How I Cope – Antonia Canal

How I Cope
©

Let’s talk about stress, that thing we juggle on a daily basis. In ‘How to Stay Sane’, Philippa Perry says ‘the right kind of stress…will push us to learn new things and be creative, but it will not be so overwhelming that it tips us over into panic’. In this post, I’ll share my approach to keeping stress productive.  

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How I Cope – Rosemary Waugh

How I Cope
©

How I Cope is an on-going blog series where colleagues from across the sector – and at different stages of their career – share their experiences of self-care and wellbeing.

Mental health and balancing work and life is increasingly recognised as essential to our happiness and ability to make the most of our talents. By encouraging greater awareness and exchanging tips and helpful advice,  How I Cope aims to create a space for us to support each other, and the health of our sector in general. 

 

Rosemary Waugh is a freelance arts and theatre journalist.

It’s the start of March, the beginning of the spring (hopefully), and I’m staring at my calendar. Each little square is filled with a coloured scribble denoting either an event I need to attend or a deadline I need to meet. I work freelance as an arts journalist, meaning those squares and columns on the calendar often feel like the components of a giant Tetris game I need to somehow turn into a plausible pattern.

I have regular working hours for Time Out, either located in the London office or out reviewing at galleries. Then I have unfixed working hours reviewing theatre for The StageExeunt, Time Out, and then I have a host of other entirely varied freelance projects including conducting interviews, writing features or copywriting.

And that’s before you add in finding the time for any personal creative projects I inevitably neglect (such as a book proposal), or the space for spending time with my loving husband, cooking sensible food or exercising (all, again, inevitably neglected to varying degrees).

This constant juggling of deadlines, appointments, meetings and pitches can get quite stressful (and sometimes mega-stressful!) but it’s a common feature of working life for the many people who make their dream job in the arts a financial possibility by combining multiple part-time roles, over-lapping freelance projects or doing a mixture of remote and office-based work.

 

Last year, I found it was all getting Too Much. One of the absolute virtues of being freelance is flexibility (and yes, the option to work in your pyjamas) but the lack of any division between work and home life, even down to fact your desk is in the living room, makes ‘leaving work at work’ basically impossible. So, in search of some time away from the computer, mentally and physically, I had to step outside the house. Literally.

What I found at the back of our rented Walthamstow flat was a surprisingly large plot of land. I also found many, many, surprisingly large weeds. The ‘garden’ area of our flat was, in fact, overgrown to the point of the grass being up to my knees. Transforming what I’ve affectionately named ‘The Wasteland’ (English Lit habits die hard) has become my heart’s project.

In a more modest version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden , the initial overhaul (read: ripping out) of the space revealed a garden path and massive flowerbed both overgrown to the point of being invisible. As I’ve worked further, rifts of bluebells have appeared from the cleared soil and – my favourite thing of all – new rose bushes have started sprouting and now clamber up the fence.

The metal health benefits of gardening are well documented. One of my favourite gardeners, Monty Don, has written beautifully about how the activity helps him manage his depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). More recently, Emma Mitchell has published her gorgeously illustrated memoir ‘The Wild Remedy: How Nature Mends Us’, a book that combines her first-hand experience of swapping a city career for life in the Cambridge fens with how nature helps with depression based on multiple recent scientific studies using brain scans and other pieces of technology to monitor the changes experienced by the human body when it is in nature.

It’s also something many of us simply know to be true, even if we think we don’t. London, city of a thousand prospects, is as famous for its green spaces as it is for its city skyline. Ditto New York and Central Park, which people have heard of even if they’ve never been there. Whether for a sneaky after-work drink, a healthy run or some quality time with their kids, people flock to Hyde Park as readily as they head to Oxford Street. Why? Because being in the green – which is what being in nature is: being inside the green space – is good for us. It lowers our heartbeats, soothes our nerves and helps us gain some perspective on the colleague who gave your favourite play a lukewarm three star review (because hitting them on the head with the garden spade isn’t actually an option…).

