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Building your business

The creative industries are inherently unstable. We rely an awful lot on brands and large companies for investment, on changing government policies and crowdfunding. For your own safety, you should never be relying on just one job to pay your bills. While larger companies may be able to offer you larger budgets or longer duration contracts, many freelancers in the creative industries will not have that luxury and will need to diversify their income.

We can break the examples below into two different categories, creative and non-creative diversifications.

Creative

  • Teaching classes part-time at a school or university

  • Selling prints or merchandise online or at industry fairs and expositions

  • Writing articles for print media and websites

  • Advertising on your products, platforms or events

  • Building a following on YouTube or with a podcast to attract sponsorship

  • Applying for arts/business bursaries and grants to complete projects

  • Selling licences or subscriptions to your work

  • Crowdfunding your work

  • Guest-speaking and appearing at conferences and events

Non-creative

  • Maintaining a non-creative day job

  • Investing your income

  • Investing in property to lease out

  • Freelancing in other services, Mechanical Turk, TaskRabbit etc.

  • Renting your living space out when you're on location

  • Renting out your equipment while it's not in use

  • Renting out your living space or studio as a location for creative projects

There are countless other examples, and many freelancers are more than happy to talk to you about it. Try to find someone your senior at an event or online and ask them about their process, and how they split their time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTVdA8kisqY

As a brand-new employee of yourself, you'll be needing somewhere to work. Many workers need specialist facilities (think photography darkrooms, ceramic studios or rehearsal space) and sadly their options are more limited than workers who can move around a little more easily. Here's a comparison, if you're having trouble making up your mind.

Home Office

Working out of your bedroom, living room or kitchen raises some obvious challenges. If you share your home with anyone you'll struggle to get time to focus, and setting up your workspace can be a challenge, too. However, it's by far the cheapest option (and every expense counts when you're starting out) and as long as you can nail down your work-life balance, you can juggle your tasks at home and work with ease. Theoretically.

If you’re a sociable person, it can also be good for your mental health to have people around while you work, to share a break with. It can be expensive, but investing in your workspace is key, so buy the boring stuff like stationery, a decent chair and desk and any of the tools you need day-to-day. You don't want to be hunting around for stamps when your tax return is due.

This is especially important if clients will be coming to your home office. Will you need public liability insurance to keep them covered or just a nice coffee machine?

Virtual Office

Your address and phone number will show up on most of your paperwork, from your invoices to your tax return. As many freelancers work from home, a new service has sprung up that offers a virtual office service. You can get a central London (or any other suitably fancy area) postbox and address for a monthly fee, with many companies even offering a receptionist that will answer your office line and patch it to your mobile. Large serviced office providers like Regus and Servcorp offer this service for many of their prized addresses, as well as smaller coworking spaces like Hoxton Mix and Impact Hub scattered across the capital. We're living in the future.

Your own space

Purchasing or renting your own office or studio space can be daunting, but if you require meeting space frequently, need somewhere to store your equipment or just work with enough other people, this can be feasible depending on your local prices. Some freelancers even come together to form cooperatives, sharing a workspace or studio space to save on costs and generate more work.

If you have connections at a large company with high staff turnover, you may be able to negotiate a desk in return for some work or a rental fee. The same goes for post production facilities in TV and film. If you can find a personal connection rather than a company, it will be a lot more affordable. Some even purchase or rent space that they can rent out to others while they aren’t using it, as part of their business plan.

Co-working/Hot-desking

Co-working spaces are getting more and more popular in larger cities, you just pay your subscription and get access to an office in a central location with basic facilities like printing, meeting rooms, wi-fi and coffee. If you work from home most days, it can be a great way to meet up with other freelancers and small companies, have some traditional social interaction, and get a change of scenery. It can also help your focus without the distractions of your home, as well as offering a classy place to meet clients.

However, you need to take into account the travel time, membership fee and additional costs for premium services. Some co-working spaces like Impact Hub and many University-based incubators charge extra for more desks, meeting room rental or drinks and food. Finding one that suits your working style is key.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tz62eUKFmXc

Networking

Creative industry networking events can range from after-work pub meets, all the way to enormous week-spanning festivals like Edinburgh International TV Festival. As so much of your work will be from personal recommendations and word of mouth, making a presence at these is strongly recommended for new freelancers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFCa_poW0pw

You never know who you might meet, it’s even worth going along to free networking events outside your sector to drum up business and practise your small talk. Before you put on your dancing shoes, there are a few things to check off:

  • Do you have enough business cards? You'd be surprised at how many people will end up writing their number on a napkin. Don't be one of them.

  • Does your website and email address work? If you haven't paid your renewal on your domain and a client gets a bounceback, you'll never hear from them again.

  • Do you know the crowd? A TV festival will attract commissioners, producers and advertisers, and an advertising event will attract sponsors, account managers and creative directors. Sometimes it makes sense to attend events even outside your sector, but be sure to spend your time wisely.

  • Is it just your peer group? Chances are you won't get a job from someone at your current job level, and ideally you want to meet people above and below you in experience level. Be wary of student networking events if you're in education. If the ratio heavily favours the students, the bombardment of CVs and questions will mean that anyone interesting from the industry probably won't stay to chat.

  • Think about whether you could pre-arrange to meet with people beforehand. Many industry events will publish a list of who is going and their contact details. Also look on social media before, during and after the event, this is another way to connect with people who are there.

  • Is there someone in the industry that you can invite to come with you? Perhaps someone you’ve been wanting to work with, or you’ve just worked with and you’d like to buy them a drink. Being at an event with someone else who is in the industry may open up new doors for both of you, and might help break the ice when meeting people.

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