PALS Freelance | Navigating the unknown

Back again at the Forge last week, the space was buzzing with questions, ideas and debate at our PALS Freelance workshop.

After a quick-fire session setting expectations and ideals for the evening, the crowd met our five fantastic facilitators and got a taste of their experience. From Project Management to Design, from Film & Animation to Finance — with so much talent under one roof we knew we were onto an excellent evening!

But where to start? And how to find a sense of direction? We knew these questions would be asked a lot. So we simply drew a map to help each person define their treasure (their ambition), and easily navigate freelance life via different knowledge islands. So, glass of wine in one hand and map in the other, everyone was off treasure hunting for their answers.

By splitting into groups and moving round every 15 minutes, everyone had the chance to speak to our experts — Robert Rawle (Milsted Langdon), Adrian Barclay (Marles & Barclay), Kate Strudwick (freelance project manager), Luke Francis (francworks), Zona Lewin (freelance designer) — and get an understanding of how each element contributes to the bigger picture. 

A few hours later there was a great sense of achievement in the air and plenty of food for thought — but don’t just take our word for it: we asked one of the experts, Zona, to share her review:

We had a wonderful array of people on their freelance journey’: from not yet taken the plunge, to already freelancing and wanting advice on specific areas. It was really nice to see such a wide group of experiences and to make new connections. Everyone was really enthusiastic to ask questions and contribute — discussing areas they’ve found hard or hints and tips on ways of working. Here are some of the questions I was asked:

1. How did I go about finding an hourly/​day rate?

This is a tricky one, as there are a few things to factor in. I personally worked out my monthly bills (so I knew what I needed’ to make), thought about the type of lifestyle I wanted to keep (thinking about my social life and spending habits) and estimated a monthly spending budget. I also factored in my level of skills; what did I believe I was worth? I then gave myself a salary aim’ for the year and broke it down to monthly and hourly rates.

However, other things to consider are industry rates — look at what others are charging. If you have a freelance circle ask people if they are happy to divulge this information (remember it is private so not everyone will be!) and gauge where you are happy sitting.

2. How do I get in touch with studios? / How do I find clients of my own? 

I built my portfolio when I left full time employment and I emailed studios to arrange meetings. I didn’t want to just send a PDF email that would land in an inbox and go unnoticed. I knew one of my strengths was building relationships getting a one-on-one meeting would work in my favour. I researched studios I wanted to work at, and if I knew people there I would ask for the contact details of Creative/​Design Directors (if I couldn’t find it online) and contacted the relevant person within the team.

Regarding clients, I do the same thing. I think about the types of clients I want to work with and I reach out to see if I can arrange meetings with their teams, to see if they have projects that I can work on. I think it’s really important to know the types of clients you’d like to work with, and learn to say no when a project arises that isn’t a good fit for you!

3. How do I manage to schedule studio work and own clients alongside each other? 

This can be balancing act! I use a bullet journal/​calendar to schedule times and work — the last few months its especially helped me to give myself a limit to my day, breaking down my day into manageable chunks rather than always looking at a full to-do list. This way I’m not over exerting myself and don’t feel overwhelmed, I know I have X amount of tasks to complete per day and it’s really helping me build a work/​life balance that I’m happier with. But the trick here is to have a calendar that you consult every single day! If you get through a task list quicker than anticipated, look at what can be brought forward to help you manage a workload later in the week. It’s about flexibility and making yourself responsible for your time.

It’s really important to know the types of clients you’d like to work with, and learn to say no when a project arises that isn’t a good fit for you!

— Zona Lewins - Freelance Designer

4. How do I quote for a job?

This comes from experience — you learn how long things take you — but I’ve always drawn up a schedule for the client so they know when they can expect things from me and when I expect feedback to come back. Then, if the timeline isn’t met, we can discuss and amend where needed. I work out a timeframe that I think is manageable for the project, estimate time and level of work that’s needed against the brief. I then break down admin time, design time and artworking time. As a freelancer I’m not just a designer, so all time needs to be accounted for. I use Freeagent to track my time, write estimates and send out quotes. It also helps future safeguard myself, so when it comes to quoting for a similar job in the future I can see if I made enough of a margin on previous jobs, or if I didn’t charge enough.

5. How far along in my career did I go freelance? When did I know the time was right?

The time is right when you decide you’re willing to take the leap, everyone has different responsibilities and these factor into the equation. There isn’t a rule that applies to everyone. I left a full time Middleweight Designer job because I felt there wasn’t room for me to grow and I wanted to push my creative outlet. I didn’t have savings (not the smartest of decisions but I was lucky that I had a supportive partner) and jumped in with both feet. In all honesty, I saw it as a blessing in the end, because I HAD to make connections and find work — I needed to make money! I couldn’t procrastinate and had to push myself out of my comfort zone and get work in. Now, however, I would recommend having some savings, make yourself a plan to go freelance and give yourself a deadline you want to make the leap by, get your portfolio together and look at what work is available in your local area. Then when you feel comfortable go for it!

My final outtake from the session is that building relationships is key! Help others, network and connect — don’t be scared to reach out and work with clients you enjoy on projects you find interesting. Freelancing is a journey, and whether you have 5 years or 30 years experience building a creative network really does make it easier!

Zona Lewin — Freelance Designer


With that, we’re now looking to the next session in March 20th — talking Animation and making ideas move. Tickets on sale here.

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