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

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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 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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