Master of all departments

Freelances are fearless warriors, but it can be tough out there at the moment. Lynne Boon offers her top survival tips for riding out the recession

I am a designer. Over the past 16 years, I have worked with the biggest and best design groups and independent producers. I have seen the design world from all angles as employee, freelance, client and company director. I have worked with and learned from the best in the industry and have had a privilege to design some amazing projects.

I am writing this on my laptop in the sunshine at the Historic Dockyard in Chatham.

Why? Because I can. Because I’m freelance. The sunlight is sparkling off the River Medway and I am surrounded by the ghosts of the past. Ropemakers, sailors, merchant seaman and dock workers.

Those men, women and children who worked so hard, those who went to sea, those who returned and those who didn’t. Life was hard. Professions may have changed, but it seems that little else has.

Today, every other headline tolls the doom and gloom of recession. We all know it’s here. We are all affected by it. Freelances across the design industry are feeling the pinch too.

Here are some observations from freelances to help paint the picture:

  • ‘New business started to slow in early 2008, stopped by the summer and has yet to pick up’ – Producer
  • ‘I’ve had several jobs cancelled with no cancellation fee. Clients want more for less or for nothing. I have survived by doing non-design industryrelated work’ – Producer
  • ‘I can only continue as a freelance as my wife earns a regular wage as a teacher. We have a family home and three children to consider. Twelve months back I was the main earner with my wife part time, but now she is the main earner’ – 3D visualiser
  • When clients panic, it’s the freelances who suffer: ‘We are the bottom of the food chain and cannot influence what is happening in the wider economy. All we can do is try to hold on until things improve’ – Designer
  • ‘Beware of the client who suddenly starts pitching like crazy. Is it the beginning of the end? Is it the final push before oblivion? They might be spending two or three times their usual amount, but will I ever see the cheque?’ – Designer
  • And, of course, everyone wants more for less: ‘Then there’s the chancer. The client who suddenly suggests, instead of my preferred daily or hourly rate, the dreaded “no win no fee”’ – Designer

So, fellow freelances, how are you weaving your way through these interesting times? If you have any survival tips let us know, meanwhile, here are a few of my own.

Fill your creative pot. Use the quiet times to see what’s going on in the wider creative world. Don’t wait for inspiration
to hit – go out and look for it. Visit exhibitions, theatres, museums, anything – switch off your computer and get out. Learn something new. Join an evening class and do something you’ve wanted to do for years. It doesn’t have to be career-related. Sometimes you can find inspiration in new places. Last August I joined an evening class to study British Sign Language. I’ve taken the exams and am waiting to hear if I’ve passed. I’ll let you know if I have. I’ve also started to do life drawing. The local drop-in sessions fit around my freelance projects.

Never watch daytime TV. It eats your soul. Limit your viewing of the news. There is only so much doom a person can hear.

Look after your health. Drink water, take exercise and walk every day, even if it’s just to the high street and back. Exercise helps reduce stress and benefits concentration. And always keep an emergency banana at hand.

Keep talking. Think of new ways to keep in touch with clients. Understand social media and make it work for you. Keep it personal – network, meet new people and keep in touch with old friends and fellow freelances. Remember – you are not alone.

Freelances are fearless and self-motivated. We are loyal warriors, dedicated to our clients. We are not interested in the politics of your consultancy. The project is king. We have a fire in our bellies – the drive to make your project something outstanding, because when you win, we win.

Last December I worked on a project that was very demanding. I was at my computer, available to my client from 7am until 11pm for 40 days. I completed the project at 1pm on Christmas Eve, and only then went Christmas shopping. And, yes, we won the job.

Freelances understand business, as we are our own business. We are our own marketing, finance, IT, HR and PR departments and we have a Christmas party for one. I’m going to Belgo Covent Garden in December for mine, if anyone would like to join me.

Hide Comments (2)Show Comments (2)
  • M Teare November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    loved the article. freelancers should have a column in DW.

    Freelancers spirit, stay always positive!

  • tim-nice-but-dim November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Good article!

    I’ve been freelancing/ lecturing for around a year (commercial interiors/ furniture) – totally agree that ‘stay positive’ is essential.

    BUT any suggestions about getting past the receptionist! – once I speak to the key decision maker all is great, but getting through to them in the first place can be impossible. Really saps your soul.

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