genuine enquiry’ is as celebratory to you as when your child smiles for the first time. 

There is a flip side. If you don’t win a client, or you have a quiet day, it is hard not to take it personally – to separate a bad day at work from a bad day for you. You will soon realise that often, contracts are given through personal recommendation.  The saying “It’s not what you know but who you know” has never rung more true. 

We all like to complain when we have so much work it comes out of our ears, especially those of us juggling family lives too. I can think, “I’m supposed to be working part time, but I have so much work on I’m doing a full-time job, and I’ve got the kids and…”This is where the saying “Make hay when the sun shines” comes in. I find I need to  celebrate the busy times, because the quiet times can make you feel quite lonely and – on a bad day –  question why you went freelance at all.  

In the same way that parents often need to join play groups for the sake of their own sanity (a chance to leave the house, make some friends and have someone to talk to), I’ve found it helpful to find ways to meet other people in a similar situation. My advice is get yourself to networking groups, invite yourself to meetings and sign up for regional discussions. Rest assured, you will either bump into someone you know, or will meet someone in the same boat as you. In my experience, every event I’ve been to, has generated at least one new lead, and has made that “why did I go freelance question” quickly disappear.  

So far, I haven’t had any ‘no client time’ yet. But I am told that when that does happen, it is important not to let it show. Clients can sense it when someone is desperate for work and it doesn’t do well for your reputation. When you get new interest, make sure you don’t jump too quickly. Try saying, “Let me see if I can move some things around…” (knowing the dishes can wait until tomorrow). 

My freelance experience has been a roller coaster of highs and lows. The lows can make me feel lonely, very much at sea, and as though everything is down to me. But the highs can make me feel elated. This isn’t just a good day in the office, this is a good day for you, for what you have created and for what you have made happen – all by yourself!  

 

Follow Beckie’s journey as she adapts to the challenges and opportunities of freelance life. Next time, Beckie discusses support that’s available to help freelancers along the way. 

 

Unlimited: The Symposium. Blog One: Equality – Disability, intersectional identities and the arts.

Sonya Dyer Associate AMAculturehive
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The first of a series of blogs where session Chairs at Unlimited: The Symposium share their responses with the aim to inspire others. 

Unlimited: The Symposium was a disabled-led, two-day discussion event, held at the Unicorn Theatre on 4 and 5 September 2018. It was aimed at both a national and international audience across the cultural sector, with people attending in or engaging in the discussion and debate online.

 

Equality: Disability, Intersectional Identities and the Arts Symposium – a personal response by the Chair of this session, Sonya Dyer.

One of the most important lessons I learned during the Unlimited Symposium was quite a simple one, but it was something I had, in all honesty, never thought of before.

We were setting up the A/V in advance of the ‘Intersectionality’ panel, in the main auditorium. Lapel mic pinned on my top, I did something I presume I always do – I asked the technician, ‘Can you hear me?’. I did so without thinking, as I imagine most people do, most of the time, when setting up for events.

This lesson was taught by one of the panellists, Chun-Shan (Sandie) Yi. Sandie taught by doing – when it was her turn to check her mic, she asked this simple question, ‘Is the mic working?’. Sandie later explained the purpose of framing the question in this way, namely that asking ‘Can you hear me?’ implies that everyone can hear, or indeed should be able to hear. We all know this is not the case.

This stopped me in my tracks. I strive to be a better ally to D/deaf and disabled people. However, I have always asked, ‘Can you hear me?’ without seriously considering the implications of those words.

For me this was a necessary reminder of the importance of unpicking certain seemingly benign behaviours I perform everyday. Learning to be a better ally is a life long practice.

I was grateful to Sandie for handling the situation in the way that she did, by just doing better and sharing her knowledge and understanding with all of us. I don’t imagine I was the only person who needed this lesson.

This is something I will take with me, and change about myself moving forward. In fact, shortly after the Unlimited Symposium, I ran another daylong event with an organisation outside the disability-led sector. As we were setting up the A/V I heard myself asking, ‘Is the mic working?’.

Sonya Dyer, October 2018

 

About Unlimited

Unlimited supports ambitious, creative projects by outstanding disabled artists and companies. The projects include theatre, dance, music, literature, performance, painting, sculpture, public artworks, photography, digital artworks, installations, films and more.

Unlimited wants to change perceptions of disabled people by commissioning disabled artists in the UK and internationally to make new, groundbreaking and high quality work.

We also do this by building a community of Unlimited Allies who help us to embed the work of disabled artists in the mainstream cultural sector and improve access for artists and audiences.

