Just Say No

As a freelancer, especially a new one, it’s extremely tempting to pitch for every proposal that comes your way. When it’s feast or famine, you should take what you can get right? Wrong. You can save yourself a lot of pain in the long term if you carefully and honestly assess whether you think it’s a right fit before you spend any time on a proposal.

Don’t forget that proposals take work! On average, I’ll spend at least half a day writing and finalising a proposal, not to mention the associated thinking time prior to writing it. I have a day rate and I try to think of any work I do (including writing this blogpost) in those terms, even if I am spending time doing something for my own business. Time is money and all that.

So how do I decide when to pitch and when to say no to work? I follow some simple rules…

Do I want to do it?

So far if my initial internal response has been no, I haven’t pitched. That may change as work dries up, who knows. For now, I like having the ability to decide what work to pitch for and what work I want to avoid.

Be gracious

If someone sends a brief my way way or I’m specifically asked to pitch for something, I am always appreciative of the opportunity and thank that person for considering me in the first place. I give a brief justification as to why I’m passing on the opportunity so they aren’t left feeling confused, blindsided, or duped, after all, I don’t want to burn any bridges. And I ask to stay connected – just because I’m saying no now, doesn’t mean I’ll always say no – so I ask them to keep in touch and bear me in mind for future projects.

Be honest

I am totally upfront about what I can and can’t do and I don’t sign up to work that I know I don’t have the skills to deliver. From experience, the client/potential client has always massively appreciated my honesty – saying no in this context saves everyone a lot of time and future headaches. And saying no doesn’t always lead to a negative outcome – three personal examples being:

  • A potential client required some work that was outside my skills set. I told them what I could do and sought approval to engage a subcontractor to deliver the elements I couldn’t, the client agreed and consequently I am delivering the bulk of the contract whilst working with an associate I know can deliver the bits I can’t.
  • Flipping the above scenario, for four contracts, I have been that subcontractor/associate engaged to deliver particular parts of a proposal that is being led by another freelancer.
  • A freelancer approached me to deliver some work in a subcontractor/associate capacity. I recognised that the work was outside my skill sets; told them as such and recommended someone I thought who could help. They appreciated my candour and I didn’t get the job; but I did get a potential lead for future work after I told them what I could do.

Know your time commitments

There’s a job that I’m not pitching for this week because I know I’m too busy with other work during the project’s timeframe. I have to consider my existing clients and ensure that any new work doesn’t detract from my commitments to them. It’s important to me that my clients are happy. In this instance, I can’t commit the necessary time that the potential project requires and therefore wouldn’t be able to produce the standard of work that I’d like, so I’ve simply not pitched.

Know your worth

Since I started freelancing, there have only been two briefs where I’ve looked at the scope of work then looked at the proposed fee and just thought no. In both instances, I didn’t pitch. I valued my time more.

Out of the work I have pitched for, only a third of the briefs have come with a defined budget. For the rest, I submitted a task analysis and cost breakdown based on my day rate to reach a final proposed fee.

When considering a brief with a defined budget, my starting point is to take the proposed fee and divide it by my day rate to establish how many days’ work it equates to. I then estimate how long it would take me to deliver what they want. Can I do it within the budgeted time? If not, am I willing to spend longer delivering the work for a lower rate?

It’s time to make a pros and cons list – what are the advantages/disadvantages of doing the work? I weigh up the reasons and then decide how flexible I can be with my day rate – something I’ll discuss more at length in a future blogpost.

Go with your gut

This is a bit vague but you all know what I mean. If you get a bad feeling about a potential job/client and can’t shake it even after asking the right questions, go with your gut, it’s probably right.

So far I’ve only experienced this once. A potential client who had asked me to pitch supplied a brief that made me think they didn’t know what they actually wanted. There were conflicting objectives within the brief and despite trying to gain clarity, I couldn’t. I decided that no matter what I delivered, it wouldn’t be right because there wasn’t a clear original common understanding, so I politely declined.

Get it in writing

If I successfully pitch for a job, I make sure that before I begin work, I have a contract in place that outlines the scope of work, objectives, deliverables, timescales, fees and agreed payment schedule. It is important that everyone is on the same page before a project begins. I typically say no to any work taking place until a contract has been exchanged. Not only does it give me better legal standing should any dispute arise, it also outlines what work I have agreed to, and if I’m asked to do more, I can then negotiate that as additional work.

Be prepared to down tools

If I have an agreed payment schedule and am delivering the work but not being paid, without good reason, I say no to undertaking any future work until the problem has been rectified and payment has been made. I’ve had to do this once.

Ooof that was a long list! Apparently I like saying no. It’s empowering.

