Six Ways To Cope With Life In The Freelance Gig Economy
If you’re interested in a career in the creative industries, there’s a good chance you’re going to spend some of your time freelancing. It can be an exciting prospect – you get to work on different projects, gain a variety of skills and meet new people – but there’s an insecurity that comes with having to move from job to job, finding new clients and securing briefs.
What can you do to ride the highs and lows of a freelance career?
Know what you’re getting into before you sign up
What works for you when you’re a cash-strapped uni student may not be the right option later on. If you don’t have the financial resources to cope with the instability of freelancing straight away, look around for more stable, possibly part-time work that you can do while you get yourself established. There may even be full-time opportunities that allow you to hone your skills and build up a network of contacts before you start out independently.
Freelancing might be your dream, but don’t panic if you don’t fall into the perfect job straight after university – almost no one does!
Budget, budget, budget
You know that thing friends and family have been telling you to do since you hit your teens? Turns out they had a point. If you don’t have a monthly pay packet, you have to hope for the financial best but expect the worst, then budget accordingly. Focus on the essentials first (food, rent, etc.) and try to keep some back for savings where possible.
If you’ve registered as self-employed for your work, there may be some items you can claim tax back on, so keep track of your receipts and invoices. Also, freelancers must be aware of the rates they charge and revisit them periodically – if you’ve had a run of successful projects and are in demand, it might be time to raise your prices.
Keep your online profiles up to date…
Your online presence is likely to be the main way people find you, so it’s vital to keep it professional and updated. A website is a great hub for your portfolio and contact info, but social media is where you can really start a dialogue with potential clients and collaborators.
Just be aware of the dangers of mixing the personal and the professional on these sites; you want your personality to come through but being too informal may have a negative effect.
… but try to get offline too
Word of mouth is a huge source of work for freelancers, and a positive review from an employer or business can often be the spark for your next hire. Networking events may be painful experiences, but it’s a great way to get out there.
Think beyond your next job. Meeting other freelancers and becoming part of a local network can be a powerful tool for your employability and your sanity. Freelancing can be lonely at times; having friends in the same situation can be reassuring, as well as providing those all-important industry contacts.
Be wary of the type of jobs you take
There will absolutely be times when you feel like you have to take whatever work is thrown your way, but be careful. Working on uninspiring projects can be demoralising, while working on bad ones can damage your brand’s profile rather than raise it.
If an employer is asking you to work for a much lower rate than normal or, indeed, for free, think carefully before you sign up. That job might lead to more in the long run but it can also create an expectation that you will work for nothing.
Golden rule: if there is a particular kind of work you would like more of, consider how a project will help you towards that goal before you accept. Sometimes it’s worth taking the detour; just don’t lose track of your destination.
Embrace the flexibility
If you have other responsibilities outside your work, the flexibility of freelancing can be hugely beneficial.
Learn to enjoy the quieter spells. Use them to recharge your batteries before the next rush, to sharpen your skills and to keep on top of the admin that might have slipped to one side. It’s a great opportunity to ensure your contact and client lists are up to date and to get in contact with companies who you’ve had positive business with before. Good use of a quiet period can often secure work for the next month or two, and you’ll be grateful for another break after that!
While there are no guarantees in the freelance world, there are few careers that offer as much freedom, autonomy and job satisfaction. With a bit of forward planning and a lot of hard graft, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work for you.
Emma is a writer and digital editor based in Birmingham. See more of Emma’s writing at her site or follow her on Twitter @ArbitraryReader.