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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