My Freelance Journey – Blog 5: Highs and Lows

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   

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 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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