MY FREELANCE JOURNEY: BLOG Eight – NEW YEAR, NEW YOU

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    

 

BLOG 8: New Year, New You 

Before we look at what the New Year holds, lets reflect on the first six months of my leap into freelance life. 

Fortunately, I had heaps of beginner’s luck and contracts came my way quite easily. Life was good for three months – I had the happy (yet chaotic) balance of a family life, and a work life with clients, and my invoices were being paid.  

Unfortunately, I fell into the trap of forgetting to market myself during times of ‘feast’ and when my contracts came to a natural end; I plunged into a period of ‘famine’ that I really struggled with. Thankfully, I was never between clients completely, but it is safe to say that I have lived both feast and famine already.  

I realised that I needed to make a change. I trawled the jobs sites and applied for every contract going (some of which – dare I admit it – were employed jobs. Even the strongest of us lose our nerve in the middle of a dry spell).  ArtsJobs, Twitter, Arts Professional are great stating points for this, but I really turned things around by making an effort to get myself to every meet up, networking event, and social that I possibly could, and made appointments to follow up conversations afterwards.  

The week before Christmas, I had the best news. I won two contracts, one of which runs January till March and the other runs from March until the end of the year. I landed an entire year’s work, and found out about each contract within 24 hours of each other. As you can imagine, I was ecstatic – and the news completely changed my Christmas!  

 

What does the New Year look like then?  

 

Well, these two contracts have given me a real spine of stability. Each contract is approximately 2 days per week, and ideally, I would like to work 3.5. This means that I still have capacity to apply for additional, smaller or shorter-term contracts to top me up. If they come to fruition (and one of the did this morning – YAY) then great, I’ll be in real ‘feast’ mode, and if they don’t, I won’t need to worry too much. 

 

Where do I go from here?  

 

At the moment, I’m doing really well as a Freelance Consultant, but how can I grow, develop and expand what I do? Am I Beckie, a working mum, who puts in the hours in order to pay for the kids shoes? Or am I Beckie, the owner of a Consultancy business who, currently only has one member of staff (myself) but would like that number to grow? I think the latter is more fitting to my personality.  

Although I am a sole trader, I tell myself that I am an employed director of a business, and it is my job to ensure that that business goes from strength to strength. This encourages me to think big; I want to lead the business to increased productivity, increased income, and increased recognition.  

To do this, I need a business plan. I need a vision for what I would like the business to look like in 1, 3, 5 and even 10 years time. I need targets, objectives, outcomes, and KPI’s to keep check of whether I’m growing and progressing. I need contingency plans which I can fall back on if things don’t go to plan.  

Ultimately, I’d like the business to be sizeable enough to employ staff, transforming my role to focus on winning clients and delivering the really big contracts. I’d have a team of experts in their field who help deliver work for other clients. 

Reminding myself that I work for a business also forces me to be strict with the finances. For example, following Christmas when everyone is a bit skint, it would be so easy to borrow a bit from the business account. But if an employee of a business would do that, they would lose their job immediately. Therefore, tempting as it may be, I mustn’t do it either.  

So there you have it. The blog for AMAculturehive comes to an end. There have been real ups and downs. Winning contracts makes you feel like you are standing on top of the world. Being between clients can make you feel so very alone and isolated, but if you keep plugging away at it, contracts will get bigger and stability will come.  

To end things with a bang, here’s a top 10 do’s and don’ts of things I’ve learned over the past six months:  

Do 

  1. ALWAYS save 1/3 of your income for the tax man 
  2. ALWAYS save a bit of money to compensate for quiet months 
  3. Meet people and network 
  4. Market yourself and apply for contracts even when you have work 
  5. Make decisions based on the business, not yourself 
  6. Always recommend other freelancers 
  7. Always celebrate with prosecco when you win a client 
  8. Create a ‘working agreement’ or ‘contract’ with every client 
  9. Create a financial forecast for yourself and your business and stick to it.  
  10. Write yourself a business plan.  