When do you say no? Have you ever regretted saying no? Have you ever wished you’d said no? Please leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you.

If you’d like to get in touch, please visit my website

And if you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you can find me here

The Top 5 Things to Do First as a Freelancer

5 minute read.

When I accepted voluntary redundancy in July, due to my 3 month notice period, I had some time and some breathing space to really think about what I wanted for my future before actually being made redundant on 1 November.

I am extremely lucky in that I have a very supportive husband who advised me to use that time to take a month off just for myself; to process what had happened, to grieve for a job that I loved and to get some rest and relaxation while I could. Which I did – it was glorious, I baked and watched loads of box sets whilst the kids were at nursery.

However, I knew I couldn’t sit around binging Schitt’s Creek forever, so in September, after deciding I wanted to go freelance, I started to put my plans in action. Here are the Top 5 Things I did First…

What kind of company are you going to be?

I have luck on my side as hubs works in accountancy and finance, so he was able to tell me what my options were, of which there were three:

  1. Sole Trader – you’re self-employed and run your own business as an individual. As a sole trader you keep your post-tax profits but are responsible for any losses your business makes.
  2. Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) – you officially work in partnership with at least one other person/company and you each share responsibility for the business’s expenses and losses. You share the profits once all parties have paid the tax on their share.
  3. Limited Company – if you want to be legally distinct from your company, a limited company keeps your business finances and liabilities separate from your personal finances. You need at least one director/shareholder and there are more rules.

I chose to set up as a Sole Trader and registered as such with HMRC, which was super easy to do. Now that I’m a few months into freelancing, I’ve got myself an accountant (not my husband) and they are currently arguing that I should change to a Limited Company. I’m still deciding, so watch this space!

What services are you going to offer?

For some, the answer to this will be clear. If you’re a specialist then obviously that will be the focus of your business. But what if you have quite a broad skills set? Are you going to be a jack-of-all-trades? Or are you going to focus on a particular area? A fellow freelancer also asked me if I wanted to be the kind of freelancer who ‘helicoptered’ into organisations needing temporary contract support e.g. covering someone’s mat leave. Only you can decide what’s right for you.

Choose what you are going to call yourself and buy your domain

I stuck with my name and added the word ‘consulting’. I did this because I’ve worked in the arts and cultural sector for 18 years and certainly within the Manchester area, I am known by industry colleagues. It was also much simpler than trying to think of a swanky creative name.

I had zero experience in building websites so I asked a chum who is into all things digital, where I should begin. They were incredibly helpful and gave me the run-down on all the service providers – I eventually settled on WordPress – and then they set me off building it. It may be quite a simple site, but I was so proud of myself once it was done.

Register with HMRC

Up until now, I have been employed so have had pretty much zero to do with HMRC directly – the accounts team took care of all that.  But I’m going to say it… tax does not have to be taxing! HMRC are a lovely and helpful bunch, and they had me registered as self-employed in a jiffy. You’ll be filing a tax return once a year so keep a record of everything you earn and what you spend on your business. You can offset some of your business expenses against the tax payable, so keep all your receipts! I decided to splash out on an accountant because time is precious and with two smalls running around at home, I’d rather someone else do my paperwork so I can spend time with my boys. I have however, appointed hubs as my in-house book keeper and, if required, invoice chaser.

Put Yourself Out There

I used to hate networking but it’s absolutely essential as a freelancer. Over the last few years, I have learned to embrace networking and honestly, I’ve had some of the best conversations with people I may not have otherwise met/talked to. These days, due to COVID-19, most networking is done over LinkedIn (the topic of my next blog post) or Zoom/Microsoft Teams/Google Hangout, whichever digital meeting room you’ve been invited to.

Have a presence. Tell people about yourself. Make yourself known. This could be on digital platforms like LinkedIn or it could be simply reaching out to old contacts to let them know you’re now freelance and available for work if they’d ever like a chat. It’s scary I know but you are your own champion. You need to put the time and effort in.

That’s it, my Top 5 Things I did first. I love a Top 5 or a Top 10 for that matter… maybe I’ll do a follow up post.

I’d love to hear from some of you. What are your tips for setting up as a freelancer? Please comment below so I know I’m not talking into the ether. And if any of you have any tips and tricks you’d like to share, I’m sure myself and others would appreciate them.

If you’d like to get in touch, please visit my website

And if you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you can find me here

New to freelance? So am I!

