The Public Affairs Leadership Series, in partnership with Women in Public Affairs recently looked at what it means to be freelance – what to think about when making the jump, the options available to you and how to sustain your career and your sanity when out on your own.
Our speakers were our very own Head of Interim Jules Shelley, freelancing institution Jane Bowles, newbie Jo Field and Women in Public Affairs’ Soniya Ganvir, who’s been interim for 18 months. We ran the session as an informal roundtable, with participants sharing their experiences and asking questions about how to start off in the freelance world.
If you have any questions about the freelance / interim market, please do get in touch with Jules Shelley, Deputy Managing Director, Head of Interim at Ellwood Atfield for a confidential chat.
What are the options?
Jules noted the two types of working that can make up a freelancer’s portfolio: interim contract work and freelance consulting. Many people dip their toe in the water by taking on interim work but in practice people tend to do a bit of both.
Is freelancing for you?
Freelancing often seems an appealing option for women in the public affairs industry who have families as it can offer flexibility around childcare, school holidays etc. It also allows for the pursuit of other interests such as political commitments, hobbies or other commercial opportunities – Soniya also runs a Latin American supper club (Sobremesa London) and a beauty brand (Splash&Glow).
Jane and Jo both warned that it can be lonely and you have to be prepared for some instability in your working pattern. The panel however, all said that the downsides were more than outweighed by the benefits – they wouldn’t be doing it otherwise!
Making the jump
What do you need to think about before you take the plunge? Our panel’s top tips were:
- Get your finances in order – be prepared to take some time to win your first client or get your first interim contract. Jo said she had an inkling about her first client but it took longer to come off than she expected, while Jane and freelancer Carys Davis warned that getting paid as a contractor can take a while too. Make sure you can cover your rent / mortgage and bills for a couple of months whether through savings, part time work or other income sources.
- Think about logistics – how are you going to set yourself up? If you’re planning to be mainly interim, you might get paid through payroll but you’ll probably need to think about how you notify HMRC. You’ll have to decide whether to set up as a limited company or operate as self-employed. Jane flagged the support and resources available from IPSE to help you get started.
- Be clear about your USP – Jules emphasised the need to be clear about what you’re bringing to the market. Are you a sector specialist? A generalist? Public affairs supremo or communications guru? Jane noted that women tend to sell themselves short – be clear about your achievements and expertise.
Making it work
The panel shared a couple of tips for making it work:
- Get the price right – remember that as a freelancer you’ll have to think about National Insurance etc. Jules’ recommendation was to add 30% to your salary and divide by the 220 working days to give a rough estimate of your hourly rate.
- Keep your contacts hot – make sure you get out and network when you can – it’s good for your sanity if you’re working alone and it’ll help you spot opportunities for new contracts or clients.
- What goes around comes around – the freelancing community is relatively small and if you can refer people on for work you can’t do, you’ll help out the client and your colleague – paying dividends in future!
Published by Jules Shelley, Deputy Managing Director, Head of Interim
Jules leads on Head and Director level interim search mandates across PR, communications and public affairs.
Picture by Robert Schlesinger/DPA/PA Images. Co-working space in Berlin.