What do I Love About Being Freelance, What Do I Struggle With?

The first in a series of blogs on freelance life by Lorraine Finch ACR, LF Conservation and Preservation.

I've been freelance for sixteen years now, and the thing I love most about being freelance has never changed – the freedom. I have no line manager to answer to, no institutional rules or policy to follow, no office politics and no constraints on my time. I had always been interested in running my own business and when I was searching for a career in heritage, one of the criteria I looked at was whether that specialism would allow me to become freelance. I chose conservation, and I have worked as a conservator for 23 years. If you work out the maths, you can see that I spent seven years as an employee. I went freelance in 2003. The reason for doing this was I was fed up with being badly managed. In my first job, at one point, over half the staff in the department were on treatment for depression! By 2003, I could see the same pattern happening again and again, and I'd had enough, it was time to get out and enjoy the freedom.

I love being able to set my own timetable, to make all the decisions about how a project develops, to work closely with clients and to get to know them. It has been great over sixteen years to grow and mature alongside my clients. I've watched their children grow up, commiserated with them when they have split with their partners and celebrated their achievements. This is another great aspect about being freelance. You get to meet such a variety of people and you build relationships with them that last. Some people might argue that being freelance is a lonely occupation if you are a sole trader (and I am). I argue that it is more sociable than being employed. Conservators in institutions are generally stuck in a room on their own away from all the other staff. This is no longer the case for me. I get out and about visiting different institutions and different people. And, going back to the freedom, if I'm having a day where I need to get out and be sociable, I can. I can put down my tools or paperwork and go. Recently, I felt overloaded by the anxiety and tensions that seem to have hit society. I'd spent the day working in London and everybody was shouty and angry. Social media seemed to be full of people ranting and intolerant. The news was worse. I was supposed to be working the day after I came back from London but I moved my work, borrowed Harry the dog and went for a walk. Being freelance has some great upsides.

One of the downsides, and one I struggle with is the slack periods. We all have them. It can feel like you are never going to get any work again. There have been times when it got so bad that I thought about going back into employment. Even though these slack periods are a struggle, I still think that I'm in a safer place than someone who is employed. Some time ago I had a conversation with an employed conservator where she basically said that she could go into work on a Monday and be unemployed by Friday. She couldn't see the bad times coming. I can see the slack periods coming and prepare for them, or even take steps to avoid them.  My struggle with the slack periods is the money worries that it brings. The best piece of advice I was given before I became freelance was to 'keep three months money in the bank'. I have always heeded that advice but it can still be very worrying when you see that buffer start to dwindle, and nothing go back in to build it back up. The advantage of having been freelance for so long is that I know that I have always made it through these slack periods; although it doesn't stop me worrying.

I would say that my biggest struggle is with the lack of a safety net. It can be difficult to be ill or to take a holiday. I struggle to take time off to look after myself when I am ill or need a break. I find that I work through every holiday or time when I am sick. I have been quite seriously unwell over the last few years but I have still been in bed with my laptop on a tray attending a four hour meeting. I do miss holiday pay and sick pay. My sister had three weeks paid bereavement leave when our dad died. I had a morning off.

Another struggle that I have is keeping up to date with changes in business practice such as GDPR and 'Making Tax Digital'. I have found, however, that there are a lot of free business training courses available both as classroom based courses and online. This is something that I love about being freelance, the opportunity to gain new skills and knowledge. In the years I have been freelance I have been able to attend many fantastic courses in business skills. I have learnt so much. Additionally, I have learnt a lot from the huge variety of museums, archives, libraries, galleries etc. that I have worked with. Every one is different. Every one has a slightly different approach. My skills and knowledge have expanded greatly in their breadth and depth. My practical conservation skills have also improved. It has been my experience that if somebody has funding to conserve an object, they send out the worst, the most complex, they do not send out objects which need only basic treatment. My conservation skills have been pushed to their limits and as a result my practical skills are now far, far better than they ever were.

