Feel the fear and freelance anyway

Carving a successful freelance career is all about taking control, having a clear vision and managing reputations. Simon Wright offers his tips on how to keep unemployment at bay and make freelancing work for you.

“There are no permanent jobs in TV.” That is a phrase often touted around at events or seminars, usually to a sea of blank faces who are thinking, ‘Why am I even bothering?’ or ‘Maybe my parents were right and I should have been an accountant’.

The nature of the industry is indeed changing and we are very much a freelance workforce, but there is no need to go running to the hills with visions of poverty and funding your career through dancing on bars. You can make freelancing work for you and ultimately have a wonderful career where you work on a variety of things you want to do, with you taking control.

"Remember if you work 18 hour days for five months solid, you're setting a precedent for the industry." – Simon Wright

I spoke to a number of freelance producers and assistant producers and these are their main points on how to make the best out of freelancing.

Pay
Make sure you know what you are signing up for – for example, a buyout means that you get paid a weekly rate, irrespective of whether you work five average days or seven very long ones. Always check up front that your rate includes holiday pay.

You often need to leave a company if you wish to increase your rate of pay and can usually return at high rate later. Companies are less inclined to give you a pay increase within the same role on the same programme.

The freelance world still maintains the same standards but productions sometimes put pressure on you to do it cheaper, quicker and better. Some things aren't possible. Remember if you work 18 hour days for five months solid, you're setting a precedent for the industry.

Reputation
Don’t trash talk anyone to people you are working with. TV is a small and incestuous industry and you would be surprised by how many of your networks can overlap with someone else’s. For the same reason be careful about over selling your achievements. Don’t say you were instrumental in securing a commission in your last job if all you did was pass on a phone number. Be truthful about what you’ve done and let your hard work speak for itself.

Reputation is so important, so you may be concerned about speaking up if your workload is unmanageable, if your presenter is unreasonable or if your pay does not reflect your role. Protect your own reputation by remaining professional, polite and reasonable but at some point decide where your line is financially and physically. It’s a lesson that people can often learn the hard way.

Networking
Networking is important but don’t over schmooze. If you admire someone’s work and would like their advice, then ask for it. People are often happy to share their experiences but may not respond to panicked emails every time you come to the end of a contract and are looking for something else.

Remember it’s your career
No one but you can get your career to go in the direction you want it to. Target the companies that make the programmes you want to work on and tailor your CV and covering letter to emphasise the parts which make you relevant for that programme or role. It is time consuming but it is worth it.

Remember to take holidays - sometimes we are so worried about finding the next contract we swing from one to the other and burn out. That’s no good for you or the show you're making.

Make sure you have given yourself enough time to look for your next contract. Don’t have a last minute dash and panic. Think strategically about your next role and give yourself enough time to see people and search for roles.

If having autonomy on the type of work you do is a big factor for choosing it, then work freelance. Freelancing can give you great independence, a wide range of networks and a CV oozing diverse and interesting projects so don’t be scared to jump into the freelance world.