I’ve been a freelance film editor in London for over a decade now and I’ve enjoyed pretty much every minute of it. It’s not for everyone though: there are plenty of things to keep you up at night, from how you’re going to pay your rent, to finding more interesting work, and how to run your business so it’s not a burden round your neck but a rock beneath your feet.
Of course, you could always not worry, but that takes a bit of planning and a lot of practice. To get you started, here are three things that freelancers often stress about, and why you should put them out of your mind.
1. Working every day
One of the best things about being a freelancer is that you don’t have to go to work every day. So if you’re thinking about going freelance and worrying about finding enough work to fill every day – don’t. Instead, learn to enjoy the downtime.
The secret is setting your day rate high enough that you have a bit of room to move – the idea is that you don’t need to work all the time, and can still stay financially healthy.
To do this, you need to figure out how many days a month you need to work to comfortably break even and then keep tabs on how many days a year you actually work. You also need to factor in that you don’t get holidays, sick-pay, pensions or any other bundled-in benefits that employed people get.
Taking a longer view of a year will help you to average out seasonal peaks and troughs, and if you keep note of the number of days you’re working per project and per client, you can mine your data for some helpful insights.
Another major concern of the creative freelancer is managing the cash. Some creative people naturally have a sense of how to balance a budget, save, and prepare, and how to be confident in not lowering their rate and other pressures of the freelance world.
A lot of creatives, however, tend to naturally reside on the showier end of the show-business spectrum. They just want to do great work and let someone else worry about embarrassing topics like day rates and annoying complications like taxes.
One guiding principle that has served me well is that of ‘slicing the pie’. Every time you get paid (the pie), immediately slice off a set percentage that belongs to the tax man, a set percentage for short-term savings and set percentage towards your pension.
Then – and this is crucial – move those slices into three different bank accounts so they don’t end up returning to the soup of your main bank account. This way they will always be there when you need them – like when it comes to pay your taxes.
With a bit of planning and discipline you can easily set yourself up for success when it comes to managing your money, keeping it and making even more of it.
3. The future
So if you’re not worrying about working every day, and you’re not worrying about managing your money, then what about the future? How will you find clients, build a showreel and climb that career ladder?
Well, unsurprisingly, the old axiom of “it’s not what you know, but who you know” still applies. Building good relationships with clients, other creatives, and unexpected acquaintances is one of the most important elements to building a career as a successful freelance creative.
Let’s start by looking at other creatives. If you’ve been to (or are at) film school you’ll know how easily the other people in your class become your direct competition. But in reality, your competition are your best community.
If you’re an editor, get to know as many talented editors as you can, because a client who wants to hire them, will also want to hire you. When they’re busy and can’t take a job, they’ll want a friendly, talented and trustworthy person to recommend in their place. You can be that person and, of course, vice versa. Follow a few tips like this, and you’ll soon find that the future is taking care of itself.
Worry less, enjoy more
I’ve only just scratched the surface, but hopefully these tips will help you to worry a lot less about life as a freelancer, so you can enjoy it a lot more.
I’d had so many pleas for help from freelancing friends over the years that I decided to put down everything I’d learned down on paper, so that a lot more people could enjoy freelancing too. If you want to learn more of the principles and techniques that have helped me, then check out my ebook, ‘How To Be a Freelance Creative’.
What challenges have you overcome as a freelancer? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below.
Jonny Elwyn is a freelance film editor and writer who lives and works in London, UK. As a freelance film editor he handles everything from on-set rushes and offline editorial through to the final sound mix and colour grade. He’s also a freelance blogger who regularly contributes to PremiumBeat.com and RedsharkNews.