Another point I love about being freelance, is that you are always in for deliveries! Whilst I've been typing this, the postman arrived with a box of goodies that I ordered last week. Brilliant.

All in all, what I love about being freelance vastly outweighs what I struggle with. I love being freelance and would never change. I have never regretted my decision to set up my own business. It is best thing I have ever done.

Lorraine Finch ACR

LF Conservation and Preservation


Twitter: @conserve_lfcp

Instagram: @thecaringconservator

Lorraine and Harry

A superb beginner's guide to freelancing

This blog was originally published on 6 March 2019 by Lorna Denby of Sunnyside Red. It’s reproduced here with kind permission.

It may have been a cold and wet February morning, but, warming coffee in hand, I was absolutely thrilled to be on my way to London to attend the “How to Set up, Survive and Thrive as a Freelancer course” run by Museum Freelance. GWR did their very best to scupper my plans but the train did eventually get to London – I really don’t miss commuting one bit.

I had been looking forward to this course since I booked it in October, and I can honestly say it really didn’t disappoint. Christina and Marge are incredibly knowledgeable about freelancing in the cultural sector. They are both very warm, engaging and really generous with the amount of information they provided in one day. The course offered a one-stop-shop for those new to freelancing or the freelance-curious. Covering topics as diverse as finance and tax; finding your own USP; getting clients and understanding client briefs; learning how to say no; pricing your time, and above all – thinking like a business. The course was packed with useful real-life examples too.

The level of detail in their handouts was second to none. It will take me quite some time to get through the content and put it all into practice. The course really is a beginners guide to freelancing in the cultural sector. It was without a doubt the most useful workshop I’ve ever been on – great value for money.

Please note: I have not been paid by Museum Freelance to say these lovely things about them, I believe in shouting from the rooftops about something when I think it’s worthwhile and value for money. So, if you are a freelancer or freelance-curious in the cultural sector I recommend you give them a try, you’ll be so glad you did.

A note from Museum Freelance team: The next Museum Freelance training workshop will take place on Monday 14th October 2019. Check here for further information or to book.

Museum Freelance conference takeaways

We've gathered together some of the delegates' takeaways in the evaluation from our Agents of Change conference. They are great tips and motivations for freelancers:

  1. We are agents of change. Let’s be brave and embody that change

  2. Be honest and authentic and be informed by your values and "what makes your heart beat faster" when taking on work

  3. Do not always give yourself a hard time, as a freelancer in can be hard to have balance and it's ok to switch off! Gave myself permission to have a really lazy morning this morning (after the conference and really busy week)

  4. Seek out the quiet

  5. What do I want to be today? Not, what do I want to do today?

  6. There are lots of fantastic freelancers out there, who I would love to collaborate with

  7. The importance of reflection about whether or not what I am doing is what I want to be doing

  8. Two words - values and care

  9. Freelancers offer different roles and ways of working to museums - flexibility and outside view

  10. That we may all be working on our own projects but we are in fact all in this together and a wonderful network of passionate freelancers exists

  11. Freelancers are really well placed to help inspire and drive change in the cultural sector

  12. The importance of sharing and learning with other freelancers

  13. The whole conference and the warm, sharing ethos it evoked has given me confidence in my trade. I am not the only one who makes mistakes, is juggling, sometimes works too much, sometimes too little, feels like an imposter etc!

  14. Developing personal brand for my freelance business

  15. Listening partnerships plus a general reminder about the social value of our work

  16. Ask yourself why you do what you do and factor that in to your work. Create a work/life balance. Be honest and really listen

  17. Check my insurance. Continue to ask why

  18. Connections with new people and recognition that most of us worry about the same things

  19. Caroline Newns' point about just making the approach and asking for a chance because the worst they can say is no

  20. Positive aspects of freelancing and openness of the speakers in talking about mistakes and how not to do things

  21. Self care was an overarching one for me - the listening partnership; top tips from the morning speakers relating to when you're just starting out as a freelancer; time on and time off; we can't just rely on people's passion

  22. Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? There were good discussions about our role as outsiders going in and questioning clients and shaping things. It is something I've only really started to do in the last year or so, and so it was really reassuring to hear about others doing it - and the value of that to organisation

  23. I think another valuable take away was about self care - taking time out to listen and be listened to, to make the most of being freelance and of being in control of some things.