I was incredibly lucky to have recently moved into a flat with its own garden. But the great thing about gardening is that you don’t need a meadow to get started – and, indeed, you wouldn’t want one. Starting small has multiple benefits. Another of my favourite gardeners, Alys Fowler, is a champion of urban gardening and finding the right solution for even the smallest spaces, be it a windowsill or some cleverly arranged hanging baskets at the front door. She’s also top-notch on advice for growing your own food (as is James Wong), because there are few things more edifying than getting to eat something you’ve grown yourself. Take baby steps with a classic window box of herbs (the most basic spaghetti sauce will thank you forever) or go more adventurous with a chilli plant in a sunny spot. Both options taste and, importantly, look fantastic.

Gardening, in turns out, hasn’t just helped me switch off from my career; it’s also helped me with it. There are many lessons you can learn from trying to make a functioning garden but the most important is this: you fail. For every time the sweet peas blossom spectacularly, there’s a time when the tomatoes fail to ripen, the lettuce gets irrevocably eaten by a slug and the prized camellia you’ve wanted since a child simply hates the conditions of your patch of land.

Each year, or cycle of the seasons, spent trying to make things grow is inevitably littered with mistakes. And every year after that is spent learning from them and aiming for success in a slightly different way. Which, to borrow a phrase from corporate psychology, is I think what they call ‘growth mind-set’.

Gardening hasn’t eliminated stress from my working life and indeed I wouldn’t quite want it to. In the same way that I purchase five more varieties of flower seed than I need, I say ‘yes’ to almost everything that comes my way partly because I’m too excited by the possibility of what my career could – excuse the pun – blossom into.

But it has helped me gain some distance from it, feel less overwhelmed by shapeless panic and sleep better. And there’s something very calming about looking down at your fingers on the keyboard on a Monday morning and spotting just the faintest trace of soil underneath the thumbnail. Like a secret shared only between you and some tiny seedlings.

If you are interested in contributing to the How I Cope series, please contact us. We welcome anonymous submissions, as well as named.

 

 

How I Cope – Emily Clarke

How I Cope
©Emily Clarke

How I Cope is an on-going blog series where colleagues from across the sector – and at different stages of their career – share their experiences of self-care and wellbeing. 

Mental health and balancing work and life is increasingly recognised as essential to our happiness and ability to make the most of our talents. By encouraging greater awareness and exchanging tips and helpful advice, How I Cope aims to create a space for us to support each other, and the health of our sector in general.  

 

Emily Clarke works as Curatorial Intern at Girl Museum and Museum Assistant at Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service 

I am a museum professional currently working at Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service and volunteering with the Girl Museum. I have suffered with anxiety and depression since my teens and have recently been diagnosed with PTSD.  

For years I have struggled with accepting my mental health issues. I’ve asked myself, why am I feeling this way, and what do I tell people if I’m feeling low or anxious?  

As obvious as it may sound, talking has really helped me to cope better over the past year. Deciding to be more open about my mental health has been one of the greatest, most liberating things I’ve ever done. Being honest about how I’m feeling has changed my relationships with friends, family, colleagues & healthcare professionals.  

I am lucky to be high-functioning and I know there are people suffering a lot worse than I am, but recently I’ve learnt that it doesn’t matter how big or small you think your issues are if you’re being affected by them. As I’ve grown older I’ve realised that mental health is just as important as physical health, which is spoken about freely and without shame, so why should it be any different for mental health? 

When I joined the sector as a Training Museum Trainee in 2015, I was surrounded by a supportive team that I could be open with about my anxiety. Finding people who would listen and take my mental health seriously was really refreshing. I realised how important talking was as a coping mechanism for me. 

I continued being upfront about my mental health when I started a new role at the British Museum. Being open with my team about my feelings of imposter syndrome and anxieties around my new role meant we could work together to create achievable deadlines, organise regular check-ins and organise counselling through HR. Once my contract finished, I went on a museum tour of Europe; mixing my love for museums and travel to support my wellbeing. After this, I returned to my local museums & joined the Girl Museum so that I can live at home. I continue to be vocal about mental health, alongside supporting others in the sector as best I can. 

