Survival tips from creative freelancers who’ve made it

4 min
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1. ‘They are NOT out to get you’ (Say it to yourself until it sinks in)

Not everyone will like what you do or how you do it as a freelance specialist. The problem is that sometimes as a lone freelancer, it can feel like these nay-sayers all contact you at once, on the very same day! So it’s vital, says heavyweight freelance writer Richard Willis, to remember two old adages: ‘You can’t please all of the people, all of the time.’ And secondly, ‘It’s business, not personal.’

“Even if you’re well-established, an expert in your field with an impressive track record, it can sometimes feel like you’ve got to prove yourself at every turn. We all get days like that when freelancing.

“In my space of freelance journalism, being able to realise that editors are not all conspiring against you is a useful quality to have," says Willis, whose extensive writing credits include the Times Educational Supplement and History Today. "It helps you bounce back with a new idea or article proposal.”

2. Expect no client/brief/job to be the same

Similarities between clients or assignments do crop up in the work of Charlie Bluett, a prolific freelance artist for the Film & TV industry.

In the main though, and when going into a new job, the 41-year-old resists making comparisons. He fears they can make you come across complacent or can cause you to come unstuck, especially when what you anticipated wrongfoots you by changing direction.

“I’ve freelanced for over two decades as a prosthetics make-up FX artist on many blockbuster feature films as well as acclaimed tv shows, music videos, theme parks and live-action stunt shows all over the world.

“And while there are very important qualities that I believe every freelancer should be able to demonstrate in order to enjoy a successful and fulfilling career, I look at every job like it was my very, very first," he says. "I don’t make assumptions or draw comparisons because I believe every freelance job comes with its own individual challenges.”

3. Alone? Yes. But ill-advised? No, you don’t have to be

“You are totally on your own as a freelancer,” reminds freelance computer contractor Alan Watts, a believer in another old adage: ‘No company is better than bad company.’

“That sounds obvious, but it means you alone will not only have to pay for keeping your skills up-to-date, but you’ll also forego all the benefits employers offer others. So, for example, you’ll get no sick pay if you are unable to work. You will only get paid for work done.

“Oh, and you’ll likely have a lot to learn [about working solo], no matter how experienced in business you are. There are lots of resources to help and offer advice – accountants, legal experts, trade bodies, various websites. But you have to be careful to pick ones who are competent and who are not just out to profit from your lack of knowledge.”

Offering a final word of warning, Watts added: “You will have to have a basic understanding of finance, tax law and even sales and marketing, on top of your own speciality so you can at least spot the bad advice.

“By the same token, be wary of asking the other guys or girls in the office. There are a lot of bad habits and misconceptions out there. There is for freelancers -- more than any other type of worker, literally no such thing as a free lunch.”

4. Remember, it’s not all days at the beach

Days at the beach, or at least afternoons out of the office, are recommended to unwind and destress from solo working. Stress, anxiety and creativity-drain all advance on those self-employed people who don’t take breaks -- or don’t take them regularly enough.

“The freedom to choose where and when to work -- and the potentially inflated income you will receive -- are often seen as key reasons to freelance,” says self-employment veteran Mr Watts.

“But it’s not quite that simple. There are undoubtedly several issues that you’ll need to consider to succeed as a self-employed sole trader or limited company freelancer, especially if you are coming at it afresh from being a full-time employee.”

5. Be Chameleon-like

As a freelancer, being easy to get on and work with is “more than a bonus” regardless of your sector, believes freelance PR & Comms extraordinaire Michele Bayliss.

So, fitting in seamlessly with different clients, their personnel and different company styles helps, whether it’s how they like to run a meeting, when they prefer you to invoice or how they wish to give feedback.

The PR expert recommended: “I guess you could say that you need to be a chameleon to really make it as a freelancer!”

Editor's Note: Related --

Top 5 qualities of a freelancer

Five skills every freelancer must have

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