Taking the leap to become a freelancer can be daunting, maybe even downright terrifying. If you’re ready to take the plunge but don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered with this guide of top tips from Cardiff University’s alumni community.
Andrew Lloyd (MA 2020)
Andrew is a digital writer for Immediate Media by day, but a freelancing feature writer by night. He started freelancing the moment he left Cardiff University and has landed commissions with big names such as The Guardian, VICE, Men’s Fitness and The Independent. He’s refined his skills along the way and learned to juggle a 9-5 job while simultaneously succeeding in the freelancing world by following these key rules:
One of the best things about working freelance is the freedom it gives you to set your own schedule – just make sure you have a routine in place that doesn’t take over your entire week. It can be easy to let the lines blur and find you’re spending all your free time concentrating on the next project. Create specific boundaries between your work and your downtime, and make sure you give yourself enough of the latter, so you don’t burn out.
It sounds a bit boring but it’s worth creating some kind of spreadsheet to keep track of the work you’re sending out and the payments that should be coming in. I use Google sheets with headers that tell me what projects I’m working on at the moment, which projects I’ve pitched for consideration, as well as deadlines and payment dates. It’s all colour coded so at a glance I know what work I’ve got left to do, and if I’ve been paid for the work I’ve already done.
Got a question for Andrew? You can connect on Cardiff Connected.
Joelle Rumbelow (BSc 2016)
Joelle is a freelance set decorator and designer, and has worked on the set of Sherlock, Brave New World, Torchwood and How I Live Now. She is currently working as a freelance set decorator for Netflix and is part of a Clwstr project, researching a spatial design app. With such an impressive portfolio, she has great tips (based on years of experience) for how to successfully manage ‘being your own boss’:
Every freelance project requires a balance of time, money, and creative direction, and rarely are all three in abundance. Since becoming a working mother, I have learned to put a higher value on my time. Using exercises and mindfulness techniques can help to manage creative anxiety, and it’s also important to try and switch off during non-working hours. Turn off your mobile phone and email for managed periods of time. When you return to a problem from a new perspective, the solution quickly presents itself.
Identify your role
Lines of responsibility can become blurred in the creative process, I always self-check and take time at the beginning of a project to understand my role and deliverables as a freelancer within the wider team. Aim to be selfless and collaborative, be prepared to navigate and share ideas without claiming ownership. If you encounter a difficult creative agenda, always aim to do what’s right for the project and the team, and ask yourself what’s best for the audience, or customers.
Miriam Gordon (BA 2019)
Miriam is a freelance private tutor, as well as working for MyTutor.com. Before taking the freelancing plunge, she worked as a Language Assistant in France for Les Petits Bilingues-Reims. She studied French at Cardiff University and is currently working towards her PhD with the University of Warwick, so she knows a thing or two about balancing a heavy workload! Miriam was happy to share her top tips on freelancing with us:
Set your terms
Even if you don’t fully know the specifics of what your service is going to offer, make a point of setting your terms and conditions before starting your freelance career. It protects you by making clear what your clients should expect from your service as well as your expectations from them. You can also make any necessary updates to it later once you found your feet in your new role.
Who’s the client?
In careers like mine, it is not immediately obvious who your client is. In tutoring, for example, you may naturally assume that your client is the student that you are teaching. However, I learnt the hard way that it is indeed the parent who is the client of the service as they are the ones who pay. Always have a clear mind about who your client is and how it is best to communicate with them. Your clients will feel listened to, and you can build up trust with them as you cater to their needs.
Got a question for Miriam? You can connect on Cardiff Connected.
Iestyn Griffiths (MA 2019)
Iestyn is a Musical Director, Keyboardist and Producer, and the Co-founder and Director of The West End of Wales (WeoW). He is also currently the Assistant Musical Director on the Bat Out of Hell International Tour. He’s still fairly new to the freelancing scene, having graduated in 2019, but he’s already accomplished so much! Here are his top tips for getting ahead as a freelancer:
Realise quickly that your opportunities – and subsequently your income – will come from within your network. “Networking” needs to become second nature, but it also needs to be organic and not forced. Be professional, but be personable, and remember the best time to network is when you don’t need anything.
The value of being a good person cannot be underplayed. Being good at what you do is obviously very important, but if you bring positive energy then people will always want to work with you. Make your personality your greatest asset. Show kindness and humility, and work for goodwill, not for glory.
Got a question for Iestyn? You can connect on Cardiff Connected.
Jane Cook (BA 2008)
Jane is an award-winning writer and creator of the popular blog, Hungry City Hippy and also co-hosts a foodie podcast called Hank! with her friend, Matt Appleby. But her ‘day’ job is as an independent PR consultant, working with businesses such as Food Cardiff and Riverside Real Food that focus on sustainability and eating ethically. Here, she provides us with valuable lessons from her freelancing career:
I knew I wanted to work for myself for a long time, and I often heard advice like ‘make sure you have the equivalent of three months’ salary in savings before you quit your job’ – but in the end, I didn’t. Instead, I focussed on making sure I could make my former monthly salary straight away, from month one of being freelance. I did this by working long hours for a couple of months before I took the plunge, lining up projects and networking – turning a few trusted connections into my first clients.
I would wholeheartedly recommend speaking to other freelancers in your field of expertise; you may have to reach out to strangers online, but I have found the freelance / self-employed community to be really welcoming towards those who are looking to take the plunge. It’s not just useful to have these connections at the start – there are likely to be times when you’ll need an extra pair of hands (or they will) and having a network of connections who can pitch in, and help can be a real gamechanger!
Got a question for Jane? You can connect on Cardiff Connected.
The Cardiff University community are a helpful bunch, here to help you get ahead in your chosen career. You can browse through their advice and top tips on a wide range of business topics in our ‘Bossing It’ series.