 

Don’t 

  1. NEVER forget to save 1/3 of your income for the tax man 
  2. Don’t convince yourself have messed up your whole career, just because you have a quiet month 
  3. Don’t convince yourself it has all gone wrong, just because you didn’t win a contract 
  4. Don’t give up – chat to people instead 
  5. Don’t have one phone. Have a work phone and a home phone 
  6. Don’t forget to enforce working hours and home hours   
  7. Don’t let your work emails come up on your home devices 
  8. Don’t feel the need to respond ‘immediately’ 
  9. Don’t work from home all of the time 
  10. Don’t forget to train and develop yourself 

Good luck! 

 

This is the final blog in the series. Click here for the full archive of MY FREELANCE JOURNEY. 

MY FREELANCE JOURNEY: BLOG Seven – A DAY IN THE LIFE

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    

 

Blog 7 - Day in the Life   

I’m a good five months in to being a Freelance Arts Marketing and Fundraising Consultant now. Is it what I thought it would be?  

Working for clients is exactly what I expected.  But the thing that has surprised me the most is the balance between the need to market yourself and doing the work. 

When I was employed the typical day began with me answering emails, sometimes (let’s be honest) batting them away with a short and sweet answer in the hope the work might be delegated elsewhere. Life as an employed arts marketer or fundraiser is frantic isn’t it? 

After emails, I might have had an internal meeting to attend, before nipping back to my desk, to get an hour’s work in, talking things through with the team or creating an emergency strategy for a show that, despite everything, just isn’t selling tickets.  

By lunchtime, (if there was a lunch time) I was often already behind schedule…. 

Post lunch the afternoon might begin with more email correspondence and more questions from the team and another meeting, this time perhaps an external one, where partnerships are made, new ideas are formed, and new projects mapped out. Hopefully I’d have a couple of uninterrupted hours of work at some point. 

As a freelancer, things are different.  

I start the day writing emails, offering to help, support and go above and beyond expectations at every opportunity, in the hope that more work may come my way. Thankfully this has worked out for me, so far. 

After emails, it is time to buckle down and deliver the work that I have been contracted to do. My client will know that today is a day that I am working for them, and I need to deliver. This is my client’s time, so it needs to remain uninterrupted.  

By lunchtime, I would hope to have a lot to show for my morning’s work. This feels good!  I check my emails in the hope that someone has got back to me. Sometimes they will have, sometimes not. Then it is time to buckle down again.  

As much as I hope to remain focused on a single project, my clients don’t know my diary. Many freelancers feel the need to reply to emails immediately, to demonstrate excellent service, and sometimes, add in extra work there and then, because it has been asked of you. Suddenly, you find yourself flitting from one project to another, because your client’s timescales are changing. Now it’s my time to feel frantic. 

Mid-afternoon, as an employee I might decide to start another project, continue with the same one, or catch up with some admin. Now, as a freelancer, I’m either buckling down to work for clients or running to the school gates (after all, this is why some of us became freelance anyway). 

Towards the end of the day, employed me would start to finish up for the day. I’d get home in the evening and reclaim some personal time, knowing what didn’t get done today can probably get delegated tomorrow. 

The freelance me, shoves past my partner as they are coming in through the door, to attend a networking event (which are often held as the working day finishes under the premise of client work in the day, networking in the twilight).  

My freelance evenings are spent making up the hours needed for my clients (because there is no one to delegate to) and doing admin: work logs, budget keeping, invoices etc.  

Then there is a choice. Collapse on the sofa, or apply for tenders and market myself. As a freelancer I constantly need to plan for the time when my current contracts run out.  

Bedtime. During my years and an employee I would go to bed knowing I had worked a good solid day for their organisation. I might think about the holiday I know I have to wait 10 weeks for.  

Nowadays, I retire knowing I have worked a good solid day for my clients, and have put in the extra time needed to prepare for the future. Today was frantic. But never mind, I might get a surprise day or two off next week, or the week after, because after all…. no freelancer has work all the time, do they? 

