Could you make a living as a freelancer?

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There are many reasons you might consider a freelance career. Perhaps being your own boss, or working flexible hours is part of the lure. Whatever the drawcard is, you wouldn’t be alone. A 2015 study showed that 4.1 million Australians – 32 per cent of the workforce – completed freelance assignments in 2015. But there are many things to consider before you leap into the freelance wilderness. How will you source clients? What will you charge? Where will you work? Meet three people who’ve done it. Each has a unique experience and perspective to share.

Work anywhere in the world

Freelance creative Joel Utter is living the work-life dream. He is one half of creative team Gus&Joe – the pair develop advertising campaigns for big brands. ‘My freelance partner Gustav Hedstrom and I have branded ourselves as a 24/7 team. He’s based in Amsterdam and I’m in Melbourne,’ he explains. Utter will spend a day working on a concept while Hedstrom is sleeping and hand the work over as Hedstrom is rising to start work. Their ability to be available to clients at almost any time has fuelled demand for their services. In the few years he’s been working on a project-by-project basis, he’s seen a rise in companies engaging talent for short periods instead of having them on staff. Being on two continents means they’re able to follow up project leads in both locations.

It can be hard to be creative when you’re stuck in an office, but that’s rarely a problem for Utter who’s always on the move and has completed jobs from remote spots in Australia, Europe and the US in 2016. ‘I could technically be working from Bali right now, just the thought of that makes me less stressed,’ he says.

Take smart risks

Barun Chatterjee, cinematographer and co-owner of Neighbourhood Films, points out that you don’t have to throw yourself into freelancing straight away. He suggests keeping a job part time while you build a client base and establish yourself. Many members of Gen Y are getting businesses started on the side while juggling another job. It makes more sense than starting a company from scratch and scrambling to generate income.

Operating a production company requires room for more than just a desk, so considering set up costs is essential. ‘Keep your overheads low. Get a place with cheap rent. This allows you to take risks and leave without the pressure of financial responsibilities if you need to,’ Chatterjee says. Starting out is always a gamble, but remind yourself about the benefits of what you’re doing along the way. ‘ Is it getting you where you want to go? Is it paying your bills? Are you doing it for the love? You have to be ticking at least one of these boxes at all times.’

'Keep your overheads low. Get a place with cheap rent. This allows you to take risks and leave without the pressure of financial responsibilities if you need to'

Barun Chatterjee,
Cinematographer

Get a reality check

Being your own boss might sound ideal, but it’s important to be honest with yourself about the realities. Nicole Haddow graduated from a Bachelor of Arts (Professional Writing) at Deakin University and has completed a mix of full-time and freelance work during her career. ‘Sure it’s nice when you don’t have to commute on rainy days, but writing is a solitary pursuit and sometimes it can get lonely,’ she points out. Haddow says it’s easy to get caught up in the romance of running your own show, but you need to be practical. ‘I didn’t know what I should charge when I started out,’ she recalls. When you’re chasing up unpaid invoices or going through a patch where editors aren’t commissioning, being a freelancer isn’t so appealing. ‘Of all the investments a freelancer can make, a reliable accountant or financial adviser is the most important, especially if numbers aren’t your strength,’ she adds.

In addition, having an inconsistent income can create other challenges. ‘If you want to get a loan to buy a new computer or a car, banks will look more favourably on someone with a steady salary. You need to be aware of the lifestyle implications.’ These days Haddow works full-time in content writing and editing. Ultimately, she’d rather have somewhere to go each day and be surrounded by other creative people. ‘I still write freelance articles when inspiration strikes, but now I do it for love instead of money.’

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