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A freelance career in the creative arts
A freelance career in the creative arts

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2.1 Key skills and attributes for becoming a freelancer

In this section you’ll explore some of the key skills you need to be a successful freelancer.

1. Communication skills

There are many useful resources focusing on developing your communication skills, including this short video by The Latimer Group, which breaks down communication into four key components.

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Interacting effectively with others is a key skill for a freelancer. For example, communication is involved in the networking you will do to build awareness of your business and the difficult conversations you might have with your clients if something goes wrong, or they let you down. In these scenarios, taking time to assess the situation and decide on your message, then focusing on how you deliver that message, whether verbally or in writing, can make a big difference to the outcome.

When you think about each of the four skills of communication outlined in the video, do you have strengths and weaknesses in any of those areas?

2. Organisational skills

One of the benefits of developing effective organisational skills is that it increases your productivity.

Author and productivity expert Chris Bailey has a website dedicated to this topic that references a variety of useful books, podcasts and blogs. Find the link in the Further research section at the end of this week if you would like to explore further.

One of his most popular blogs explains useful productivity rituals, such as the Rule of 3 (Meier, 2014).

The rule is simple:

  • 3 things you want to accomplish today.
  • 3 things you want to accomplish this week.
  • 3 things you want to accomplish this month.
  • 3 things you want to achieve this year.

Meier also recommends some quick ways to implement the rule:

  • Start your day with the Rule of 3 by identifying what you want to accomplish that day.
  • Test yourself throughout the day – if you can’t remember what your three outcomes are, they are too complicated.
  • Improve your estimates – pay attention to how long you think things will take, and you’ll improve your estimates as time goes on.
  • Feel good about results! At the end of each day, note your accomplishments and celebrate them. This will help to build momentum.

How organised are you? This is a pretty straightforward rule to implement. Try it!

3. Emotional resilience

Resilience refers to an individual’s ability to anticipate, manage and bounce back from difficult and challenging situations. Mind (2017) suggests that you can focus on building your emotional resilience in the following ways:

  • make some lifestyle changes, e.g. practise being straightforward and assertive, use relaxation techniques, make time for your friends
  • look after your physical health, e.g. get enough sleep, be active, eat healthily
  • give yourself a break, e.g. reward your achievements, resolve conflicts, forgive yourself
  • build your support network, e.g. friends and family, peer support, specialist websites and organisations.

Mind Tools (no date) focuses more specifically on resilience in the workplace and suggests you also incorporate the following into your daily routine:

  • Be aware of any negative thoughts and correct them in your mind – practise positive thinking.
  • Learn from your mistakes and failures – they can all teach you something important. Find the lesson in every situation.
  • Choose how you respond to a bad day or a crisis – your reaction is always up to you. You can panic or you can choose to remain calm and logical.
  • Maintain perspective – try not to blow things out of proportion.
  • Learn to set yourself SMART goals, i.e. goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

Reflecting on some of the points outlined here, would you say you are a resilient individual? Could you try some of these suggestions to enhance your resilience?

4. Self confidence

Therapist Nick Davies (Jordan, 2018) suggests six questions to ask yourself when your confidence is low:

  • Who is your work helping?
  • What is your mission statement?
  • What are the positive emotions your work allows you to feel?
  • What negative emotions would you feel if you didn’t do the work?
  • How would you feel in five years’ time if you hadn’t done it?
  • What three things do you hope to achieve in the next year?

Davies also suggests starting a gratitude journal to record all the things, both big and small, that make you happy as your business progresses. This will remind you of the positive things you’ve achieved when you’re feeling low.

5. Negotiating skills

When it comes to money, many freelancers feel awkward negotiating, but there are some tips and techniques that can make it easier. FreelanceUK (2020) offers the following contract negotiation tips for creative freelancers:

  • Make sure you understand what you are asking for – there is a lot of guidance online about the right wording to push for as a freelancer, and this is a good opportunity to demonstrate that you take your business seriously.
  • Be reasonable – contract negotiations should be a collaborative experience, and you should be willing to make concessions on points that are not so important to you, in order to achieve the points that are.

  • Don't be shy – never accept anything that you are not comfortable with or don't fully understand, and never proceed with a project until there is a contract in place. If you feel ‘push-back’ from the other side, ask them to explain their concerns.

  • Find that compromise – sometimes in contractual negotiations, there will simply be ‘hard lines’ where both parties find it difficult to cross and won’t compromise. If this is the case, look at the contract as a whole to find if there are other concessions you can make. You might need to weigh the risk of the contract against the potential advantages of the partnership.

  • Stay safe – protect yourself throughout the negotiation. Think about having a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in place before you begin the negotiation process in order to protect your information and prevent any unscrupulous clients from benefiting from the information you provide them with and later deciding not to contract with you.

(FreelanceUK, 2020)

There isn’t space to detail here all the personal skills that a successful freelancer needs, but another useful summary is offered by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (no date). They have developed a framework for describing an ‘entrepreneurial mindset’, which they describe as ‘a set of skills that enable people to identify and make the most of opportunities, overcome and learn from setbacks, and succeed in a variety of settings.’ The skills are:

  • Critical thinking
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Comfort with risk
  • Initiative and self-reliance
  • Future orientation
  • Opportunity recognition
  • Creativity and innovation.

In Activity 2 in the next section you’ll have an opportunity to consider your own skills and to rate your current proficiency.