Follow Beckie’s journey as she adapts to the challenges and opportunities of freelance life. In the next blog, Beckie reflects on what she has learned during her first six months running her own business. 

 

MY FREELANCE JOURNEY: BLOG Six – NETWORKING AND TRAINING

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    

 

Blog 6 - Networking and Training  

 Working from home is often one of the most life changing things for a freelancer, especially if you have never done it before. Like marmite, you either love it or hate it.  

In order to be at my most productive, I refuse to load the dishwasher or do the laundry as “I wouldn’t be doing that if I were in an office.” Keeping ‘work time‘ just for work is very important to me. 

Sometimes, it’s hard. For employed people, a “bad day in the office” results in a trip to the coffee machine, chats with colleagues, or visiting front of house as the curtain comes down so you can have a ‘pick me up chat’ with an audience member who tells you how much they love the show. But who do you turn to as a freelancer?  

Building myself a network of other freelancers that I can just call, email or have a virtual cup of coffee with over twitter has made all the difference to me.  

 

How can you build your own network? 

 

The best place to start is the AMA. If you’re not already a member, you should be. They have a special freelance member rate, which is actually very affordable. From there, you’ll be able to access the freelance directory, a great way of finding colleagues in the same position. Some will be more established, others less so, but every single one of them knows what it is like to be just where you are, and in my experience they are more than happy to receive an email from you introducing yourself. You never know what opportunities may come from the connections you make. 

There are also quarterly regional AMA member networking meetings – another great way to meet freelancers in your area. Why not make a date to meet colleagues for coffee or ask for a tour of their venue?  

Then there are other non-arts freelance circles you can join. Just google freelance networks in your area and you’ll uncover groups like Business  Over Breakfast and Women in Business Network. You can look through their members’ lists and find groups that feel the best fit. For me, it’s working mums. For others it may be recent graduates and start-ups, or people embarking on a career change. These groups are your salvation during those tricky moments; I’ve found them to be a great source of confidential advice. 

Social media is another great avenue – I use Careering Into Motherhood. All you need to do is post your “bad day experience”, or your “what shall I do about this?” question, and you will get a host of replies giving moral support, advice and sometimes helpful new connections.   

If working from home is a struggle, try working in your clients’ office instead if possible. It can be a great way to deepen your working relationships by absorbing what is happening elsewhere within the organisation. You’ll also be primed and ready to offer solutions that may lead to a new contract in the future. Being a freelancer doesn’t have to mean there aren’t ways to make your presence felt. 

 

TRAINING 

It’s also really important to continuously develop your skills through training, professional development and self-improvement.  Gone are the days you could approach your boss and ask for a course to come out of the training budget – you are your boss!  

In Blog 2 in this series, I explain how I put a bit of money aside each month for training and business needs. If you do this, you will find that you can afford to update your skills after all. 

The AMA often offers freelance rates on their courses and sometimes there are bursaries that you can apply for to get an even better deal.  

Training and career development is so important on two levels. Firstly, the industry will move on without you if you don’t keep up – it really pays to be aware of the latest thinking in the sector.

And secondly, courses are a great way to meet and build relationships with others (freelance and salaried), learn the needs of organisations, understand where their resource gaps are, and hopefully get a few tips on how best to make your approach when you offer your services.  

 

Follow Beckie’s journey as she adapts to the challenges and opportunities of freelance life. Next time, Beckie considers the main differences between her daily life as a freelancer and her previous life as an employee. 

My Freelance Journey – Blog Five: 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   

Blog 5 – 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. 

 

My Freelance Journey: Blog One – Introduction

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

 

Introduction to Beckie Smith

As I sit in my kitchen with my laptop open, my cup of tea just made and the title of my first blog post just typed, I can’t help but feel a bit like Carrie Bradshaw, posed in her New York apartment looking out of the window as she did at the start episode of Sex in the City.

 

And with that, you have my introduction; I’m Beckie Smith an experienced Arts Marketer and Fundraiser blogging my transition into becoming a Freelance Arts Marketing and Development Consultant, whose coming of age icons include… Carrie Bradshaw… apparently.