Saying that, I do understand how difficult talking about your mental health is (I didn’t do so for over a decade!) Before I was able to speak about it, writing really helped.   

When I was 11, I was told I suffered from anxiety, after around 3 years of anxiety attacks. A few years later, I started feeling really down and cried… a lot! My mum gave me a notebook so that I could write my feelings down, which meant that she could better understand (and help) me.  

This is something I have continued to do and find it really helps whether I’ve had a good or bad day. I recently got Fearne Cotton’s Happy: The Journal, which includes space to write about your day, poses questions and also provides self-care suggestions. For me, writing is a great way to document what’s going on in my head and get thoughts and feelings out as well as being a source of reflection. Having a journal is really useful during counselling to help pinpoint patterns as it gives me something tangible to refer to instead of relying on my memory (which is the first thing to be affected when I am stressed). 

Over the past few years I have developed a bank of self-care ideas that have really helped me. In April I went to the Women of the World festival at Southbank Centre and attended a workshop run by Georgia Dodsworth, founder of World of Self Care .

She introduced me to the idea of a ‘Self-Care Jar’, a jar ‘filled with lots of Self-Care tips, affirmations and kind notes to self.’ I pick a piece of paper out of the jar when I’m feeling down and need cheering up or to reward myself when I’ve done something I feel proud of. My jar is filled with things such as ‘have a bubble bath and have an early night’, ‘go for a long dog walk’, ‘binge watch a new series on Netflix’ and my personal favourite, ‘visit a free museum’.  

Museums have not only changed my career goals over the past 3 years but are also a great form of self-care for me. They give me something to focus on, I always learn something new and they give me an excuse to get out of the house & socialise on days when all I want to do is stay in bed. 

Since entering the sector I have been overwhelmed by the support that I have found both in person and online. Groups like Museum Detox (http://museumdetox.com), Museum as Muck and the twitter page @Museum_Wellness all help me to talk through work-based anxieties or challenges and give out really great advice. I am hugely grateful for these groups and the people that have supported me since I joined the sector in 2015. 

One of my New Year’s goals for 2019 is to continue igniting conversations about mental health in the sector. I hope continuing to talk, write and share ideas with others will not only help colleagues, but also normalise the issues of mental health to help inform decisions about accessibility, inclusivity and representation for the communities we, as heritage organisations, aim to serve.  

If you are interested in contributing to the How I Cope series, please contact us. We welcome anonymous submissions, as well as named.  

How I Cope – Hannah Mason

How I Cope
©Hannah Mason

How I Cope is an on-going blog series where colleagues from across the sector – and at different stages of their career – share their experiences of self-care and wellbeing.  

Mental health and balancing work and life is increasingly recognised as essential to our happiness and ability to make the most of our talents. By encouraging greater awareness and exchanging tips and helpful advice, How I Cope aims to create a space for us to support each other, and the health of our sector in general.  

 

Hannah Mason is the founder of  The Content Managers, an agency that support artists and creative businesses to represent themselves successfully and authentically. 

 

Work . Life . Balance 

Do we need a change of order – a new perspective? Shouldn’t it be life-work balance? The definition of work-life balance is ‘the division of one’s time and focus between working and family or leisure activities.’ 

The mere fact that we put the importance of work before the quality of life creates tension that we can easily avoid. We all have challenges and stressors but how we find ways to cope with these can either enhance our experiences or damage our mental and physical health.  

 

My life: 

I’m a single mother with two children, one of whom has just finished his teenage years and the other is in the middle of hers. Now they are older I have more ‘me’ space and can choose to dedicate all my time to work if I want to. When they were younger and I was doing everything – the school run, shopping, cleaning, mentoring, entertaining and bringing in the bacon – it was a different story.  

Coupled with this I am neurodivergent. I have dyslexia and PTSD. So I literally think differently to most people, all the time – at great speed. Getting my mind to stop thinking is the trick. This can be said of many people and can be the cause of much stress at work. There is unlimited access to information, an abundance of possibility at our fingertips through our smart-phones and tablets. We communicate with people 24/7 across the world and compare our lives with the ‘perfect’ lives of people we will never meet. How then do we quieten our minds and slow down? 

