There are more industrys represented in the freelance community that we could possibly mention, and the idea of a new freelancer being put off because their audience is too niche is a notion we fundamentally disagree with. If you’re good at something, enjoy it, and there are customers who’ll pay for what you do, then it should be explored.
In the case of this week’s Featured Freelance, why throw away many years of experience working in museums to work in a different sector? Well, thankfully she didn’t and, 7 years on, she’s here to tell the story of her freelancing journey so far. Enjoy….
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
I’m Lyndsey Clark, I’m based in Edinburgh and I am a freelance consultant working across the museum, heritage and public engagement sectors. I help organisations to create exhibitions, hands-on or multi-media exhibits and engagement projects. My exact role depends on the client but can involve researching content, forming content into exhibition format, coming up with ideas for interactives, working out how to make other people’s ideas work in reality, testing with audiences and project managing the delivery.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I’ve been freelance now since late 2011 / early 2012. At the time I had a total of 12 years’ experience working in big National Museums in London and Edinburgh, on a series of project-funded fixed term contracts each between 1 and 4 years long. In 2011, at the end of a really huge museum redevelopment project I was job seeking yet again, and uninspired by the opportunities out there. I just didn’t really want to do any of the permanent roles advertised. But I could see a real need for my skills and experience in the sector. So I dropped down to three days a week for the last three months of my contract and began freelancing on the side before going full time freelance at the end of my contract.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
My husband was fully supportive. To be honest it didn’t feel like a huge step. Fixed term contracts are the worst of both worlds in my opinion. They demand that you put all your eggs in one basket, while all the time knowing the basket will self-destruct in a year or two! I also had a good friend freelancing in academia/research who I spoke to and continue to speak to about the highs and lows.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
No I didn’t. And for the first few years I didn’t really engage with any freelance support at all. I just googled how to set myself up with HMRC and got going. I was more focussed on my identity as a museum and public engagement professional than any sense of myself as a freelancer or small business. I did however get an accountant at the end of my first financial year to submit my tax return, and I’m so glad I did as I think having professional accounts really helped when we went looking for a new mortgage in 2015.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
My clients are all organisations who need a bit more capacity or a bit more expertise for a short period of time. Sometimes they are the huge sector-leading organisations who are doing something really big and innovative that requires extra people. Other times they are smaller organisations that don’t really know how to proceed and need more guidance. I find having both types of client’s works well together.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
I’ve got a pretty unique portfolio of experience. I think I get most of my work based on my pasts projects and proven record of delivery and the critical response to those projects. But I’d also like to think that I show passion for the projects I choose to go for. Because I only work on around 3-4 projects at a time, for usually 6-18 months each, I can afford to only pitch for projects that I think really fit with my values and expertise so that probably shines through.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? e.g. Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
I’m not sure what I expected, I really didn’t think about it all that much, but it’s been many different things in seven years. I chose to do a lot of travel in the first couple of years which involved long hours and late nights but was exciting and satisfying. Then I had a baby and a short maternity leave and I have worked 2, 3 and 4 days per week between then and now. I now work about 30 hours over 5 days on average but I’m flexible and do still travel at times. I think one thing I really didn’t expect was the support and value of networking with other freelancers. In the last year and a half or so I feel I’ve really benefitted from engaging with the Museum Freelance Network and Freelance Heroes on Facebook and the Being Freelance podcast.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
I’ve been a Toggl user for nearly two years and I now find it essential. I usually price on a fixed-price basis against agreed deliverables, but before agreeing a price I’ll have worked out how many days I think it will take to achieve. I use Toggl to keep on top of how progress is going against my estimate and also to learn for future estimates. I’m pretty accurate now and rarely get my estimates wrong thanks to this feedback loop. I also love Waveapps for invoicing and receipts.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
You need to know that your area of work needs your skills and to know if organisations are likely to buy those skills in, on a freelance basis. I became freelance because I could see a clear need for my skills and I knew that in my sector it can be far easier to buy in consultancy than to get a new staff role approved. Freelancing also needs to suit your personality I think – a natural tendency towards optimism is useful.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
I’ve learnt that I really love my work, and that it is very important to me to love what I’m doing. I need variety, and freelancing for me is the best way to get that.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
The autonomy to make my own decisions about how best to get the work done. I now couldn’t even imagine asking somebody else if I could take a day of leave or for permission to attend a training course or conference or to work from home.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
No Christmas party. It’s not the Christmas party itself obviously but the lack of team I miss at times. I miss spontaneous after-work drinks when you rant about all aspects of a project with people who really know, and I miss office sweepstakes and the continuous learning from working in a team. I’m still looking for the perfect co-working space for location/convenience as well as community. And I spent too much time on twitter!
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
The truth is that I’ve never had a goal beyond enjoying my work while making a living. I still don’t.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
I didn’t really think about the fact I was giving up any potential for maternity pay when I went freelance. It was quite tough to plan to get by on statutory Maternity Allowance and try not to lose all my clients and network. It worked out well for us as we only had one child, but it’s a big consideration for women who would like more than one child. On the other hand, after the first year, I think that freelancing can be a very family friendly way to live.
To connect with Lyndsey, you can find her at: