10 tips on life as a freelance creative

Are you new to freelancing, considering freelancing or never had the courage to leave your job but would like to? If yes, please read on.

I work with a number of companies, speak to friends who work in full time positions and teach students looking to move into a new career. I’m often faced with questions like how do you manage life as a freelancer? or don’t you miss the security of a full time job? My passion is to meet like minded people, do what I enjoy doing and have time to work on my own projects – this is why I work as a freelance creative. I won’t work on projects I don’t believe in and although I enjoy some more than others, I’m proud of my work/play balance.

I have put a few of my thoughts into writing for those curious about what it is to be a freelance creative like me. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts, hear suggestions on how you manage freelance life and hear your questions based on these 10 thoughts below:

1. Have a web presence: Do you realise how easy it is to have a website or blog up and running? The joys of wordpress allow anyone to choose a name, change the colours, add some text and have a blog style website set up. This could either be used as a portfolio, an information point or have a point of view and keep an online journal updated. If you want to be more ambitious, you could learn to edit wordpress in more detail, in which case wordpress.org is a fantastic starting point. You will need to buy a domain name and pay for hosting (where as wordpress.com is a free, more basic service) but you will have the flexibility of editing the themes code base.

If you want to know if a particular domain name is available, I recommend using Name Checker. It will tell you if the twitter handle, YouTube channel etc etc is also available for that name.

Having a website is a great place for people to learn about you. Maybe they heard your name mentioned, did a google search or saw your thoughts on twitter. If you don’t have a web presence, how will a potential client or collaborator find you?

REMEMBER, if you choose to start a blog, you will need to keep it updated (which is time you need to factor in) – an updated (spell checked) blog could be detremental to your career…

example: Hubert Consulting

Hubert Consulting wordpress.org website

Hubert Consulting wordpress.org website

David Hubert became a freelance consultant at the start of 2013 and realised that if he wanted to attract EU and International clients he would need a website to explain his services. The domain HubertConsulting.com was available to buy and using wordpress.org (using bluehost hosting), a simple, clean website was uploaded to the internet.

2. Use social media: Get yourself on twitter. It’s the best tool for putting your name out to the wider world. It allows you to have a voice, share your expertise and ‘meet’ people from other backgrounds. Of course there is etiquette that you will need to learn (start watching how others compose their tweets), hashtags that will attract followers and ways to encourage more followers but more information on etiquette will have to wait for another blog entry!

You can always use twitter to curate your news feed, reply to other people’s tweets or share new and interesting information for others. But don’t forget, there are many versions of social media you can use. I don’t use Pinterest for example but I can completely see the value if you want others to see your taste, understand your creativity or simply gain a better understanding of you as a person.

Although you could choose to hide your tweets (I’m not sure why anyone wanting to promote themselves would do this!), REMEMBER that anything you put on twitter can be seen by anyone, even if they don’t have a twitter account or follow you.

example: Dokker.com

Dokker.com twitter page

Dokker.com twitter page

Dokker.com is a tech start-up who have built a platform for allowing document templates to be shared. I did some work with Dokker.com to help them launch their product in the UK – we used social media to raise their profile. In a small amount of space it is clear what Dokker.com does through their description, their website link is visible and their account let’s you see their point of view through their tweets.

3. Collaborate with others: Freelancing is about being open to new projects and being creative means you are always curious. There are a number of online platforms which can be used to carry out pro-bono work and develop your own skills while helping others. I’m a big fan of OpenIDEO. The platform where people design better, together. Taking part in their challenges gives you exposure to real life briefs but gives you the flexibility of working on the brief when it suits you. Because the online community are there to help each other you will receive near instant feedback on your work and learn how others think!

You can always take your skills offline and attend ‘Hack Day‘ events where a range of people come together to work on a creative brief in a short amount of time. Whether this is a whole weekend with socially conscious Good for Nothing, 36 hours at an IDEO Make-A-Thon or a service design focused event like the Global Service Jam you are guaranteed to meet inspiring people and be forced to test your creativity.

REMEMBER though that if you are going to take part in an online community or attend a Hack Day, you need give as well as get! Your input is essential.

example: My Fail Tale

My Fail Tale on OpenIDEO

My Fail Tale on OpenIDEO

I took part in the OpenIDEO web entrepreneur challenge where they were looking for concepts to help EU web entrepreneurs be more sustainable. My concept ‘TED Positive’ (now My Fail Tale) was chosen as one of the 10 winners and was presented at the European Commission’s Digital Agenda Assembly. The best part of taking part in the challenge is that I have my own project up and running and I was lucky enough to meet some exciting and inspiring people while in Brussels at the European Commission.

4. Network, network, network: this does not mean simply giving out business cards (in fact, I don’t usually bother with business cards), it means go and talk to people. Online this can be done through LinkedIn or offline at events, talks or conferences. How do people know who you are, what you do or what you’re good at/your interests are if you don’t tell them?

There are some fantastic places to look for events; look on company’s website or use eventbrite or MeetUp to find out what’s coming up near you. Use the event hashtag to focus your tweets, write a blog piece about what you’ve learnt or use the event as an excuse to meet people you haven’t met before in person.

REMEMBER that you need to be confident and approach people if you want to network. There is no point in attending an event then sitting back hoping people will approach you. It is also essential that you too follow up with people you meet – drop them an email or link in with them.

example: iBehave

iBehave MeetUp page

iBehave MeetUp page

I have recently become involved with a MeetUp that is focussed on using technology to change people’s behaviours around health. We run a montly MeetUp and encourage a wide range of people from academics to entrepreneurs to developers and funders to attend. It creates a fantastic room full of inspiring people all interested in the same topic. The discussions are facinating and new connections are always made.

5. Learn what you’re good at: working freelance can make describing your job title that bit harder. You no longer have one strict job title and your potential to work across a number of projects is much greater. Do you know how to describe yourself or explain what you’re good at? Look at how others describe themselves and read other people’s blogs. Do you have ex-colleagues you could share your thoughts with to see if they agree? It is a good exercise to look over your CV or write down all the skills you have and also list all the skills you enjoy using. From these lists, start to sculpt a job description or a short bio for yourself which captures all of this and looks focussed.

REMEMBER, whatever you write as your bio on your website, linkedIn account or Twitter profile, it can be changed!

example: LinkedIn profile

LinkedIn expertise section

LinkedIn expertise section

LinkedIn is a great tool for sharing your CV with a wide audience. Gaining recommendations from past colleagues helps to reinforce your skills and show potential clients what you are good at. The new ‘skills and expertise’ section that LinkedIn have recently introduced is a quick way to tell others what you are good at. You may find this a useful tool for self promotion.

6. Find a creative work place: When you work in a full time position, you are likely to have a desk, an office to go to everyday and colleagues to speak to on a regular basis. Working freelance can be a lonely experience for some people and it is important to build a routine that suits you. Maybe you enjoy working from home or maybe you miss the daily interaction with others.

Luckily, with more and more start-ups appearing (especially in London) and more people becoming self employed, finding somewhere to work that has power points and WiFi isn’t difficult.

REMEMBER, whatever way you like to work, make sure you create a working environment that suits you, not what you think you’re expected to do.

example: Google Campus, Central Working cafe

I have started to work at the Google Campus, central working cafe which is close to Old Street in London. Upstairs is TechHub, the shared working space for tech start-ups. It is a cafe which you need to register to use but once you’re inside is full of creative, like minded people. The number of tables is limited but the coffee is good and the atmosphere is perfect for me to sit and work. It can be noisey and sometimes a bit hectic but that is the type of environment I feel inspired to work in.

7. Combine your hobbies: I have a love for motorbikes. This is often news to people and not something you associate with a girl in her 30’s. The freedom that two wheels give you is unstoppable and riding on a motorbike often starts conversations with strangers – something else I love! I like to use my passion for motorbikes to take me to places where I can pick up new insights and learn from my experiences.

REMEMBER though that you need make sure that your freelance work and hobbies have some relevance 😉

example: Two Wheel Exploring

twowheelexploring.com

twowheelexploring.com

At the end of 2012, I went on a motorbike adventure from London to The Gambia to go and experience different cultures, face the unknown and have an advenuture. I took five weeks away from work and would never have been able to do this when I was full time employed. Riding from London, through Spain and down through Africa took me past villages and into communities which I would never normally have the chance to experience. I took a video camera and filmed the encounters I came across. I just need time to edit this film into a 45 minute documentary ‘What we can learn from developing countries’

8. Learn new skills: In a full time position you may be lucky enough to be sent on courses for your own personal development.  As a freelancer you need to do this yourself and these courses can be costly. Instead, why not attend events at organisations like General Assembly where you can learn new skills at affordable prices? There are plenty of online learning tools which could either help you brush up your skills or teach you something totally new.

REMEMBER new skills will always look good on your CV but you will need to be disciplined to keep these skills fresh if you don’t have a freelance project to use them on.

example: Code Academy

Codeacademy.com

codeacademy.com

Code Academy is a very accessible online tool to learn how to code. You will be exposed to coding from the second you launch the website and soon realise how simple the site is. Once you have completed a few of the tasks you will begin to earn points which will motivate you to keep going.

9. Get good at doing your own tax: Having to file your own tax return is clearly one of the biggest barriers to people wanting to becoming their own boss. Ok, you can pay an accountant to do this for you (which is fantastic if you have the money) but I believe it’s important to at least do the first one yourself so that you gain an understanding of what’s involved. Don’t let people put you off doing your tax return by them telling you it’s complicated. It’s as complicated as you make it – the secret is to be organised and to set up a system for recording your expenses. I’m also often surprised at how few people use the HMRC website for help. I have called them a number of times and have always spoken to a very helpful person.

REMEMBER there are also the HMRC webinars which are a good starting point for understanding how self employed taxes work.

examples:  expensify.com

expensify.com website

expensify.com website

There are a number of tools on the internet which are designed to help you with your self employed tax return. I recently read about expensify.com in the The Sunday Times as a tool to help you record your receipts. I recommend using any tools that help you!

I’ve recently discovered but not yet used SimpleTax.com

10. Don’t get disheartened: when you first start looking for freelance work, you may not have constant work. This could easily happen between jobs too but remember that is the nature of working for yourself. You don’t have a boss anymore, no one is telling you what to do and you can choose the projects you work on. If you have a few days spare, work on your tax return, find a conference to attend, write a blog piece or go and do something non work related!

REMEMBER to enjoy it.

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What do you make?

Charlene Lam‘s story-telling at the IDEO Make-A-Thon reunion last week was really entertaining. Her talks allowed me to reminisce and make me think back to my ‘making days’.

Charlene is a creative who works with materials and textiles. Her company Creative Clerkenwell looks to connect creatives in London and will feature at the Clerkenwell Design Week in May. Charlene told a great story of the things she makes. Meet the ‘operation red rabbit‘:’To celebrate the Year of the Rabbit, a warren of red rabbits were made from papier mache and placed around the streets of East London’.

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Charlene’s story telling inspired me to question what I make…

When I was about 9 years old my dad bought me a hot glue gun. Accompanied by a scalpel and balsa wood, I used to enjoy making structures and boxes. They weren’t anything in particular but I loved it. My dad enjoyed encouraging my creativity and I loved making things – it was a win-win!

A number of years later, I took the then called ‘CDT’ craft, design, technology A Level
and discovered the wood work and silversmith workshops. I’d find any excuse to turn objects on the lathe or make pieces of jewelry.

Then I went to university and built on all these skills by discovering the soldering iron. It’s amazing what you can create by soldering an electronic circuit board together…! I designed the ‘anti-theft handbag‘, a biometric handbag which only opens when the correct finger is scanned. I thrived on making prototypes and models.

One theme I have carried through all my life is enjoying making birthday cards, wrapping paper out of old paper and making purses or small bags to hold objects. Give me an old piece of card, scrap material or unusual packaging and I can guarantee it will be kept for a rainy day.

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When I graduated from my undergraduate degree, however, I moved into London and no longer had the space for much model making or workshop equipment. Life changed too and London had lots to offer and plenty of places to explore. My interests also change slightly. I became very interested in sustainability and reusing objects. It was Victor Papanek’s ‘The Green Imperative‘ that changed my view on ‘life’. I started to view objects and consumerism in a different way and set myself the challenge of not buying new clothes for a year. I found this remarkably easy and I got a real kick out of rediscovering my wardrobe again.

So, this is where my ‘I make….’ story comes in.

