What do doe-eyed Hollywood starlets have in common with freelance creatives? Very little you might think, but there are probably more similarities than you realise. Think about it, we both want to escape the rat-race to follow our passions, we both sacrifice our art for free when starting out and we both hustle relentlessly in the hopes of catching that ‘big break’. Starting to sound familiar? Plenty of freelancers have a ‘starving artist’ mentality towards their work the same way a musician or actor has towards their art and whilst this mentality is often romanticised in Hollywood, those of us grinding day to day may find this way of thinking limiting. Much like actors and musicians, freelancers choose to follow their passions knowing full well the financial challenges that will come with it. Unlike our celebrity counterparts however, we aren’t rewarded for our efforts with million-pound paychecks. Here are some learnings freelancers can apply to ensure they never have to starve needlessly for their craft.
Know when to say no
We’ve all heard the stories about Ed Sheeran going from a lowly busking musician to a super megastar selling out stadium tours. Often as a freelancer starting out, it does feel like you’re busking endlessly; working or interning for free to build up your portfolio so you can start charging real bloody clients. This sucks big time for freelance journalists especially, whose craft is often undervalued due in part to the sheer amount of free content readily available online. For graphic designers working through the night on logos and websites as ‘favours’ to build their clientele, they have competition from not only other designers, but also website builder platforms and free design software which serves to further drive down designer rates. Listen, we get it, we all have to start from somewhere, but there have to be self-imposed limits and you must know your worth. Unfortunately, nobody can live on the love of their craft alone; creating art costs and you should rightly be compensated. When you’ve built up your portfolio with a handful of free projects, have the confidence to start approaching prospective clients for paid work. Sure, it could take a year or two to have a bulging portfolio of work but you shouldn’t be expected to work for free forever, Sheeran certainly didn’t!
Taking on constructive criticism
Many of your favourite artists, musicians and actors faced years of humiliating rejections before becoming the major stars we all know and love today. As painful as it is, rejection and criticism is a necessary evil for creatives, but it can help you hone your craft and gain much-needed resilience and perspective. Channel it into creating better work and appreciate that every piece of content ever created had to, at one stage, go through amends. We’ve all been there when our hard work has been ripped to shreds and this can put you in a funk all day. Consider whether the criticism was fair by looking at it objectively from the eyes of your client. Perhaps think about upskilling to improve in areas where you may be lacking. Most importantly though, power through any negativity and bounce back. Don’t pull a Van Gogh and mutilate yourself because nobody likes your art; if he had grown a thicker skin he may have lived long enough to revel in his eventual success.
Remember it takes years to become an overnight success
How do you work your way up from entry-level to mid-weight freelancer? By investing blood, sweat and tears for several thankless years. The journey from rising star to Hollywood veteran is equally as rocky and whilst freelancers don’t benefit from hot-shot agents negotiating massive fees, we have every right to charge a decent rate for our work. Think of all that progress you’ve made since you started freelancing; don’t you deserve to be paid handsomely for the late nights and impressive portfolio? Don’t fall victim to imposter syndrome, you have put in the work, made the right contacts and built a name for yourself in a highly competitive yet insecure industry. Ignore the voice in your head telling you to charge less so you can nab that client, have confidence in charging your worth and only negotiate if you’re passionate about the project and can afford to. Whenever you are feeling like you want to pack it in and return to the rat-race, remember that Samuel L Jackson’s career didn’t start till his forties whilst he was recovering from a drug addiction and now he’s one of Hollywood’s highest-paid stars.
Securing your big gig and investing wisely
Every major A-list celebrity has their breakthrough movie or album and most freelancers can remember when we finally scored that major project after months of scrambling for scraps of work. This is an exciting moment; you can’t quite believe someone will pay you such a great day rate so naturally you may be tempted to splurge. Let me just stop you there dreamer. If your precarious finances have had you living off credit cards and in your overdraft, priorities should be to clear your debts. Consider investing in a personal pension fund if you haven’t already and commit to saving a small amount each month. It might sound boring but these extra funds will come in really handy if things ever dry up and trust me they can and do. Don’t make the mistakes of Nineties legend MC Hammer who went bankrupt after believing his own hype and wildly squandered his riches.
Keeping your head above water during the dry spells
How many aspiring actors or musicians do you think served you your morning coffee or meal today? The Hollywood narrative of actors auditioning all day and bussing tables all night sounds super kitsch but this is often the only flexible way to fund their dreams. Whilst you may scoff at moonlighting as a bartender or waitress in the evenings, that extra cash could be the difference between making rent this month. There’s plenty of great casual and temporary recruitment apps to help keep you afloat during the dry spells so don’t let your pride get the better of you. Indeed, many people you meet in hospitality are typically aspiring artists, models and yes freelancers. If things get really tight, you might have to say bye to the boho lifestyle you’ve been leading with your hipster friends in East London. If they aren’t too far away, you could always consider slumming it back home with your parents. It’s a drag I know, but even Jess Glynne was still living at her mum’s despite her massive solo success.