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.
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.