 

So, what gets me out of bed each day? Why have I chosen arts marketing? What have I done with the last 12 years of my professional life, and why have I decided to take the leap into the Freelance world? Let’s find out!

 

The truth is, what gets me out of bed each morning is a one-year-old desperate for milk and a four-year-old desperate to watch My Little Pony!

 

I’m one of those very rare, but very fortunate, people lucky enough to have carved a career from what they set their heart on at just 18 years old. Ever since I did my first twirl as a four-year-old dressed in a chimney sweep costume, I knew that I was destined for the bright lights of the performance industry. Thanks to Dr Paul Sutton (the Artistic Director of Worcester-based theatre company C&T) who led a monumental module at the University of Worcester called ‘Running A Theatre Company, ‘ I realised that careers were available in arts marketing and I never looked back.

 

I owe my career to Carol Jones and Aidan Plender. They not only offered me a place on the much sought-after Arts Management Post Grad course at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, but also armed me with a wealth of knowledge and helped me launch my career. I secured my first job as Communications Admin Assistant at Watershed before the course had even finished.

 

Despite going through such first-class industry training, and having sky-high potential and aspirations, I had no work experience. I had to start at the bottom, and I felt like an imbalanced seesaw. With hindsight, I now know that my training enabled quick career progression, as I climbed the career ladder to Marketing Assistant and then Marketing Officer at Bristol Old Vic and Exeter Northcott within just a couple of years.

 

My inner seesaw started to balance out as Deputy Marketing Manager at The Brewhouse Theatre and Arts Centre and then tilted in the other direction completely as Marketing Manager at The Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury.

 

Supported by Deborah Rees (now at Cast, Doncaster) and the best team I could wish for, I was given permission to play. We had fun with our audiences, playing games with focus groups, creating experiments that tested ‘this is how your segment should react- let’s see if it is true’. Self-made project by self-made project, I steered our audience development strategy forwards.

 

Key highlights included selling 274 tickets to an entirely Asian audience (which in Tewkesbury is a real achievement), raising £1M to redevelop the theatre and turning things totally on their head by suggesting that it should be The Roses that invested in the county’s leading business event – The Gloucestershire Business Show – rather than the other way around.

 

As Head of Marketing and Development at The Roses I found it increasingly difficult and very time consuming to keep the marketing and fundraising work separate from each other. To kill two birds with one stone (and to give me half a chance of leaving work before 10pm one weekend) I wrote a holistic marketing and development strategy.

 

That is when everything changed, because I no longer saw myself working in an arts and cultural organisation, but instead a Disney theme park.

 

Disney plans the layout of their theme parks so that every path leads to the Magic Kingdom in the middle. For our sector this means that regardless of whether someone is a first-time attendee or a regular, whether they only come to satisfy the mother-in-law on her birthday or if they pride themselves in seeing the most avantgarde contemporary dance on the planet; whether they throw loose change into a collection bucket, or if they are a major donor; every person is on a journey towards the Magic Kingdom.

 

What does that Magic Kingdom look like? It looks like a place that no one ever wants to leave and where they spend every last penny of their earnings. And how is this possible? It’s because the marketing team makes them want to and the fundraising team makes them need to. And it is this that gets me excited about working in arts marketing and development.

 

I later became Head of Global Marketing for International Theatre Interactive, but after two years the draw to return to an ACE funded organisation was just too strong. But where did I want to go?

 

When you reach a certain level of management, there are few opportunities to develop your career, especially outside of London. Head of Marketing and Development was already under my belt, as was Head of Global Marketing – the only thing next was CEO, but that would mean policy writing, HR, finance, programming, producing, and board meetings, none of which floated my boat.

 

Even if they did, CEO jobs don’t come up very often, especially for a working mum who – despite the sleep deprivation, impossible meal times, and constant pleading to get dressed – wants to spend at least one (if not two) days a week, jumping in streams, reading stories, and hiding under the table with her children.