Unlimited is a commissioning programme, not an organisation. It is run by two different organisations:

  • Shape Arts, a disability-led organisation which works with disabled artists and has an office in Kentish Town, London
  • Artsadmin, which supports artists to create work without boundaries and has an office at Aldgate East, London.


Unlimited works with disabled artists from all over the UK
– England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – and offers funding for research and development, to make small and large-scale projects happen in the UK and around the world, and awards for emerging artistswho are new to art, early-career or haven’t had reached large audiences yet. We also fund full commissions (from an artist’s idea through to its realisation and touring) and commissions created through international collaborations.

From 2013-2016 Unlimited supported more than 2,300 days of performances and exhibitions by disabled artists, which were seen by over 130,000 people.

Connected resources: The Accessible Marketing Guide

My Freelance Journey: Blog Four – Marketing yourself and getting work

AMA conference 2018 © Brian Roberts Images
©AMA conference 2018 © Brian Roberts Images

MY FREELANCE JOURNEY is a new bi-monthly blog series where we follow Arts Marketing and Fundraising consultant Beckie Smith on her journey into life as a freelancer

Marketing yourself and getting work

With all the background work done, I needed to put myself out there and start getting work.

I thought this would be easy – having been at the top of my game in marketing, I assumed that marketing myself would be second nature.

I was wrong. I found myself standing on two polar extremes. On one hand I was ready and eager to go. There were people to meet, organisations to help, and audiences to serve. On the other, I was under-rehearsed, tongue-ted and I felt like it was my first day at school.

Time to go back to basics with Marketing 101.

Define your audience. Who is most likely to need my services? Easy! Arts organisations (or rather the people within it).

Segment. What kind of arts organisation? What size? What discipline? I’m focusing on multi-disciplined arts centres, or companies who specialise in performance with an annual turnover of £1m- £5m, but if you’re a dance specialist with international touring experience, why not start there?

Segment again. It isn’t an organisation who will contract you. It’s the people within it. If you’re a marketing or development consultant, it is likely to be the CEO, rather than the marketing team that hires you. However, if you are a freelance campaign manager, the Marketing Director would be a safe bet because they are the people on the front line, desperately needing support services and are looking for a solution to present to their CEO.

Make it relevant. At what point in an organisation’s journey will it be most appropriate to work with them? For me, it is at a time when an organisation needs to try something new. It might be that they are feeling stagnant and need a change, or they have recently received funding and are looking to make new waves in the industry. If you are specialising in campaign management, it would be more timely to make your approach in advance of a big campaign launch or just after one, so they can consider you for next time.

Identify your messaging. We all know that ‘please buy our tickets’ is the world’s worst marketing message. ‘Please contract me’ is equally bad. When we are selling tickets, we entice people with engaging content. It’s the same here. Offer case studies, blogs, offer golden nuggets of enlightenment and gems of inspiration. Draw conclusions from articles and form your own opinions.

Identify your channels. We know this like the back of our hand, don’t we? In the day job we specialise in online marketing, social media, print, promotion, partnership, advertising, pr. We choose the best channels and amplify our message through the others to ensure we get heard. For freelancers this means, network, write professionally, speak at sessions. Many counties have agencies who facilitate networking events, make your introductions there, follow up with an email and connect thorough social media. (Don’t do all of this in 24 hours, people will think you are stalking them). The best channel is word of mouth recommendation. Who do you know, who knows who you want to know? Can you ask them to make an introduction and recommend you?

Tailor your ask. No consultancy project is the same. You cannot say ‘this is what I do, please buy it’. Instead, tailor what you do to what your client’s needs. You can only find out what they need by meeting them. But what happens if they don’t know they need anything yet? Find a way to listen to their story so far and understand their aspirations. Make the conversation be about them. Then go away and work out how you can help them achieve their aspirations. This isn’t about them hiring you, it is about starting a conversation which might help them.

Coming to a contract. Only when a customer ‘actually asks you to do something’ should you talk about a contract and a fee. Professionals are not stupid. They will know that when they ask you to do something, they will expect to pay you. They will probably be the ones to bring it up (which is a relief because it helps you understand their budget, and it saves you from having to make the ask). Then you can either negotiate or accept – depending on your circumstances.

In conclusion. Marketing ‘the new you’ is as full on as marketing an artistic programme. It is a full-time job. Yet at the same time you must deliver the work for the clients you have already won. If you consult part-time, you will find yourself working full-time hours. If you used to work a full-time job at 40 hours, it has suddenly increased to 60 hours, 20 of which are unpaid.

