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7 things freelance life has taught me

I didn’t plan to be a ‘creative freelancer’, it just kind of… happened. I’m 22, still a part-time student, and am gradually turning hobbies I do for fun into paid work. A very fortunate position to be in, I know! I’ve never had a 9-5, and annual leave or regular paydays are somewhat of a foreign concept to me. I don’t have any personal experience to compare the freelance lifestyle to, but for now it seems to be going OK! Being a Creative Jack Of All Trades (official job title) currently involves modelling, photography, social media content creation and knitwear design. They all go together rather nicely, which comes in handy.

It’s only in the past year or so that I feel like I’ve settled into this unpredictable lifestyle, in a way that works for me and my current situation (ie. living at home with my parents whilst studying part time). I’m very lucky to be able to sample this lifestyle whilst not paying a big mortgage or anything. This year has taught me lots though so I thought it may be of interest to share!

Face to face contact is invaluable. The internet is fantastic and I’ve made many pals over Instagram but it really isn’t a substitute for actually meeting people in person. I’m super grateful for the CWS Creatives community in Preston – their monthly casual meetups have led to photography jobs, workshop teaching opportunities and new local friends, which is always a bonus when you spend lots of time at home alone! Freelance modelling jobs have come about because I checked out a sample sale and posted a picture on Instagram. I feel so much more motivated, inspired, and connected after an IRL meetup than reading any amount of motivational spiel online. Freelance/creative work often comes from word of mouth, from starting conversations, and from putting yourself out there on the off-chance something will come of it, not from refreshing your inbox every 5 minutes hoping for something groundbreaking to land (been there).

It’s normal to feel like you’re bossing it one minute and failing the next. I’ve just accepted this is how it will always be, and if there comes a point where I’m 100% confident things are going comfortably well, then I’ll be very grateful.  For now I’m just happy to accept that creative work ebbs and flows, and appreciate the quiet times as opportunities to work on things I really want to, not just what needs to be done ASAP.

It’s difficult to know when to work for free. Knowing your worth is an absolute minefield in creative industries! Doing something for free to get your foot in the door is sometimes necessary: models need to constantly update their portfolio with unpaid shoots, photographers need experience that can’t always be paid for, designers sometimes need exposure that doesn’t pay… you get the idea. Personally I’d rather do the odd day for free when I choose – be it as a gesture of goodwill or as an introductory shoot or something like that – then work for decent rates from there on, than work for paltry rates from the beginning. 

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Chances are your creative skills aren’t limited to one particular discipline, and the more varied your income streams, the better.

Nobody is ever interested in qualifications.  She says, in the 4th year of studying for an Planetary Science degree that I have no idea what I’ll ever do with.  Since college I haven’t been asked for a CV once. Nobody cares whether you have a piece of paper that says you can do something, they care whether you can actually do it.  Obviously this is only relevant for the creative industries – I’d quite like my GP to have a piece of paper stating they’re fully capable – but it’s definitely worth remembering.  I’m currently working lots in the knitting industry, and does anybody care that I have an A* in A-level textiles, or that I didn’t study it any further?  Do they heck.  I’d go so far as to say that a creative degree can sometimes be off-putting, as studying something in a way that can be judged against examinable criteria can sometimes strip all creativity.

Say yes to scary things.  Last year I was asked to film a wedding for a family friend’s daughter.  I’ve photographed a couple of weddings, but beyond my YouTube travel vlogs and a few daft videos for my mum’s work, I hadn’t done any video work in my life.  The bride and groom knew this, but were happy to take a gamble and trust my creativity.  Talk about jumping in at the deep end! Safe to say I was absolutely bricking it beforehand, and convinced the video would be a total flop.  As it turned out I really enjoyed filming on the day, captured some great footage (if I do say so myself), and the couple and their family loved the finished video and have apparently watched it many times since.  It won’t be the greatest wedding video the world has ever seen, but it captured their special day in a way they’re happy with and I had the opportunity to challenge myself and try something new.  I’m not the kind of person who finds myself absolutely bricking it very often, but it does me good every now and then!

If possible, save a little from every payment.  Unpredictable payments is one of the downsides of freelance life and chasing invoices is the bane of most of our lives (that, and the HMRC website come tax return time…), but putting away a small chunk of every single payment as soon as it hits my account has helped make it feel more steady.  It isn’t as noticeable if it goes straight out before you have chance to see the total when it went in.  Obviously I recognise that I’m in a very privileged position to be able to do this and if I had kids and a mortgage it’d be a totally different story, but my main point is that if you can, put (some of) that dollar away immediately.  You don’t know how long it will need to last you!

Lily Kate x

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  • Reply
    Bash Harry
    10th February 2020 at 7:59 am

    Being a freelancer is so odd cause yeah, it’s fun to be my own boss but I also it’s so unpredictable. It feels like I’m working towards everything and nothing!

    with love,
    Hey Bash

    • Reply
      lily kate
      11th February 2020 at 9:48 am

      You just explained it perfectly! There are no ‘quarterly targets’ or anything like that to work towards, but every day counts when there’s no guarantee of a payday at the end of the month!
      Lots of love,
      Lily x

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