Working as a freelance film editor in London for more than eight years, I've learned a thing or two about what it takes to build a successful freelance creative career from scratch.
Chances are, as fellow freelance creatives, the principles and techniques that have helped me grow and sustain my career, can help you do the same. If I could go back in time to give my younger self a little pep-talk, these are the vital few nuggets of freelance wisdom I'd pass on; much more vital than which business card templates (opens in new tab) to use and how to network (opens in new tab) with clients.
These five guiding principles, learned the hard way, have since laid the foundations for the creative career I enjoy today.
01. You're now an entrepreneur
As a freelancer you are an entrepreneur. As your own boss you shape your own business and make your own success. I used to think though, as a film editor, that I was very much at the end of a long chain of events that had to happen before I could get any work. First of all the client had to decide to make a film, then they had to decide to use a producer/director I knew, then that producer/director had to decide to use me, if I was even available and up to the job.
It was only much later that I discovered how easily I could kick start that chain by pitching to potential clients directly and then either sharing the work with other freelancers or taking on more creative roles for myself. But the point is this: There is nothing to stop you doing anything.
02. You can keep raising your rates
Raise your rates with every new client. This is one of the simplest ways to increase your income, but for a long time I was nervous to try it. Also, expect to be negotiated down, so always ask for more than you'd really be happy with, that way you can 'compromise' and still take home a decent rate.
That said, at the very start of your freelance career, you might not have the level of skill and experience necessary to command the big bucks just yet, so take whatever you can get just to keep yourself a float and in the game, while you hone your craft.
03. You need to sell enthusiastically
Whenever you sell yourself and your services to your clients, do so with a confident smile. If you are assured in your core that you have valuable skills to offer that can serve your clients to help meet their goals, you will be able to offer them without a whiff of desperation. No one client holds the key to your destiny – no matter how it might feel at the time. Be sure to create genuine value for your clients along with a friendly relationship, and they will appreciate what you do for them so much more. If they win, you win.
04. Your competition is your community
The more people you know who do exactly what you do the better. Why? Because, rather than being your competition - those dastardly creatives vying for the same work you might miss out on - these fellow creatives are the very best people to make a core part of your community.
Clients who want to hire them, will also want to hire you, because you offer the same skill-set. In building close relationships with creatives who do what you do, you will have quality recommends to offer your clients for jobs you are too busy to take on, and your fellow creatives can do the same in return, expanding your network of new clients. These relationships are vital and the fastest way to fruitfully grow your network.
05. You don't need to worry about money
Being freelance is much more fun than having a 'real job' as long as you don't worry about money. Getting to a place of not worrying about where the money will come from, definitely takes a bit of freelance mileage to achieve but it is entirely possible. Sensible financial planning, disciplined creativity and a dash of imagination, are all the ingredients you need to succeed.
These five thoughts form the introduction to my ebook How To Be A Freelance Creative (opens in new tab), a 100-page primer on everything you need to know to build a successful freelance creative career. Covering everything from handling your money and making more of it, to networking, negotiations and honing fruitful client relationships, the book is full of practical advice that can help you get your freelance creative career off on the right foot, or take it to new heights.
'How To Be A Freelance Creative' is the practical pep-talk I wish I'd had. Learn more and download a free taster of the book here (opens in new tab).
Words: Jonny Elwyn (opens in new tab)
Jonny Elwyn is a freelance film editor living and working in London. Follow him on Twitter @jonnyelwyn (opens in new tab).
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