My Career in… freelance work

I currently work as an independent consultant and have been running my own business for over four years.  I have public and private sector clients from the worlds of creative, media and digital; skills and development; regeneration and sustainable communities; environment and innovation and knowledge transfer. 

The services I provide are just as diverse as my client list and include project development, project and programme management, marketing and communications work, strategy development and business planning, research and mapping, evaluation – and more!

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on some new business ideas and bringing together an updated website which will showcase a renewed and more focussed consultancy offer with some of my other ideas and activities – including an art and photography blog (I am also a part time art student) plus a section on my love of veg growing!  

So how did you get to this point in your career?

  • Fresh out of university I worked in a large bookshop moving up into management, then onto marketing and PR with a commercial law firm, next up project development and coordination with an international aid charity, through into regional management with a national environmental regeneration organisation, then more regional management but focussed on skills in the creative, media and digital sector and lastly innovation management for a sub regional quasi public sector organisation.  Phew!
  • I decided to set up my own business and work freelance in order to utilise the diverse skills and contacts made throughout these varied career moves and also to capitalise on my love of change and being able to work on lots of diverse projects at any one time. 

What are the highs and lows?

  • Of course a key aspect to be aware of when developing a freelance or portfolio career is money.  You need to be prepared for varying cashflow.  It’s also important to be on top on financial information and other important information related to your business – including tax, VAT, insurances and anything particular to your industry or sector. 
  • You need to be the sort of person who is prepared to be out and looking for work and promoting yourself on a fairly constant basis – this can be very exciting and rewarding in the good times – but equally can be more than a little stressful in the not-so-good times!
  • I’ve worked on some fantastic projects – from bringing together a complex proposal and feasibility study for a groundbreaking climate change initiative involving numerous partners for the Northwest Regional Development Agency in record time, through to detailed development work on media industry skills initiatives bringing together the industry, public sector and education partners.  I do particularly enjoy development work – starting with an idea or a need or an objective and doing everything necessary to make it happen! 
  • Of course not all projects are edge of your seat stuff! But at least I feel a sense of achievement knowing I’m doing valuable work for the client – and also that I don’t have to deal with any office politics – or my particular favourite – meetings including agenda items on tea towel washing rotas…

What training skills or experience are essential to get in?  

  • Being able to think on your feet, being ultra resourceful and organised, gaining knowledge, skills and contacts at record speed and loving a steep learning curve, together with well developed communications skills have all been more important than a relevant degree or PG study. 
  • I have also found it essential to become really proficient at applications, CVs, interviews, tenders, pitches etc.  It is so important to be able to present yourself to your fullest capacity at all times and meticulous preparation, attention to detail, bringing ideas and flair to the table and excellent communications skills are all key here. 
  • Social media provides another great opportunity for developing a freelance career – and with opportunity comes challenge – it can be tricky to determine how much value engaging with Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs etc is bringing back to your business.  But I am enjoying the challenge and can see lots of potential for expansion using these channels.

 How have you found opportunities in this field?

  • Principally I have gained new and repeat business winning commissions from organisations and contacts that are familiar with me and my work and also recommendations from these people to new clients. 
  • In addition I have a website of course – and am getting more active with social media including LinkedIn and Twitter. 
  • I make sure I keep up with news and developments across all my work areas so I can spot potential opportunities. 
  • I also search tender and job websites for opportunities.  Again you need to be diligent in business development – and analyse what methods work for you and your business.

What advice would you give someone considering a similar career?

If you are considering a freelance career I would advise you talk to as many people as possible already doing it.  There are huge highs working for yourself but it can also be lonely and stressful at times and you need to determine whether or not you want to deal with the extremes!

Holly R Hesson


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