Launching a Freelance Career during COVID - What I've learned in the first Three Months.
The idea of successfully freelancing in one of the most competitive industries had always felt quite slim when I began my career as a full-time videographer. Even landing that full time job was itself a form of triumph, as each September, thousands, of fresh media graduates, alongside a considerable amount of self-taught individuals, compete for a range of entry level jobs.
However, the prospect of successfully freelancing in one of the most competitive industries, during a global pandemic that resulted in temporary production holts and terrifying redundancy levels, hadn't ever crossed my mind. Understandably.
Before I took 'the leap', I had already spent many evenings after work, preparing for it. I had grown a bizarre obsession for creating well-oiled spreadsheets (seriously, they make your life so much easier and there's something weirdly satisfying when a complex formula actually works), and squeezing out as much free SEO advice out of Google, without paying for an online course.
Countless YouTube videos later, on "how to become freelance" and hearing anecdotes from other filmmakers, the phrase "There will never be a right time" was one common similarity between most of them. Now, given the current climate we are all facing, many would expect that statement to be particularly true right now. But instead, I gave it a shot, and at the beginning of October 2020, I announced I was becoming a freelance videographer.
My working situation had changed, and rather quickly found myself needing to explore alternative ways to bring home a salary. To avoid the feeling of defeat, I had to instead seek the positives, with a major one being that the time I now had due to the ever-lasting lockdowns, actually granted me a golden opportunity to at least give it a try. Even if I were to find another full time job in the media industry, I knew that competition would have been fierce, even before COVID. So realistically, what did I have to lose?
Instead of this blog turning into a memoir, I thought it was important for people to know a bit about why I decided to give freelancing a try. From now on, the rest of the blog explains what I've actually learned within the first three months of working for myself, which can in-turn help you if you're in a similar position about taking that 'leap' into self-employment.
Learning is also earning
One of the most important things I had to adapt straight away, was the mental shift in how I perceive the way that I would earn money. The transition from essentially earning money 'every day' with a full time job, to maybe 'earning' up to a few days a week. Those days off though, are some of the most influential in terms of my own development, and learning other skills that can benefit my offering to clients/brands/agencies, and take a step closer to my ultimate ambition. So rather than thinking that I always have to be bringing in some form of income every day, I'm instead investing my 'spare' time by either practicing new skills and techniques, or strengthening everything else that goes on 'behind-the-scenes' of freelancing (filmmaking pun completely intended, there).
Secondly, it made me understand the 'premium' rate that often comes with full-time freelancers. Not only does your day rate have to factor in your expertise, taxes, future investment, previous investment, monthly bills, pensions and more, but equally as important are those days off, that give you the opportunity to develop even further as a creative.
Behind-the-scenes of freelancing
Which leads us onto the next topic, smoother than a BBC One Show segment link, which are the parts of freelancing that every businessperson or entrepreneur has to consider, alongside their primary specialism, which in my case is filmmaking. And that is the continuous, yet hugely important responsibility of the admin tasks.
Filing receipts. YouTube tagging. Updating the website. Backing-up. Networking. At face-value, these may seem as mundane tasks that no one really wants to undertake. However, all of these have the power to influence my freelance opportunities. If I don't back-up the footage, I might lose a client. If I don't network, I might not make a new client. If I don't tag my YouTube links, I'm limiting my exposure (okay, this pun wasn't intentional, I swear). So instead of seeing these as the tasks that might be seen to some as 'restricting' me of 'proper' work, they should be seen as supporting my work, and by finding a way for those operations to run smoothly, it then gives me more time to focus on the creative side of my career.
Whilst I only made the decision to freelance four months ago, I have spent many, many hours laying the foundations of what's required, for me to work for myself, and setting up the various documents, production-setups and watching invaluable tutorials, so I'd be ready for when the time comes. I reckon I've spent at least a year of semi-regular planning - If I were to hypothetically hand in my notice today, and start freelancing in 30 days time with none of these foundations already setup, there's no chance I'd be prepared for day one of freelance life. Not a chance.
Those things take time, whether that's a few hours in an evening after work, or giving up a weekend morning. Whilst to some people, that may sound like a dull way to spend your spare time, it's the investment of time that I'm very relieved to use back then, when I realistically had the time to do it.
If you're someone who is thinking that's pretty dull, I speak a little later about the importance of a positive mind, so stick around!
I mentioned it briefly a little earlier, but networking is incredibly important. But, especially given the recent times, both the prospect and functionality of 'networking' has naturally shifted away from the stereotypical Tuesday morning meet-ups in a corner of a Brewer's Fayre being the most effective way of gaining new work. I mean no disrespect to the organisations that do network in this way, I've even attended these meetings in the past. However, I know that it can take a lot of courage to attend those events - an amount that might put some people off from networking in the first place.
Whilst that will still remain a powerful tool for many businesses out there, digital technology has also reacted even more, to make the internet instinctively become a suitable networking tool, for folk like me.
To me, social media has been very influential in my first three months as a freelancer. LinkedIn will always remain a fantastic way to meet like-minded people, share insightful business anecdotes, or showcase your latest work. But as a self-employed individual who values the 'personal' and you could say 'more informal' relationships with some of my clients, I've grown to realise how impactful an Instagram comment, or a YouTube video can be. In fact, in the week of writing this blog, I was contacted by someone online who complimented the content on my YouTube channel - a passion project that I maintain in my spare time, and after connecting, we are now discussing potentially working together on a future project!
Visit my YouTube Channel Here!
Hopefully, this highlights the opportunities that those 'days off' to develop or create your own passion projects, could bring, as a way to gain even more work.
Taking the 'leap' during COVID
Like everyone else, I honestly cannot wait for when life begins to regain a sense of 'normality' again, where the media industry finds a sense of equilibrium (okay this one might have been forced into the blog a little), and thrives again just like before COVID. Which leads me onto my final point...
This past year has been extremely difficult for many of us - myself included. Personally, the time spent within the same four walls have triggered those doubtful thoughts every start-up entrepreneur or freelancer has. Now more than ever, we all have to see this situation with the 'glass half full' approach, and seek the opportunities that this horrible situation can somehow provide. It might require a little bit of hunting at first, but once that mindset is 'locked-in', I assure you those doubts will be overruled with positive thoughts. Here are a few of mine:
There's unlikely to be another time where we are given this much time. Utilise it, and see it as an opportunity to strive towards new/better things in your career, rather than see it as a reason for everything to be halted.
If I am able to succeed as a freelancer, through what remains of these unprecedented times, I am confident that I'll make a success in a more 'normal' world.
On a more personal note, if you're someone who's reading this, and isn't in the position of contemplating a freelance career, please don't consider those 'tips' as the only way to succeed during lockdown. Its been a rough twelve months for all of us, and even by getting through this, is itself an achievement. In the past, I wasn't always a positive-minded person. I've had moments of low-confidence, and plenty of self-doubt along the way. Not just in the last four months since making the decision to go freelance. But even as I was working full-time and in a secure job, where I wondered if I deserved a specific job title, or why others trust my judgement. Somehow, I've shifted my thought process, to finding the positives in things, and so I wanted to share that with anyone reading this who might also be feeling doubtful.
So there we go. All in all, my first three months of freelance life were never going to be how I imagined, when I originally aspired to become self-employed. The closure of weddings, and the workplace restrictions, have significantly interrupted the normality of the two main sectors I had hoped to slide comfortably in as a freelance filmmaker. But, by keeping myself busy, perfecting my skills, keeping up with Peter McKinnon's YouTube channel, and investing in necessary equipment at a suitable pace, I'm raring to make all of this planning and hard work, worth it.