Written by Kate Solomon - as part of Commission Mission.
Being cast adrift into the world of work without the anchor of a steady income or daily routine can be absolutely terrifying at the best of times, but especially in the middle of a global pandemic, as a result of redundancy, or a combination of the two. No job security! No routine! No real reason to keep up with personal hygiene!
As scary and overwhelming as it can seem, freelancing can also be the most fun you can have as a working human. Working when and wherever you want with no boss, no HR department to run holiday by, nobody microwaving fish for lunch (unless it’s you)... I’ve been doing it for five years now and honestly, I can’t even contemplate going back to an office job. If you can’t have a nap at 3pm every day, it is simply not the life for me. Here are some ways to turn a nightmare scenario into your dream job.
Use the fear
That hollow pit in your stomach and the lurching feeling you get every time you think about paying rent? That is good. That fear is your friend. It is the feeling that is going to force you to find work, to pitch ideas, to make contacts and basically hustle every goddamn day, even when you’re so hungover you’re not sure you can make it from bed to the sofa. You can! And you will! You got this!
Don’t be afraid to say no
Don’t let that fear control you though. Trust your instincts and turn things that aren’t right for you down. If someone comes to you with a project that sounds like it’s going to be a nightmare: that project is probably going to be a nightmare. Either ask for an absurd amount of money or simply say no. Something else will come along, and your time is better spent looking for the work that you will look back on with pride rather than the project you’ve been offered that’s going to give you the shakes every time you think about it for the rest of your life.
Go to the cinema in the middle of the day
Sometimes you just need to take a day off to watch all three Austin Powers films back to back instead of doing work. It’s so nice to be able to do that occasionally. Once you learn to recognise when you’re about to burn out and shut down, you can stave off a longer period of inactivity by giving yourself that break. Likewise, if you’ve sent out a load of pitches and the synapses are no longer firing, stop, step away from the keyboard and go to the cinema in the middle of the day or take yourself to an art gallery. Anything to get the creative juices flowing again is acceptable, including sitting in the pub reading a magazine.
Spreadsheets, spreadsheets, spreadsheets
You’ll be tempted to set up a spreadsheet for absolutely everything in your life. I have so many old pitch documents and invoice lists kicking around that I can make neither head nor tail of, so many hours of careful colour coding that served absolutely no purpose. But organising your thoughts is important and procrastination is an essential part of any job. So knock yourself out with spreadsheets if you find a set-up that works for you; but can I humbly suggest you use Wave for invoicing and accounts, Trello for project managing and a note on your phone for those mad ideas that hit you when you’re on the bus.
Do! Your! Taxes!
DO NOT leave it until January to file your tax return, is advice I will give you but never take. Honestly, there are more important things to stress about in life than trying to find your Unique Taxpayer Reference at 11.30pm on January 31. The tax year ends in April; do your return as soon as you can after that and at the very least you’ll know how much money you owe HMRC. I try to put aside half of everything I earn to cover taxes and a slush fund for quiet months; at least a third of your income should go into a tax account, preferably one you don’t look at or touch until it’s time to pay up.
Finding work is a fun challenge (sometimes)
Obviously pitching is the devil’s work but don’t waste your time looking at it that way. Pitching is the way that you can mould your day to day life into the work you want. If you are in a rut writing, shooting or creating on one plane, switch it up and pitch something completely different. Lots of things will be rejected! C’est la vie! But you could end up making some extremely useful connections that will lead to all kinds of mad shit that you never expected to be doing. Once I was sent to Florida to go to a Star Wars convention and watched two Stormtroopers get married while standing next to Jar Jar Binks: that could be you!
Everyone has a side hustle
It can seem like everyone else is living like a king by creating two pieces of art a month while you’re scraping by on a constant grind. But the truth is, almost every creative freelancer has some kind of corporate work going on. If you’re a journalist, you probably have a copywriting gig or a sideline in moderating panels. If you’re in video, perhaps you do some consultancy for an ad agency, musicians write jingles or do session gigs. The stuff that we’re all shouting about isn’t necessarily the work that pays the bills. Some things you do for the love, not the money. There is absolutely no shame in having a well-paying corporate side hustle, as long as it doesn’t clash with your editorial independence.
Find a freelance buddy
Some days you just need to moan about people not paying their invoices or request a 3pm pub sesh; this is where your freelance BFF comes in. If none of your friends are cool hip 9-to-5-rejecters like you, try suggesting a drink to an acquaintance in the same boat (perhaps over Zoom, in this brave new world we’re in); just knowing that someone else is facing the same challenges as you makes a huge difference. It’s also really important to talk to other people in your industry about how much they’re being paid and quoting: no man is an island. Plus you can both clock off whenever you want.
Know your worth - and your rights
Talking to your freelance buddy about pay is a great start but it’s always worth having that conversation with as many people in your industry as you can. In light of recent events, there are multiple resources online for people looking to figure out fair rates too - this anonymous spreadsheet of freelance pay and this page that lays out who pays what are great places to start. If you’re asked to quote and aren’t sure what to say, don’t go in blind: ask around. When you start out, you’ll probably set up an invoice template: don’t forget to add your payment terms to that. You’re entitled to charge late payment fees if your client fails to pay you on time - if they still don’t pay a further 14 days after that, you can start charging interest. Here’s some copy to work with:
Payment terms are 30 days. Please be aware that according to the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998, freelancers are entitled to claim a £40.00 late fee upon non-payment of debts after this time, at which point a new invoice will be submitted with the addition of this fee. If payment of the revised invoice is not received within a further 14 days, additional interest will be charged to the overdue account at a statutory rate of 8% plus Bank of England base of 0.25% totalling 8.25%.
It’s really ok if it’s not for you
Some people hate freelancing. They hate the lack of structure, they want paid holidays and sick days, they don’t want to sometimes work through the night because they messed about all day watching Netflix, they miss the office, they don’t like the admin. And that’s ok. You can set aside a day a week to job hunt, or take the first random job that comes along just to get out of it. It’s not for everyone. It’s definitely not the easiest way to live. But if you can make it work... boy oh boy, can it be great. You won’t want to go back.
Commission Mission was created by Young Guns Network and London In Stereo to commission 20 new and experienced freelance writers to create articles to inspire, inform and entertain young people in the music industry who are struggling during Covid-19.
The supporters who made this project possible were Association of Independent Music, London In Stereo, Musicians Union, Motive Unknown, PPL, Remi Harris Consulting, Small Green Shoots, Young Guns Network, Youth Music.