Four Principals Of Being Freelance In The Arts
Updated: May 13
A career in the creative industries means there is a high liklihood you will be freelance - a self-employed, one-person business. There are some great benefits to this (freedom to decide what work you want to do, being in control, and being able to take time off when you need it), but there are challenges too (inconsistant income, being responsible for for everything, and sometimes having to support yourself with other work).
The early years of a freelance career can be particularly tough as you build a reputation and network, but there are a few principals i've learned in the past 20+ years which should help you along the way:
1: Be your own agent
Agents don't get you jobs, they open the door to opportunities for you to win. You have to work with them to make sure they represent you in the best possible way, and to get you the right opportunitites, but you need to apply for work too.
If you don't have an agent, it is not the end of the world. You can self-represent and build your own network of casting directors, directors, producers, choreographers, theatre companies, etc.
Actors can self-represent on Spotlight, but you will only see a small percentage of the opportunities out there. However, you can register an agent profile which will allow you access to more castings and better promote yourself to casting directors.
2: Get organised
As a freelancer you are a business and that comes with a certain amount of admin. You don't need filing cabinets or endless folders, but you do need to separate your personal and business profiles with seperate email addresses, bank accounts, finance records, etc. It will save you a lot of time and stress in the future!
Manage contacts with a CRM (Client Relationship Management) programme such as Capsule or Hubspot.
Excell spreadsheets may be fine in the early days to record income and expenses, but affordable accounting platforms effortlessly help you manage this online, such as Xero .
Manage your marketing contacts with Mailchimp 's free account to send automated and scheduled emails to your network, allowing you to also monitor who has opened them, when and how often.
Manage work projects, documents, reciepts, correspondance and more with DropBox .
Manage social media output with seperate work and personal profiles - NEVER mix the two!
3: Make your own work
Artists must paint, sculpt and draw to create work to sell, Musicians need to play and compose songs to get gigs, Dancers need to train and keep moving, but actors seem to just wait for someone to give them a job.
Some of the most successful artists and performers have created their own work which has led to greater opportunities. Katherine Tate was told she would never work after graduating from drama school so she invented her characters and wrote a sketch show. Noel Clarke wrote and produced films like KiDULTHOOD, and Greg Davies wrote Cuckoo.
Most of us have the technology in our pockets to create a recording studio or film set in our own homes, so film your work, make a showreel, record your own songs and exhibit artwork. Make it, promote it, do more of it!
4: Network & Train
A network is more than just our friends and we can utilise social media to reach out and follow those who may influence our careers. LinkedIn has its benefits but most casting directors don't publish jobs or casting opportunities outside the usual services.
Attend industry events like Improbable Theatre's
or Surviving Actors, take classes at the Actor's Centre and Pineapple Dance Studios. Keep in contact with those you connect with as you never know where they will be in a few years' time - perhaps they'll stop performing and start casting, run a theatre company, open a gallery, become a choreographer or film director...
5: Play the long game
I have seen many talented artists quit the industry they faught to get into. This is rarely due to a lack of work and more to do with life. Many artists take sole-destroying, minimum wage work in call centres, bars and restuarants to support their freelance career, confident they can quit when their big break comes. It often doesn't because they're working so many hours they can't do what they need to do to develop their careers and they earn so little they can't afford a decent quality of life, especially in London - they can't afford a decent place to live, go on holiday, buy a car, or fulfill other aspirations they may have.
So, play the long game and live your life. It may mean taking a deliberate 'career break' to take a well paid job so you can pay off debts, live a little, and save some reserves so you can invest time into your career properly at a later date.
If you do choose the 'flexible' option consider working in theatres or on film sets as front of house, box office or tech crew, join promotions or extras agencies, teach.
Do what makes you happy. It might not be what you thought it was.