I open my eyes each morning, think about work, the bills I need to pay, the people I need to contact and as I reach for my mobile phone to silence the alarm, I glance at the emails that have come into my personal and work accounts, the WhatsApp messages left overnight and the urgent items on my to-do list. I’m not even vertical yet! Sound familiar?  

 

My work: 

I work in the arts because I am passionate about creativity being essential to human existence. We are sentient cultural beings who communicate with expression, words and sounds. There is satisfaction in sharing creativity and seeing audience reaction to the work. Some of us are perfectionists, and in our drive to produce the best, we can lose our sense of self. Most arts organisations require multi-taskers – people who can stretch across departments. From marketers who fundraise to CEO’s who clean the loo we are used to chipping in and taking on more than the job description. Starting at 9 and downing tools at 5 is practically unheard of. So, how can we make our pressured, fast paced work-lives more manageable? Here are my top tips: 

1. Flexible working has been my saviour for over 20 years. Most arts organisations have a flexible working policy so talk to HR or your line-manager about yours. Having caring responsibilities makes managing your 9 to 5 a headache and leaves you torn between competing priorities. Working flexibly means that when the kids sleep I can work for a couple of hours, so I don’t feel guilty about spending quality time with them and quality time at the computer. Equally, I’m not worried about work that isn’t done because I know I can fit it in. This has been possible because I have had task-driven leadership.  

2. I lean into technology. Connectivity has never been easier and there is no reason to be tied to a desk or an office in a particular city. WUNDERLIST is a free tool that you can sync on your phone, tablet and desktop so that everyone in the team knows what been covered and what is outstanding. I list actions and share them with managers and clients. If you want to get a meatier project management tool there are free programmes that let you set up workspaces such as SlackTrello and my favourite, Podio. Or you can buy subscription software such as Monday.com and Asana starting at about £8 a month.  

3. Change your attitude. Try not to over-complicate things. I use the power of 3. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list, limit your list to 3 tasks and only add to the list when it dips under 3. That way you can isolate the things that are causing you the most stress or are the most important.   

Even after getting your life-work balance sorted, things can come up that unbalance everything. That sounds pessimistic but it is realistic. Work, life or both will throw things up that will unbalance everything. Accepting that it is never a complete but an evolving picture will help. Think of the famous Leonardo da Vinci quote “Art is never finished, only abandoned”. Whilst I’m not saying abandon your balance I am saying stop trying to control it and adapt to the changes.  

4. Finally, for more balance, make time for yourself. Put things that make you happy on the to-do list and do at least one of them every day. It can be lo-tech like walking the dog or having a bubble bath. Or you can use your tech again by using a mindfulness or meditation tool such as Headspace or Calm. If you are going to have your phone on the bedside table, you can try apps to help you regulate your sleep patterns. A lack of sleep can add to feelings of anxiety and hopelessness. A couple of examples are Sleep CyclePillow and Sleep Timer.  

I use Insight Timer to sooth the day’s troubles away. If meditation and mindfulness is not for you, get inspiration from an audio book, a podcast or a Ted talk. Breaking up the day by stepping away from work and changing pace or focus will give you the energy you need to have a more productive day, evening and night. 

Life-work balance is an art in itself – one that takes practice, failure, self-awareness, self-forgiveness and compassion. Be kind to yourself and give yourself credit for everything you do – not just the successful things.  

 

If you are interested in contributing to the How I Cope series, please contact us. We welcome anonymous submissions, as well as named.

How I Cope – Antonia Canal

How I Cope
©Antonia Canal

How I Cope  is an on-going blog series where colleagues from across the sector – and at different stages of their career – share their experiences of self-care and wellbeing.   

Mental health and balancing work and life is increasingly recognised as essential to our happiness and ability to make the most of our talents. By encouraging greater awareness and exchanging tips and helpful advice,  How I Cope  aims to create a space for us to support each other, and the health of our sector in general.  

