Last week appeared to be the first large flurry of redundancies across creative, digital and PR agencies as my LinkedIn feed became flooded with somber news. Most seem to be turning their hand to freelancing and “going out on their own” - hoping to pick up what work they can as we move through this uncertain and anxious time.
The constant hustle of a sole trader isn’t always easy - you need to have a specialism, proven experience and a huge amount of tenacity. I have been collaborating with freelancers and independent creatives across Asia and Australia for 15 years. In 2018, I started an agency alternative that provides brands with access to highly specialised, creative experts - meaning they only pay for the work completed as opposed to hefty agency retainers.
During this time, I’ve discovered what makes a truly great freelancer and...what doesn’t. Sure, you get a (rightfully deserved) pat on the back when you take the leap and go out on your own - but from our experience with our network, that first step is the easiest part. What comes next are the challenges surrounding finding a consistency of work, some form of structure and routine and a supportive community to be part of.
It is key you define your value and be clear about what makes you unique in the market. There are a dime a dozen creative freelancers but specialisations in terms of experience, network and approach is what will differentiate you from the next. Getting a clear grip on this from the start will not only help you to back yourself and be confident when speaking to prospective clients.
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Getting down to work
One of my firm beliefs is that if you’re good at what you do - you will be busy - which is what has led our referral system to now be working in full swing.
Secondly, contact everyone you know. Literally. The hustle is real so managing and communicating to your network is just as important as finding new work. Right now, that means hitting the phone, social media, WhatsApp, emails or Zoom calls. Once social distancing measures ease, and we can get back to the pubs and cafes, this means meeting up with as many past and new contacts as possible. Believe it or not, we have actually met some of our best clients when sitting next to them in cafes, planes and even in lifts.
Thirdly, don’t be alone - find a community of people you can collaborate with, learn from and lean on when things get a little tough. There’s a lot of talk right now about mental health and working from home. Being part of a network can help alleviate feelings of loneliness common amongst freelancers - particularly for those Friday afternoon vinos. If you’re someone who relies on office banter and morning coffee runs, make sure you still do that - albeit virtually. It's a great way to creatively explore, collaborate and learn.
Get a good set up too. A solid “office corner” is key for those Zoom calls. Find a dedicated space in your home and create a workspace that you can shut off from when you need to although truthfully, unlike permanent employment - you may never truly ‘shut off’ again.
Tash Menon is the founder and director of MASH, an Australian-based business that curates freelance experts for client projects based on referrals.