The conversation

Laura Crossley, Marge Ainsley, Issue 118/03, p17, 01.03.2018
What challenges do freelancers in the museum sector face?
Dear Marge: Freelancers contribute a huge amount to the museum sector, providing expertise and advice, challenging thinking, supporting skills development, and lots more besides. It is always fantastic to see freelancer-run workshops at Museums Association (MA) conferences. The contribution made by freelancers was recognised as being crucial to the sector in a recent Creative Industries Federation report. However, despite the many positives of freelancing, and the benefits we bring to the sector, freelancing is not without its challenges. The sector could provide more training for freelancers, such as the Association of Independent Museums’ Enablers programme, which is for people who support museums. Best wishes, Laura

Dear Laura: It has been refreshing to see more structured learning and development programmes open to freelancers over the past couple of years. But I also think we need to take responsibility for our own continuing professional development (CPD), building it into annual forward planning and looking beyond the sector for complementary training opportunities. You’ve got to make a commitment to CPD and stick to it. But that’s easier said than done – especially if client projects are delayed, timescales change and you feel under pressure to prioritise your workload. Best wishes, Marge

Dear Marge: You’ve raised an excellent point about pressures on freelancers’ time. One challenge is the issue of project creep, which can happen when a client makes changes to the original brief or timescales change unexpectedly. These can have a great impact on freelancers’ work schedules and capacity. Any changes to a brief should be discussed with freelancers to ensure that they are not being asked to do additional work for free. Project creep can also be avoided if the client writes a clear brief, which includes timescales, at the outset. Best wishes, Laura

Dear Laura: We debated this issue at last year’s MA conference, when myself and fellow freelancer Lyndsey Clark ran a session on “how to create an effective freelancer brief”. It filled the seminar room and was welcomed by those attending. We wanted to open a positive dialogue with commissioners and to encourage recognition that a well-written brief can help both parties. There’s a follow-up blog on the MA website that includes a link to the slides. We covered topics such as project lead-in times, recruitment opportunities, setting realistic timescales, and fees and finance. Best wishes, Marge

Dear Marge: The session sounds great and it’s good to hear that you covered finance. Freelancers face several issues that can have a detrimental effect on their financial security. For example, budgets sometimes reflect an unrealistic idea of expenses or wider project costs, which can leave freelancers out of pocket. Late payments, which many freelancers have experienced, can have a significant impact on freelancers’ financial planning and everyday cashflow. These financial challenges, and the challenges discussed previously, mean that it is essential for freelancers to build a resilient business. Best wishes, Laura

Dear Laura: Freelancers need to be resilient, whether that’s adapting to the sector’s changing needs, proactively responding to financial and political uncertainties or developing our skills and learning through CPD. But personal resilience is a challenge for freelancers. We’ve got to get the balance right between our home and work lives to ensure we’re in a good place, mentally and physically, to provide an excellent service for clients. Health and wellbeing is one of the topics at the Museum Freelance Network’s Resilient Freelancing conference on 12 March. I’ll see you there. Best wishes, Marge