 

Antonia Canal works as Development Officer, National Lottery Heritage Fund 

Managing Stress 

Let’s talk about stress, that thing we juggle on a daily basis. In ‘How to Stay Sane’, Philippa Perry says ‘the right kind of stress…will push us to learn new things and be creative, but it will not be so overwhelming that it tips us over into panic’. In this post, I’ll share my approach to keeping stress productive.  

To begin with, I must acknowledge that stress is closely linked to our mental health. Mind has an excellent managing stress guide, with links on where to get extra help. I would urge you to seek additional support, if that is what you need. For what it’s worth, here’s how I stay on top of stress. 

Let’s get physical 

I experience stress physically. My heart rate goes up, my breathing gets shallow, and I feel nervous and edgy. Managing stress starts with taking care of my bod – it’s all about the basics.  

I recommend drinking plenty of water. I try and keep an eye on how many glasses I’m having each day. Next, watch the caffeine. I love tea, I adore coffee, but when I’m under pressure, that extra caffeine hit can be the difference between keeping calm and feeling the nerves. Lastly, be well rested. Get your sleep! Stress can really affect my sleep, making it even more important to clock off, unwind and hit the zzzzs. Remember, 6-9 hours a night is golden! 

Tricks of the Trade 

So, we’re well rested, hydrated and watching the caffeine. But stress still creeps up. Times like these, I rely on my various tools, be they digital or off-line, to keep me together. One of my stress triggers is feeling I have a tonne of stuff to do, all urgent and all due right now. I feel overwhelmed, I can’t make decisions and I hit the avoidance hard. Sound familiar? 

Keeping on top of task management makes a big difference. I take this seriously! My last job sent me off for prioritisation training. It was an area I really struggled in. The light bulb moment was being asked what I understood as the essentials of my role. At first, it felt like too big a question, where do you even start? But, when I stopped and really considered it, I found I could narrow down what was critical. If you had to describe your main purpose at work in a line or two, where would you start? Gauging what’s fundamental really helps when prioritising that mega workload.  

I rely on clear methods for organising my work. It can be whatever works for you, be it a handwritten list, a trello board (game changer for me!) or your calendar. The key is to consciously know how you manage tasks and use your method with intention. Set deadlines and be realistic about what you can achieve. Recognise what you must absolutely prioritise for that day or week, and stick to it. And know that even if things slip, the world will not end. Easier said than done, but worth remembering! 

A top-tip on the task management, stress-remedying front is remove your inbox from the to-do-list mix. If an email is going to take more than 5 mins to deal with, bump it up to your task list. And, if you can, close your inbox when not in use. The notifications distraction is real and a proper stress starter for me. I try and only check my emails 2-3 times a day, with my inbox otherwise closed or minimised (see how I cheated there?). 

My next trick from the toolbox is to take a break, an easy one to skip when under pressure. You’re entitled to breaks, and if you’re feeling stressed you need one. I try to get up from my desk once an hour or so, even if it’s just for some water. Get the blood flowing, step away, and take a minute or two. And you know what’s coming next – take that lunch break! If you can, eat away from your workstation. Get some fresh air, do a quick 10 minutes around the block, throw in a Beyonce soundtrack for added benefit.  

Call on your crew 

Even when on top of my various tips and tricks, stress can still inch in. Sometimes, I need to reach out to those around me. We often have allies in our places of work. You might just need to check-in; you might need some tasks taken off you. But you shouldn’t be stressing out alone. Remember the networks you have outside of work too, be they formal or otherwise. I have to shout out the fantastic Museum Detox, a network of fellow BAME heritage professionals, and a regular source of support and solidarity for me in my daily grind.  

If you’re someone who is regularly fire fighting stressful situations at work, chances are your interventions will only go so far. When stress is out of your sphere of influence or control, there will only ever be so much you can do. Speak to your manager. What could be taken off your plate? Speak to your union rep. Ultimately, your health and wellbeing has to come first. 

 

If you are interested in contributing to the How I Cope series, please contact us. We welcome anonymous submissions, as well as named.

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

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 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
©

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
©

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
©

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.

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