Successful freelancing

Rebecca Mileham, 02.10.2017
Three ideas to improve your working life
The time I have spent as an independent museum consultant now equals the period I was employed in-house. So, in those rapidly accumulating years, have I stumbled across any secrets of success?

At the Museums Association (MA) conference in Glasgow last year, I shared three key ideas from my own experience and that of dozens of other freelancers, gathered via three annual surveys.

A great first step to success is to realise the range of choice you have as a freelancer because you take control of your own career. You bring a committed, enthusiastic contribution to every project you take on, and constantly refine your expertise. As one freelancer put it: “I enjoy the independence and authenticity of working this way.”

You may be able to build a portfolio of activities – both paid and voluntary - that complement one another. And if you want to develop a new interest, there’s no stopping you. I started experimenting with podcasting last year, an investment of time that has already contributed to new opportunities including a paid trip to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The second way to increase your likelihood of success is by taking a chance. Who would you like to work with? Seek a meeting with a museum or organisation that excites you. Be prepared to work hard: “I make proactive proposals to clients based on my knowledge of them and their needs,” commented one entrepreneurial freelancer.

Many independents develop alliances and shared projects. Dea Birkett and I thought perhaps we could work together after meeting at an MA event in 2006. Ten years later we have run dozens of TextWorkshop courses, spoken to hundreds of delegates, worked in-house with fascinating clients and travelled to a range of countries. All from one conversation.

Finally, a third crucial perspective is that you can create change. Our sector is undoubtedly changing – but it always has been. What changes would you like to see in museums, in society, in the world? As an independent, you can influence the debate and lend your strength to places and people that are doing work you believe in.

But because you don’t have an institutional role that tells a story, you must do it yourself. Let others know who you are and what you do through your ideas shared on Twitter, stories on your website or simply via links in your email footer.

So by considering choice, chance and change, I believe you can find rewarding, ongoing work that contributes to the resilience and creativity in the museum world.

But what can the sector do to support you? Delegates in Glasgow shared ideas on what they would like to see:

• CPD support
• A network or directory of freelancers and skills
• Ways to make it easier to attend the MA conference
• Mentoring for new freelancers
• Simpler procurement processes
• A greater social aspect to freelancing
• More solidarity between freelancers to become influential

What do you think? Can we spread the word about support already available? Add your thoughts below.