5 minute read

Hello

I’m Kate, and blogging, like being freelance, is completely new to me. I don’t know why I haven’t done it before. It’s probably a combination of not feeling like I had anything to say, and general lack of time. So what’s changed? Well, now, I have oodles of time. I used to work a busy four-day week, often working into the evenings trying to cram everything in. Then in March, like for countless others, that disappeared overnight when I was furloughed due to COVID-19.  I also feel like I now have something to say. I’ve been freelance since mid-October and it has been a steep learning curve. I’ve learned so much stuff in the past eight weeks and people have been so helpful that I really want to share what I’ve learned in case it helps any other new freelancers out there.

But before I do that, I want to tell you a little bit more about me and my background. I’m 39. I’ve been married to the good husband for nearly 10 years but we’ve been together for over 20. I have two pre-school kids running around at home, and until very recently, I was Head of Visitor Insights at The Lowry in Salford Quays.

Now here’s the bit I always feel funny saying out loud… I worked at the SAME organisation for over 18 years. I realise that’s unusual and that most people my age will have had many roles in various companies – it’s literally a question I dread in interviews – but I joined The Lowry in Salford Quays straight out of university in 2002 and until now, leaving hadn’t ever really been on my agenda because they always supported me and developed me further.

Sure, I looked around from time to time but I loved it there. It’s a great organisation full of the most wonderful, creative and friendly people – I’ve made some of my closest friends working there. It really was my dream place to work.

I started out in their Learning & Engagement Team as their Administrator, moved into their Ticketing Team working in Group Sales, and then in 2005 landed where I actually wanted to be, in Marketing. To get there, I basically offered my services for free and worked on marketing projects in my spare time until they gave me a job as Marketing Assistant. Once there, I worked my way up to Marketing Executive running marketing campaigns then became Print & Publications Manager, responsible for all Lowry-produced print and the supporting analysis. This is when I fell in love with data.

Data is the beating heart of any organisation; and when it is robust, understood and interpreted properly, it can bring powerful insights that can be used to inform strategy. I find data utterly fascinating. I can’t get enough of it and that’s why I then used my time in work to become its advocate. And not just in work, in the sector – I became much more active, getting involved in sector-wide projects and sitting on an insights panel that met quarterly with Arts Council England. Eventually along with some colleagues, I co-founded a new professional network, Culture Insights Professionals (CIP) – aimed at those working in data and insights roles in the arts, cultural and heritage sector. But that’s another blog post.

Back at The Lowry, my role developed alongside the ever increasing demand for data and evidence based insights. The first to include a focus on data was Audience Intelligence and Brand Manager. In this role, I was responsible for much more data analysis and insights, and led the CRM strategy. But I was still producing print and it took up a lot of my time and there was so much more data to explore. Within a couple of years, the need for data had grown again and my role changed to Visitor Insights Manager, with a sole focus on data, research and insights. Then with the glorious arrival of GDPR, and I say that completely without sarcasm, who knew I’d love GDPR almost as much as I love data? I became Head of Visitor Insights responsible for everything that came before but with some bigger projects and the added responsibility for over-seeing the implementation, delivery and on-going compliance of GDPR on top. And I did that until COVID-19. Bloody COVID-19.

The arts and cultural sector, as I’m sure many of you know, was absolutely devastated by lockdown. Organisations across the country shut their doors with no idea of when they’d next be able to open, let alone welcome visitors and audiences again and under what conditions that would be. They lost their income overnight, staff were furloughed or put on skeleton staff, countless casual workers and freelance staff lost their future income and in some cases their jobs, volunteers lost their shifts, visiting companies, artists and producers lost their events and tours, and the Government were silent – it was awful. By the time the Government bailout was announced, it was too late for some; countless people had already lost their jobs, skills and knowledge were being lost from the sector, and many organisations had entered into consultation, The Lowry included. The Lowry really tried to do the best by their staff and offered their own job retention scheme but after two lots of maternity leave in the last few years, my family and I couldn’t make it work so I opted for voluntary redundancy. And that is the story of how I ended up here, someone new to the world of freelance, providing data services, research support and insights to arts, cultural and heritage organisations and those working in the sector.

As I say, I’ve learned a lot over the last few weeks and I want to share it with you in case even a tiny bit of it helps. So over the next few posts, which I’m aiming to post fortnightly, you can expect to see:

  • Top 5 Things to Do First (when setting up as a freelancer)
  • LinkedIn… who knew there was an etiquette? Not me!
  • What I’ve been up to work-wise

I’d love to hear from some of you. Are any of you new to freelance? If so, please introduce yourself in the comments section and tell me a little bit about you. How are you finding it?

Are freelance hints and tips, ups and downs the sort of thing you’d find helpful? Please comment below so I know I’m not talking into the ether. And if any of you have any tips and tricks you’d like to share, I’m sure myself and others would appreciate them.

And if you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you can find me here