How to get started as an independent creative

A new book by Helen Campbell gives advice to anyone setting out as a freelance creative, either as a side hustle or as a full-time job.



Economic downturns can be an opportunity for independent consultants as much as they can be a challenge, according to a new book on being an independent freelance creative.

The book, Founders, freelancers & rebels by Helen Campbell, is based on her work with hundreds of freelancers and founders and her experience of setting up online communities connecting thousands of freelancers.

It is full of interviews with other freelancers and experts on some of the vital issues facing creative freelancers and founders, both the practical and existential factors.
It comes at a time when many freelancers have faced huge challenges over the Covid period, which are starting to pick back up for some, and when concerns about job security remain as the furlough scheme comes to an end. Older workers have been particularly hit by rising redundancy rates in the last quarter, and there are fears about long-term unemployment. Many are looking to grow businesses on the side of other employed work.
Campbell recognises the challenges and says: “The term feast or famine is often associated with freelance life, and while a creative spark and appetite can drive your career, developing strong boundaries and a calm confidence will be your armour in the long term.”

The big fears

She writes about some of the biggest fears that prevent people from going freelance, with security being a big one. Campbell says there are ways to put some security in place, for instance, putting insurances in place such as loss of income or health insurance; creating a budget and a financial plan and working with an accountant and financial adviser to future-proof your business; having a number of sources of income; and having a Plan B.
Another fear is of not being ‘good enough’. Campbell says this works on two levels: one is about having the right skills and the other is a more psychological fear of not being good enough in terms of ‘worthiness’, which might require coaching or talking through the reasons for this.
Fears about not having a work life balance [even though many go freelance to have more balance] can also be an issue, says Campbell. Putting strong boundaries in place and also checking in with yourself from time to time can help show up where your life and work are out of balance, she says.

Practical advice

When it comes to starting out as a freelance creative, Campbell says it helps to “have an appetite and hunger for working in a different way to the default employee role that most of us are raised to expect” and being aware of why you want to do it.
The first practical step is to build clients – more than a website or a brand identity.  Campbell advises making a prospect list, if possible with a mix of large and small clients to make it easier when it comes to payment [she warns, for instance, that larger employers can take longer to pay].
She says it is important to be clear about your company culture, even if it is just you. That includes your values and your way of working. She also speaks about the need to reward yourself for meeting your goals [even if you are on your own] and to incentivise yourself and others by knowing what makes them tick.
Campbell places a big emphasis on having a routine, a plan [and visualising it], a calendar which you update regularly, for instance, through journalling and on having some sense of accountability to keep you on track. And she says that, to counter so-called imposter syndrome, it is vital to be “the most yourself that you can be”.
The book covers everything from the need to plan breaks, such as a jobs hiatus, to keep learning, to listen to clients and to grow your team. There is practical advice on everything from marketing, telling your story for PR purposes, focusing on your USP, charging policy, company structure, setting up your community, for instance via Facebook, being open about how you work with clients, looking at how you get paid, having difficult conversations and digital working from abroad to getting feedback and learning from your mistakes.
But perhaps the biggest piece of advice is on structure and routine. Campbell says: “I was reluctant to take on board, like many of us who believe themselves to be inherently creative, the emphasis around creating structure and systems and adopting routines and habits. I started this journey with very few good habits and several bad ones. I’d come to associate structure with a form of restriction, and it was my idea of giving in, or giving up. In fact, the opposite is true. I’ve learned that creating good habits, and healthy structures and systems, actually frees us up to fulfill our creative potential rather than holding us back.”
*Founders, freelancers & rebels by Helen Campbell is published by Business Expert Press, price £21.50.

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