FREELANCE SURVIVAL GUIDE
I can’t remember when I haven’t been freelance. I can’t remember when I haven’t enjoyed the freedom of this way of working, as well as hated the awful monthly fear that creeps up on you when the diary looks blank.
So why do I do it? Why don’t I simply get a regular 9-5 job and rest easy, knowing that my income is secure, my holidays are paid and if I get sick the money will still make its way into my bank account. The answer, for me, is variety. I get to present radio and television programmes, write articles, do some media training, as well as study for my MA part time. However, my life is far from sorted. I still have that monthly financial and emotional anxiety, you will still see me on my knees each day handing the day over to God (not because I am holy, but because it is a habit) and I keep on doing the groundwork. It has not always been this way. Read on.
Because this is a website where faith is celebrated; I feel I can be more honest about how that journey fits with everything else. I have this strategy; ‘do the groundwork, and then let go and let god’. Make the calls, but don’t get obsessed about it, constantly update your CV, be rigorous about logging the contacts that you meet on your Iphone, blackberry or contacts book and try and enjoy any networking or meetings you might have but see the PERSON not just the opportunity.
BALANCE BETWEEN WORK AND PLAY.
At ITN the boss used to call me ‘the career seeking missile’ because I was so single minded in my determination to ‘get on’, ‘be the best’ and ‘be successful’. I think age has something to do with this. My 20’s and 30’s were work focussed; retrospectively too much so. Following a couple of bouts of bad depression, I have had to revise my approach to work and build in that unfamiliar experience for freelancers……REST. I HAVE to diary in rest or else I am not able to cope in the long term.
Another ‘R’ – RELATIONSHIPS. Arguably one of the reasons I got divorced in my 30’s was because I didn’t prioritise my marriage enough; and work became too significant. But relationships are so so important. They are around long after the 3 or 6 month contract is over. If you have got long term good mates, keep them. If you have recently moved location in order to work, try and make new friends as soon as you can.
PEER AND CHURCH SUPPORT
If you work nights, weird hours, weekends (believe me I have done it all) try and get out at least once a week with people you can have a laugh with, put the world to rights with and forget work with. If your faith is crucial to you, try and find a faith community that will support you; somewhere you feel comfortable, and somewhere you feel at ease where you don’t have to leave most of your personality and issues outside the door.
I am part of an emerging church community called ‘Moot’ in London. It is gentle, non judgmental and very supportive. Many of us are freelances, so there is a great deal of understanding about this fickle way of being. There is still much (undeserved) shame in our culture about ‘not working’, or ‘looking for work’ (despite the recession), so it is good to have a bunch of people who see beyond my journalist label and who are familiar with the ups and downs of this working pattern.
UPDATE YOUR SKILLS.
Fortunately, within this community, there are people who are capable of teaching me twitter, getting me sorted with blogging and giving me a shove when new technology comes along that I am frightened to touch. I am constantly updating my skills; I will never be a top twitterer, but I work hard to get to grips with new ways of working so that I am familiar with current working practices; this makes me more employable.
I remember crying copiously at a digital training session for BBC breakfast news. The two others in the group were in their twenties, I was in my 40’s just having been ‘let go’ from presenting a London radio breakfast show. It happens, and we have to adapt. I learned the skills, much more slowly than my colleagues, and I survived the 6 months of nights that followed. This is called paying the mortgage. I also built up good relationships on nights; faith discussions were just part of the late night conversations; never forced. I see people as human beings not as conversion fodder. Besides, they were kind and supportive to me..they didn’t need any bible bashing in the wee small hours!
Building relationships is what brings in the work. I never wear my faith as a ‘badge’ in a working environment, although most people know that it’s important to me. My book club mates call me ‘the bishop’; an affectionate term; but as they have seen me in tears, and in depression as well as in joy, they know that I am as human as they are. I am not suggesting that you break down in editorial meetings; but don’t feel that you have to ‘defend’ god constantly; or separate yourself from others because you are ‘a Christian’. God is big enough to look after herself; just do the best you can with what you have and try and relax.
This is an important part of building a career. Over the years I have developed antennae when it comes to knowing who to trust; what work to accept (if I am lucky enough to have a choice) and who pays on time so that I am not overdrawn on my overdraft. You are never going to get it ‘right’; there are some jobs that seem like they come from hell, and others that are a dream ticket. Gradually, as your wisdom grows, you are able to discern what works for you and what doesn’t.
Very important, I should have put this first not last. Try not to under earn. Check what the market will pay for the job you are offered; negotiate if you think you and your experience are worth more. Always ask ‘them’ what they are willing to pay; it is often more than you would have suggested yourself. Get an accountant if you can afford it; they will save you money. Although I am London based I have an accountant in Leicester, where I used to live. He is cheaper; so think strategically about financial advice. Make lists of your outgoings and income; even if you are overdrawn, at least you are aware of it. Head in the sand around money means more stress in the long term.
See freelancing as a freedom rather than a gaol sentence; it allows you to develop your interests in whatever way you choose. Expect white knuckle days where you are on your knees begging god to give you work. When you work through the fear, you can emerge stronger. Look after yourself; eat well, sleep well and try and get some fun into the mix.
Clare is a journalist – and has spent twenty years presenting and reporting for the UK’s major television and radio networks. She has worked with Channel 4 News, GMTV, BBC 1, Radio 4 - hosting You and Yours and Woman’s Hour, Five Live, LBC and Capital Radio. She currently works hosting the Guardian’s news pod casts, hosts reporting religion on the BBC World service, hosts a political show on SKY TV and presents an award winning faith and ethics programme on BBC Radio Berkshire. She is now a regular contributor to Radio 2’s Pause for Thought, has a post-grad diploma in Theology from King’ College in London, and is currently studying for an MA in Pastoral Theology, specializing in mental health and spirituality part time.