Tips For New Creative Freelancers

Thinking of starting out as a creative business? Here are a few tips that might help.

The following stems from advice I gave to students from Edinburgh Napier University who are considering a freelance career.

1. Know Your Niche

What makes you unique? What do you want to be known for? What do you love to research/write/film/photograph? What’s your real passion?

Spend some time really thinking about what you want to do as a creative freelancer. If you have half a dozen different roles you want to do, write them all up and see if one appeals more. Consider targeting this one when you start out freelancing, so people think of you as the ‘go to’ person for that type of work.

You can build on it and introduce other strings to your bow once you’re established, but a niche is no bad thing for new creatives.

2. Build Your Brand

Ties in nicely with number 1 – if you know what you want to talk about, you can build a better brand for yourself.

  • Know your audience – who are you wanting to talk to, to sell to, and where? Try using this great PDF worksheet to define your work and incorporate it into your branding.
  • Write a snappy bio that incorporates who you are, what you do, and why you are unique – your elevator pitch, basically.
  • Get a website – do not rely on social networks to be your main online channel, ever. They could and sometimes do become useless overnight. Point all your marketing material (twitter, business cards etc) to the website. Embed examples of your work and let people subsribe to your updates via email.
  • Get business cards – Make them reflect who you are and what your niche is. Photographer, filmmaker, model, actor, designer? Showcase your work on one side. Writer? Think about images that reflect your writing passions, or go for classic designs.
  • Use the right social media – you don’t need to be on them all. Investigate what social media works for your niche. Some sites, like twitter and instagram, can be great for everyone. Designers and photographers, pinterest and tumblr can be excellent (if you don’t mind putting your work online). Filmmakers, get on vimeo/youtube of course, but what about using vine? Authors, get on Goodreads, pronto, and consider Wattpad. Writers, you should absolutely blog to show your writing style >>
  • Blog – use your website to micro blog interesting things that you’re doing, post your films/photos/short story excerpts, or write more detailed blog posts on your niche. Just make sure they help to boost your brand. There is little point writing about the best chippies on Skye if you want to be known as a designer from Glasgow.

3. Get Professional Training

I cannot stress enough how useful professional training can be.

If you live in Scotland and want to start out as a creative freelancer, do check out the Cultural Enterprise Office. They do amazing workshops for start-ups in a range of fields (branding, marketing, accounts) and have resources online, too.

Keep your skills up to date and get your face out there by attending creative masterclasses, seminars, conferences, graduate workshops and festival talks.

Keep an eye out for training from local authorities, arts funding organisations, Creative Skillset, film festivals, book festivals, Universities… The list goes on.

4. Network

You know what you want to sell, you know who you want to sell it to, you have an online presence and some business cards to use. Time to network.

You can do this at training sessions, official networking events, informal meetings, with conference delegates, at parties, and with peers. The world is your oyster.

It can, of course, be immensely nerve wracking to network. Check out these tips for networking, or do a search online for advice.

My top tip for creatives is to NOT clutch a grubby copy of your script or a DVD of your showreel and try to thrust into the hands of nice people at events. Just don’t. You will look like a desperate newbie. Use your business card to direct people to your online showreel, website, and email address. Better yet, get their card and contact them.

5. Be Professional

If you want to be a creative freelancer, treat it like a job.

  • If you have corporate clients you will probably need to be alert and capable 9-5 Monday to Friday. Don’t get a reputation as someone that is inarticulate and moody in the morning.
  • That said, if you are working alone and you are a night owl, try working when it suits you. Just be disciplined about it – planning your work and making to-do lists can help with this. Here’s some advice on planning.
  • Find the joy in every job. If you are offered paid work that doesn’t satisfy your creative fancy, think about what it does do. Will it build your CV, give you experience, let you learn about a subject you weren’t previously interested in? That’s valuable stuff.
  • Skill swap with your peers. If you need help with something and you don’t have money to pay people, what can you offer in return? Could you do someone’s headshots in return for them writing you your website content?
  • Decide how much you want to work for free. There is a painful and annoying tradition of beginners working for free in the arts. If you do, make sure you are gaining something from it, that you’re not doing it for any longer than you need to build up your CV, and that you are doing it for a company who truly cannot pay you (like a charity, peers, community group). For instance, in film, sometimes people (bizarrely) expect the writer to work for free when the cast and crew are being paid. To hell with that. If everyone is working for expenses and using the experience to build their showreel, and if you believe in the project, go for it. If you are being exploited, get out of Dodge. Do not let yourself be taken advantage of, ever. It’s fine to say no.
  • Don’t undersell yourself or undermine the competition. It’s not good for any of us. When you have experience enough to call yourself a professional, charge professional rates (find them on professional guild websites). Don’t be the photographer who will do an evening’s work for a tenner – who are you helping? Nobody.
  • Be nice if you get rejected. Your work will not be for everyone – it would be an incredibly boring old world if we all liked the same thing. Some people won’t need your services, might not like your style,might not want to talk to you, or might not like your story. It’s fine. Say thank you and move on. They might remember you when things change.
  • Know how to do your taxes (attend a workshop if you need to!), make up a simple business plan, and most of all, enjoy yourself.

Some other freelancers will give you completely different advice than me based on their own experience, which leads me to my last bit of advice: there’s no real right way to do things. Find what works for you.

What other advice would you give to new freelancers who want to be creative professionals?

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