No-one said it would be easy.

But it is worth it.

Follow Beckie’s journey as she adapts to the challenges and opportunities of freelance life. Next time, Beckie discusses the highs and lows of being a freelance consultant.

My Freelance Journey: Blog Three – Understanding your place in the market

AMA conference 2018 © Brian Roberts Images
© AMA conference 2018. Brian Roberts

MY FREELANCE JOURNEY is a new bi-monthly blog series where we follow Arts Marketing and Fundraising consultant Beckie Smith on her journey into life as a freelancer.

Understanding your place in the market

So, how does my new freelance venture fit in the market?

It is here that I need to name check and thank Ron Evans (Group of Minds), Carol Jones (AMA) and Deborah Reese (Cast in Doncaster) who helped as I grappled with shaping my direction because I found this question hard.

What have I got that no one else has? What is my USP? Why hire me instead of someone else? Am I a freelance marketer or freelance consultant? What is the difference?

I knew for certain that I wanted career progression. I used to run departments, sit on senior management teams and shape strategic vision, so I questioned if the marketer role of campaign delivery was necessarily for me.

The next logical step was to become a consultant – alongside the likes of Roger Tomlinson, Jo Taylor, Ron Evans, Debbie Richards, Andrew Mcintyre, Helen Dunnet, Andrew Thomas, Lisa Baxter and all the other consultants who shape our field.  They have more experience behind them, but were new to consultancy once. And since then, they have created Culture Segments, The Ticketing Institute, modules, algorithms, and platforms.

What will I end up creating? I wonder.

It was Ron Evans who put me to the test. “What have you got?” he asked, “Tell me a career highlight.” I gave him case studies where I combined market data, profiling and segmentation to turn fundraising strategies on their head and how The Audience Agency thought it was a unique approach.

“You use market insight to make strategic fundraising decisions” he said. “What else?”

I gave examples of marketing strategies that u-turned because the fundraiser in me pressured me to move forward through the power of emotion, sentiment and storytelling.

“You use fundraising tactics to re-position marketing campaigns” he said. “Ha! You’re the ‘Marketing and Fundraising Matchmaker’.” (I can see why Ron is internationally renowned for steering world-class organisations through a sea of icebergs). “But what is the point? Why bother?”

Answering the “Why bother?” questions is something all new consultants need to do…and continue to do on a regular basis. I gave myself factual (marketing) answers – revealing hidden income streams, increasing donations, trying untested tactics that have ground-breaking potential and energising engagement.

And also emotional (fundraising) answers based on bringing the audience and donor together on one magic journey where they engage the most, spend the most, and give the most that is possible for them to give – all the while falling deeper and deeper in love with your organisation.

“That’s piping hot”, Ron reassures me. It is a new, exciting approach, and very topical to encourage organisations to break the silos of departmental working. (At the time I didn’t realise that this was the very core of Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy’s Shared Ambition programme).

People perceive consultants to have all the answers. Which just isn’t true most of the time. Lazy afternoons in the sun, and long evenings with a glass of wine sparked my inner monologue. Do consultants have all the answers? At conferences they say, “we were on a journey”, “we realised”, “we went back to the drawing board” and “we were in untested water” which is consultant code for “we didn’t know the answers either but stuck with it until we did.”

What else makes a consultant? They are well read and draw on other consultant’s work to shape their own practice. I certainly do that! If I wasn’t keeping up to date with JAM, Arts Professional, The National Arts Marketing Project, ACE, Americans for the Arts, SMU DataArts and the free resources provided by Culturehive,  AMA, The Audience Agency’s Audience Finder and Morris Hargreaves McIntyre I would have a lot more time on my hands to go to the gym, climb a mountain or go wild swimming.

For me as a consultant, I’m driven by the saying “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, give him a rod and teach him how to fish and he will eat for a life time.”

Having seen a number of organisations struggle, I’m passionate about the latter.  I can’t help but think that if they had a rod and could fish with it, their story may have been different. To provide the services that I very much needed in my early career, and to empower and educate other professionals so they can make changes, is special.

So find the basis of your consultancy offer. Understand your USP. Know what makes you unique. Be driven by finding out the answers and empowering organisations to do the same.

The fact that I am inspired by the pioneering works of those ahead of me … simply lets me set my sights on an exceptionally high bar, that over time, I will get close to reaching.

Follow Beckie’s journey as she adapts to the challenges and opportunities of freelance life. Next time, Beckie discusses marketing yourself and getting work. 

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