 

So, after a summer of many long walks, plenty of nights that lead into the early hours of the morning, and numerous extra-large glasses of wine, my husband and I decided that It was time for me to go it alone and become freelance.

 

Follow Beckie’s journey as she adapts to the challenges and opportunities of freelance life. Next up, Beckie discusses the practicalities of setting up as a freelancer.

My Freelance Journey: Blog Two – Practicalities

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

 

Blog 2Becoming a freelancer – the practicalities

So decision made – I’m going freelance.

Where do I start?

Luckily, I had a friend who made the same decision 2 years ago, and we agreed to meet for a play date (child lingo for cup of coffee) to get the low down.

“It’s great,” she tells me. “You can work your hours around the kids (or traveling if you’re young free and single) and if you’re too tired to hit the gym after work, you can go during the day and make the hours up on your sofa watching Bodyguard.”

“It’s awful,” she continues. “Clients call me round the clock and they never remember which hours I work. You can have one baby on your hip, one hanging off your trouser leg, oven gloves on, and just as you are about to get the chips out of the oven, a new potential client calls you. It’s enough to tip you over the edge.”

It was hard at first – I felt I needed to respond to everyone immediately – but I soon realised it was essential to buy a separate phone that I can switch off at the end of the day, separating work from home life.

The next big decision is whether to become a sole trader (self-employed), or to start your own company. This is a massive decision, and it is worth taking your time over. I used this website to understand the pros of becoming a limited company and this one for understanding the pros of becoming a sole trader.

My biggest fear was getting to the end of the tax year and being hit with a massive tax, NI and student loan bill I couldn’t pay. I decided to become a sole-trader, but put in place very strict rules to discipline myself.

I then had to organise my finances. I have a personal bank account into which clients pay me and through which I pay company expenses, and a personal savings account. (Some people prefer to have a separate business account.) I take one third of my fee and transfer it into the savings account to cover my tax and NI at the end of the year. Finally, at the end of each month, I give myself a monthly salary, which I transfer into our family bank account.

Now, about paying yourself – I explored two options:

  1. a) Take what I earn that month
  2. b) Set myself an agreed salary that stays the same.

I went for option B because there will be some months where work is hard to find (January, February and August are notoriously bad, apparently), and as a sole trader you don’t get holiday or sick pay – I didn’t want my family finances to come into jeopardy. But how much should I pay myself? This was my approach:

  1. Calculate the number of days I want to work a week
  2. Multiply that by 47 (not 52, because of holiday pay)
  3. Multiply that by my daily rate
  4. Take off 20% to cover any quiet periods. This is my base line projected annual income as a business
  5. Take off the 3rd for tax and NI
  6. Take off 10% to accommodate work expenses. This gives me my annual income as an individual
  7. Divide this by 12 and pay it to myself monthly

Point 6 may well lead to a seemingly low salary but don’t forget, this is my net, not my gross.

Hopefully, you will not be out of work completely for three months (if so, this might be a good time to take a holiday), and your business expenses may decrease. Over time, funds will slowly start to build in your bank account.

Getting work takes lots of sheer hard grind at first; if possible, give yourself a phased entry into the freelance world. For me, this meant looking after the baby during the day and working every evening for two months building my website, getting legal and joining networks.

If you are currently employed you might consider dropping a day a week or condensing your hours to free up time. But don’t underestimate the toll working every day and launching a business in the evening takes on your family life, grumpiness levels and ability to make a cup of tea without putting coffee beans in the cup by mistake.

Then, it’s all about organisation. I recommend making a spreadsheet to list your clients, your working log, your income and expenditure and your invoice numbers.

I use Trello to organise my time because it enables me to schedule my work, create check lists, add notes, and keep clients up to date on my progress. It’s worth checking best practice for invoicing as well.

Ok, that’s done – what’s next?

Follow Beckie’s journey as she adapts to the challenges and opportunities of freelance life. Next time, Beckie discusses how to work out your unique place in the market.

 

 

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