Creative freelancing: UWTSD graduates choosing a flexible career


08.06.2020

A recent piece of research undertaken by Hitachi has discovered that UWTSD has “the highest percentage of freelancers (2.23%) coming out of their graduates, the 3rd highest out of all the universities we looked at across the UK – so if the freelancer lifestyle is something that appeals to you then this may be the place to be.”

Here at University of Wales Trinity Saint David, we are learning from our past students, some of whom are choosing the lifestyle and freedom of freelancing. We have always celebrated a culture that learns from past students and brings them back into debates and learning.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a shift towards people choosing to freelance in their chosen expertise. Blended working (a mix of payroll and self-employed work) has also increased with workers enjoying the security of a part time job alongside the freedom of creating their own career as a freelancer.

This has never been so true in the creative industries. Here at University of Wales Trinity Saint David, we are learning from our past students, some of whom are choosing the lifestyle and freedom of freelancing. We have always celebrated a culture that learns from past students and brings them back into debates and learning.

Creative graduates seem best suited to the benefits of freelancing - learning to be adaptable, flexible and grasp new challenges. Freelancing not only brings them choice, variety and the ability to work on their own craft, but also to discover other applications for it – such as community workshops, arts in health and commercial work.

We chatted to three student and graduate freelancers to ask them about the advantages and challenges of freelancing, plus what advice they would give to current students and graduates thinking about becoming a freelancer.

Heather Fox, BA Surface Pattern Design graduate

“I didn’t plan to be a freelancer. I left my in-house job with a high-street fashion brand to travel, and I freelanced a bit whilst I was travelling in order to stay longer. When I came back to the UK, I landed a 7-week freelance contract with another high-street brand, and with the encouragement and guidance from a friend who'd been freelancing since uni, I decided not to seek another employment position and see if I could make freelancing work.

I love the flexibility of freelancing and control over how I spend my time. Sometimes I feel really driven and work into the evenings and weekends, but other times I feel like taking things slower, and (workload depending) I can choose to take a day off and make it up another time, which I feel is a much better and more productive way of working. I also have more control over the work that I do, and if people are coming to me it’s likely that they like me and my style, so I don't have to bend too much to work on stuff that I'm not into. At my in-house job it was all about making work that was right for the brand or management, there wasn't too much opportunity to pursue my own creative interests.

You're paid a higher day rate than if you were employed, so it can be a good cash injection into your life which is great for young adults trying to save for their first home and things like that (but bear in mind a good day rate will only come after at least a couple of years of experience). The flip side to this is you have to pay your own holiday, sick pay and pension, and literally everything else - the desk you sit at, the expensive computing equipment, the design software you use, paper, paints, envelopes... As a freelancer it’s almost impossible to do paid work every day - sometimes the work isn't there, or you need to spend a week building and maintaining your website and social media platforms, which need to be present in order to get the work in the first place. So you have to factor all these things into your day rate.

One of the biggest challenges you face is the financial instability - one month I got paid £4000 but I've had several months where I didn't get paid anything. The other huge challenges are the solitude and lack of mentoring. I was at my in-house job for 4 years before I went freelance, so I had a lot of input from others and coaching that I felt like I needed at the time, being fresh out of uni. It was also amazing to be part of a team who also became my friends and who form a huge part of my creative network now, and I never would have had that if I'd have freelanced from the beginning. Working alone is challenging, but there is a way around it. I check in regularly with my other creative friends about what we're up to, and it really helps telling someone your to-do list. Even if it’s your mum, having someone hold you accountable for your day can make the difference of keeping you in front of your desk!

It’s hard to plan for the future in the current climate of Covid-19, but I plan to grow the product-based side of my business (art-prints, merchandise etc.) whilst there is a lack of demand for design work via social media. I'm looking into running workshops once lockdown is lifted, and I want to secure some commercial illustration commissions (so far all my commissions have been personal). I also want to travel more and get involved in either philanthropic projects abroad or an artist residencies. I want to continue to be freelance for as long as it makes sense - so long as I earn enough money and feel like I'm growing as a creative, I'm in no rush to return to a 'proper job'.

My advice to graduates is to be prepared to play a long-game! It will likely take years to be able to support yourself full-time from your freelance endeavours, especially when you're trying everything for the first time. You will probably have to split your time between work that pays the bills and your creative work until you can gain some momentum with the latter - and I want to reiterate this can take months if not years. Work hard, keep the faith, and be open to all opportunities. Create a network you can turn to when you need advice, input or support. Use social media to your advantage - read articles and blogs by the creatives you admire, reach out to them (it doesn't matter if they don't reply, someone will). Accept that you don't know what you're doing, and don't be afraid to get things wrong. Don't feel like you have to make up your mind now - I freelanced for a bit before I got my in-house job, and now I'm freelancing again, and if it suited me again I would go back to employment. Life is long and so is your career. I'd like to also aim some advice at the female graduates, I would love to persuade them to read at least the introduction to 'Lean in' by Sheryl Sandberg (CEO of Facebook), it will help you separate whether your anxieties and fears about your abilities and your career are legitimate, or are a symptom of the (improving but still) patriarchal society we've been brought up in. Would a man worry about it - no? Then you shouldn't be worrying about that either.”

