When you work at a company as a full-time employee, it’s fairly standard practice to have periodic "growth and development" sessions. This is a time to sit down with your manager and set goals, receive feedback and reflect on the next steps in your career. So why, when we take the plunge into the world of freelancing, do we often stop growing and developing as a professional? We just assume we’re great and get on with it.
If you’re reading this as a freelancer, here’s a question: when was the last time you asked for feedback from a client? When did you last upskill, give yourself a pay rise or generally question how you are getting on?
Chances are you haven’t. I know first hand – I didn’t do any of this for at least the first two years of freelancing. But it’s not too late to start.
Competition as a freelancer in advertising and marketing is becoming fiercer due to industry redundancies and people opting for a better work/life balance. So it’s more important than ever to stop, reflect and give yourself your own growth and development plan. This kind of progress makes sure you stand out from the crowd – and that crowd is only growing larger.
Just because your career may not be taking the standard nine to five route, it doesn’t mean you need to sit and stay stagnant. So listen up freelance friends: it’s down to you to push your career forward and continue to grow. Here are four simple suggestions to get started.
Ask recruiters for feedback
You often send your portfolio or CV to recruiters when you see a job you’re interested in and may even get a quick coffee meeting with the business or a phone call to discuss the project. And then: silence. I know – it can be infuriating.
If you finally hear that you didn’t get the gig, it’s important to ask why. This will help you continue to improve your game. Perhaps your portfolio isn’t tight enough, your "about me" section feels confused or it could simply be that they love your work but someone else stood out more for the project. It’s always good to ask.
NB: If you never hear back from a recruiter, or they always call you about "great jobs" and then they ghost you without any response, question whether the relationship is working for you. It’s a two-way street. There are a few recruiters I have cut out of my list because of their lack of professionalism – and that’s OK.
Ask clients for feedback
Once you’ve got your foot in the door, this is the time to really push for your growth and development.
First, I’d suggest only asking for feedback if you’re in a workplace for at least two weeks, so that you can give yourself time to adjust and let the business get to know you. But at the end of your stint, try to grab whoever you were working for during that time and ask them: "How did you find your experience working with me? And do you have any constructive feedback I can take with me moving forward?"
To some, this may seem awkward, so if you do not feel comfortable doing this face to face, ask it over email or Slack. I guarantee that, however you go about it, you will benefit from it. If a company understands the importance of nurturing external talent (whom it may want to work with again), it too will benefit from sharing thoughts and feedback with you.
Alternatively, if you’ve been booked on a gig for a few months, it’s worth asking your line manager if you can block out a 10-minute biweekly or monthly check-in. If they are a good manager, they will see the value in doing so.
A quick catch-up or email at the end of your gig shows that you not only care about your own development, but also that you want to do a good job on the project and work well for the company. This goes a long way and turns you from a freelancer who’s just here to do a quick job to one who actually cares about making a difference and whom they will likely think of when a new project comes around.
Give yourself goals and targets
It’s important for your self-motivation and mental well-being to give yourself short- and long-term goals as a freelancer.
These goals may be as small as arranging a coffee with a headhunter or as big as signing up to a night course to help you upskill. I’ve also heard of some freelance friends coming together to set monthly goals. This can happen through online communities such as The Freelance Circle, but no matter where you find it, it’s great to have a community to help you do this. It keeps you focused and moving forward.
When working at Refinery29 last year as a semi-permanent employee, I was offered an "education allowance": two wonderful words I hadn’t seen in more than four years. The allowance could be spent any way, as long as it helped me develop in my role as creative lead within the branded content team.
It got me thinking: why didn’t I ever give myself an education allowance as a self-employed creative? I understand that money doesn’t grow on trees, but there are so many free courses or workshops in London that we as freelancers could sign up to. For example, General Assembly offers some great ones, or check out the event pages on The Dots.
Upskilling not only flexes our brains but also adds another string to our bows. It essentially helps us stand out even more at a time when more people are entering the gig economy. Imagine being a freelance copywriter who also happens to be on a user experience evening course – you suddenly become more attractive to tech or digital-led companies.
Again, you can add upskilling to your personal goals and targets, and attribute that to a well-deserved promotion or self-given pay rise.
By setting goals, asking for feedback and upskilling, you will feel more focused and know that you are pushing your career forward in a way that works for you. Don’t forget to celebrate your own successes, give yourself a pay rise when you believe you’ve deserved it and share the work you’re creating. Because now it’s down to you – there’s no HR team or manager to rely on. Keep that ship moving forward and be proud to progress.
Casey Bird is a creative and brand strategy consultant, and founder of The Freelance Circle