I (like to) make old clothes comes to life. Not buying new clothes did nonetheless mean I could continue indulging in my love of buying from charity and vintage clothes shops. There’s something really exciting about knowing that a piece of clothing has a story behind it, is cheaper than its original price and has potentially been saved from landfill. The only problem is that most people are turned off buying second hand because of the smell, it may not fit properly or more often than not, hasn’t been displayed in a way that they can relate to.

Talking of clothing with history, DoTheGreenThing recently created Glove Love ‘an initiative where we take lonely single gloves that have lost their original partners, wash them and then pair them with brand new glove lovers’. The best bit about buying the gloves is the lovely message that comes with them. Each pair of gloves is tagged telling you a story of where they were found. Seriously, it’s worth £5 to just read the story (and to have an odd pair of gloves with a Do The Green Thing label on them).

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I don’t often find a garment of clothing fits perfectly but that’s where a pair of scissors, needle and thread and accessories come in handy. I wish I had taken “before and after” photos of some of my creations but instead will have to list them out and hope you can use your imagination.

– The ugly 70s dress that ended mid calf: 15cm off the length gave it a new lease of life.
– The shoulder padded ‘Dynasty’ dress: removing of the shoulder pads and a brooch made it this season.
– The 80s pencil skirt: a tuck in the top made it sit higher and therefore more flattering.
– The black, sleeveless, moth eaten, shapeless dress: stitching up of the holes and a retro belt transformed it.
– The boring tweed jacket: now with red button holes made it this seasons must have.

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Sometimes a new belt, change of length, additional stitching or different combination of accessories can transform an outfit. Trust me, it’s very satisfying when people ask where an outfit is from and the answer is ‘part charity shop, part old garment, part hand-me-down’.

I worked on a project a couple of years ago which is very relevant to this love of making old clothing come to life. In collaboration with [re]design, we took ‘Chalky Van’, the chip-fat-powered-chalkboard VW van to the Vintage Festival at Goodwood. I facilitated a few engaging sessions with the festival goers around the reuse of clothing. The most insightful was when I placed a nasty old shirt on the van and asked people what they would do to give it a second life. People of all ages came to write or draw their answer on the van.

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Some of the best responses that really touched me were:
‘use the buttons as eyes for my puppet’ – girl aged approximately 6 years old.
‘blow my nose on it’ – man aged approximately 50 years old.
‘tie a belt around it and wear it with my tapered chinos’ – girl aged approximately 25 years old
‘make a scarecrow’ man aged approximately 30 years old.

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I’m clearly not the only person who sees the value in an old piece of clothing!

Making old clothes come to life is a passion I have. I will never have a fashion label from it, nor will most people ever realise the story behind my wardrobe but it does make me happy knowing that I wear second hand clothing. Keeping spare buttons, boxes of material and never throwing away clothes my infuriate my boyfriend but that’s the designer in me….! Forever curious about what I can get my hands on next and adapt.

IDEO London host a story-telling evening

IDEO London hosted a really inspiring reunion for the Make-A-Thon event back in February. The theme of the evening was story-telling and of course, in true IDEO style, there was story-telling and more.

First up was Brendan Dawes talking about Popa, the iPhone camera button. Such a heart felt journey of a fun idea to create an attachment to turn your iPhone into a cool camera.

Brendan travelled miles, experienced the power of twitter, went through highs and lows but in the end has produced an amazing Kickstarter ‘tech gadget’ as a one man band. I am now, even more than before, inspired to start a crowd funded project…My only complaint is that I want one and have to wait for the next batch 😉 @brendandawes

Then we heard from Jeremy Innes-Hopkins who had me engaged when his talk about having the opportunity to design a phone for Nokia demonstrated how a vibrating phone sounds different on different materials.  Inspired by the Nokia 7110 phone in The Matrix movie which activated at the click of a button to an opening facia, Jeremy’s prototype was a playful phone which flipped up 90 degrees when it rung. Unfortunately Nokia snubbed Jeremy’s prototype which was a silly move considering Jeremy’s design was receiving more hits (on his website) than Nokia were with their latest phone launch…! @JeremyIH

Haiyan took us through the incredible story of how she created an online Geigermap which became a phenomom in Japan. She wanted to use the uninspiring, hard to interpret data produced by the government into a visually useful and easy to use, informative map. The power of crowd sourcing proved incredible and although it needs close monitoring at times, shows that a single idea can scale and escalate beyond your initial idea. Haiyan went out to Japan and met people who now rely on her map to understand radiation levels in and around Japan. Heart warming. @Haiyan

Ben Redford intrigued us with his story of Olly and Polly finding love.

Tasked with the job of designing a tangible output for a digital input, Ben told the story of prototyping devices that produce a smell when a tweet is received. Ben showed images of excellent prototypes which consisted of Pringle crisp packets and Magic trees through to ‘at home’ injection mouldings. Demonstrating a working prototype of Polly, the bubble gum spitting robot was priceless! She turns your tweets into sweets. @bredford2

Fergus Doyle told his story while standing on a kite board. Although the story was about him teaching people how to kiteboard, the underlying message was about people’s habits. It resonates well with a previous post I wrote about how we are creatures of habit. You can assume people will do something because everyone else has done it in the past but there will always be one person who acts out of character because of a habit they are use to. In this case, Fergus found himself running fast after a new kite boarder who was used to being on a snow board and bombed off in a different direction! @junkafarian

During the break we had a team challenge to build the tallest tower out of spaghetti, masking tape, string and a marshmallow on top. I heard there was a prize for the most daring tower which we, unfortunately attempted, and failed.

Tom Hulme led his talk in by reinforcing the importance of prototyping, testing, prototyping, making. Apparently MBA students will always agonise over the process and drop the marshallow on the top at the very last minute. Their average height is 20cm. While kindergarten kids will build a bit, test it and build again taking the marshmallow up and up. Their average is 30cm. This TED talk on the subject by Tom Wujec is well worth a watch.

Tom gave us all a piece of paper and tasked us to work out how you could insert an inflatable rubber ring through a small hole to fit around your heart. After a few shout outs, Tom explained how he was playing around in class one day trying to work this problem out. He came up with the answer of creating folds all the way around the ring to reduce the diameter of the ring to the size of the hole it needed to go through. From playing around in class to work out how to solve the challenge, Tom now has his name on a Coronary Heart Disease instrument patent. @thulme

Jude Pullen, the very talented cardboard engineer showed images of a dinosaur model he made as a kid and of his excellent Sponge Bob outfit for his work Christmas Party.

I have never seen cardboard used so creatively. His love for cardboard engineering was shown off when he passed around small structures he had made which demonstrated how perfect curves and unusual shapes can be created. He was inspired by the website ‘sketch a day‘ and decided to create a set of YouTube videos which shows others how to make these structures themselves. Thanks for sharing your skill with others, Jude. @Jude_Pullen

Last but not least was Charlene, the new Yorker who came to London knowing only that she wanted to do something creative. When Charlene heard the term ‘designer maker’ she felt she had found her destined job title. Then faced with the question of ‘what do you make?’ Charlene had to question herself but luckily did not give up on her love to create things. She took us through a wonderful story of playful, creative and unusual objects which she had made and will promote making at the Clerkenwell Design Week this May. Check out the lovely imagery of her making – the po-tatoe is well worth a look. @CClerkenwell

Charlene really got me thinking about what I make. My first reaction was ‘I used to make lots of things’. That was when I had space, a loyal glue gun, soldering iron and spare time. But the more I think, the more I realise I do make things, they just use different skills and are focused around different things these days. The next blog post will focus on Louise and making!  Thanks for the inspiration, Charlene, it is so valuable to question yourself from time to time.

My take-aways from the evening were –

  • Persevere: if you have an idea, a dream, a passion, you can make it happen. Be prepared for ups and downs and an interesting journey. Be playful, make things, sketch ideas and talk to people.  You’ll learn more than you thought from all of your experiences.
  • Look around you: what do you need to make your idea happen? I bet if you take a step back and reflect on what you’re trying to achieve that the answer will appear. A ‘normal’ journey is unheard of when you hear stories of success.
  • Question yourself: is what you’ve set out to achieve what you want or is that simply your starting point? Why can’t you do something different? Terminology can be twisted to suit anything.
  • Think ‘now’ then multiple that: remember that an idea may start off small but the power of the Internet and social networking can scale it within minutes. Be ready…
  • Ask yourself who’s in your team?: you may begin on a journey with only a few people in mind but if the idea is good, your ‘team’ of stakeholders and end users will grow. Make sure you acknowledge them and take them on the journey will you.

When’s the next event?