Website https://www.heatherfoxdraws.com/

Instagram www.instagram.com/heatherfoxdraws

David Griffiths, MA Sound student

“I am currently studying MA Sound at Swansea College ofArt and in my second semester. As well as studying, I also do a bit of freelance music production and audio engineering work on the side. I chose to do this so that I can gain connections within the music industry and give myself a bit of a head-start before I graduate. I also wanted to freelance as opposed to joining an agency or organisation because I find more fulfilment in life doing work that I enjoy, rather than working a job that doesn’t allow me the same freedom that working for myself grants me.

The best thing about working freelance is that both the time and effort that I put into a project determines the outcome, and in proxy progresses my reputation. However, it is for this reason that if I become complacent on a piece of work, not only would the project suffer, but so would my reputation, which is why every job I do, no matter how small or big it is, still requires my all. My plans are for me to go into Music Production and Audio Engineering full time and to have my own professional studio set up in due time potentially.

My best advice for people thinking of going freelance is to start now. Start while you’re still studying and young in your practice. It not only gives you a bit of income on the side but it gives you valuable lessons which you might not get within a classroom setting.

I’ve recently worked with ‘Craze The Jack’ on the ‘One Day at a Time’ project. Craig wanted to raise money for the NHS and key workers and was interested in a song I had showed him a few months ago. He had already written the lyrics at this point and wanted to see if I was interested in furthering the project. Of course, I agreed and that’s how it started. My task was to clean up the existing song so that it was radio worthy, and then mixing and mastering everything. I then created a music video. I was delighted with the outcome considering how limiting the lockdown was. After the first week of its release, we were able to raise £420 with 22 donations. We were able to get just under 200 shares on Facebook, and 12,700 streams on music streaming platforms, which was the most streams to a single piece of my music I have ever had so far. Overall, I had great fun working on this project and learnt a lot about working in isolation.”

Website https://www.daigriffproductions.co.uk/

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/dai_griff_productions/

YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCusM_64beG2AqW786DTMZQ

Here at University of Wales Trinity Saint David, we are learning from our past students, some of whom are choosing the lifestyle and freedom of freelancing. We have always celebrated a culture that learns from past students and brings them back into debates and learning.

Katie Ward, BA Film & TV and MA Film Graduate

“I wanted the freedom of doing work when I wanted, as opposed to being told what I can and can't do. After being in education for so long, I wanted the chance to explore my photography and open up my portfolio with a variety of work. It also allowed me to work full time elsewhere and do extra work on the side to ensure a solid income as a graduate. I have a good balance between my full time job and my freelancing. Luckily my full time job is flexible when it comes to having other photography jobs - I can just tell them when I can't be there and they adjust the rota accordingly. It allows me to have a steady income every month. It can be challenging - I may work a 12 hour shift, have a photography job the next morning and then be back in for a 10 hour shift with no time in between. However, I love what I do so I'm willing to take on the challenges!

I love the freedom and the opportunities of meeting new people. I've met so many people from working alone & I’m attempting to get my name out as much as possible. It's amazing what connections you can make just through various events & word of mouth. I also enjoy the diversity - some days I could be photographing office workers, the next; a wedding, the next; food stalls.

With regards to my future, I plan to use my degree more and aim to get into the digital marketing scene. I've completed a digital marketing online diploma since finishing university to extend my knowledge. I would love to still have the flexibility to work on my own projects as well as interlock my photography with my job.

My main advice to graduates thinking about freelancing, would be to get work experience! Meet people. Get your name out as much as possible before you even think about graduation. Knowing people is the greatest knowledge you can have when it comes to the creative world. Find your niche and put your all into it. Even if it's having a coffee with that woman you met at an event one day, or an email to an aspiring artist. Talk about your passion to anyone and everyone who will listen because you never know what connections they may have.”

Instagram www.instagram.com/katiewardphotography

Facebook www.facebook.com/katiewardphotography

For UWTSD students and graduates looking for help and support about freelancing, please contact kathryn.penaluna@uwtsd.ac.uk

Survey Source: https://www.hitachicapital.co.uk/business-finance/invoice-finance/invoice-finance-blog/uk-university-s-students-most-likely-to-start-or-manage-a-business-part-2/

Further Information

Rebecca Davies

Swyddog Gweithredol Cysylltiadau â’r Wasg a’r Cyfryngau

Executive Press and Media Relations Officer

Cyfathrebu Corfforaethol a Chysylltiadau Cyhoeddus

Corporate Communications and PR

Mobile: 07384 467071

Email: Rebecca.Davies@uwtsd.ac.uk