Written by Museum Freelance Network co-founder Christina Lister.

Reflections on Agents of Change – the Museum Freelance conference

A cancelled meeting means I’ve finally got the chance to finish my blog post on the third annual Museum Freelance conference held in Manchester in March. I organised it with Marge Ainsley as a conference dedicated to freelancers working with museums, heritage sites, libraries and archives.

My key takeaways were:

  • Be yourself and be authentic

  • It’s ok to make mistakes – learn from them

  • Question your purpose, what do you want to be, what do YOU want to do?

  • The importance of online networks – join them, get involved in them

  • Change can be positive

  • Being “unemployable” is great!

It’s about collaboration not competition

Marge and I kicked off the day with a few words about the Museum Freelance Network we run.

We shared the ethos of the network:

  • It’s about collaboration not competition

  • We encourage sharing not secrets

  • A collective voice is more powerful than an individual voice

  • Freelancers are essential part of the museums and heritage sector

  • Boost the health/well-being of freelancers to boost the health/well-being of the sector

  • Freelancers are running a business

  • Museum Freelance is a community.

We summarised key achievements in the past 12 months including:

  • Creating and running a beginner-level training course bespoke to the needs of freelancers in the museums sector

  • Becoming an IPSE Ambassador organisation

  • Launching an e-news and website

  • Producing a guide on working with freelancers

  • Challenging organisations offering diabolical fees/rates and/or advertising PAYE-in-disguise roles

  • Running Twitter chats on topics including GDPR + ‘green’ freelancing

  • Advising freelancers via calls, emails and tweets

  • Speaking up on behalf of freelancers at events, for example at the SHARE Museums East conference and Visitor Studies Group event

  • Representing Museum Freelance and organising ‘pop up’ networking at events like the Museums Association, Museum Ideas and Museum Next conferences

  • Organising Christmas socials.

And plans for the next 12 months (watch this space)!

  • We also set out how freelancers can contribute to the community:

  • Share jobs, issues, tips on Twitter and in the LinkedIn group

  • Use #MuseumFreelance and follow @MuseumFreelance on Twitter

  • Write a blog post for the Museum Freelance website

  • Take and share Museum Freelance business cards

  • Organise a freelance get-together at a sector event

  • Attend local meet-ups in your area

  • Get involved in our work: lobbying and advocacy, research, communications, social events, conference organisation

  • Tell us how we’re making a difference to you!

“Project myself”

Alistair Hudson, director of Manchester Art Gallery then opened the conference with his thoughts on living in times of change, new possibilities and what Museum 3.0 might be.

Business coach Caroline Newns, Caroline Newns Consulting, followed with some great advice on running a freelance business. She encouraged delegates to be more confident and assertive in their marketing and client relationships, and as a consultant herself said she “loves being unemployable”.

Jim Richardson, founder, MuseumNext gave a personal and moving presentation about “What the hell do you do in your business when everything in your life falls apart”. In Jim’s case it meant moving from running a thriving design agency to starting out on his own organising a global conference series. He has created “a lifestyle business” which allows him to see his family more and incorporate travel and opportunities abroad in his work. He recommended “work as a vehicle to make money and make you happy”.

Simon Seligman, life coach and communications freelancer talked about conflicting voices inside us – when we are faced with too much “noise” (such as emails, CPD, client demands, other commitments) or no noise (and we worry about not having enough work).

I loved Simon’s suggestion to lavish 10% of your time and thought on “project myself” – treating yourself and your business as a client, in order to allow yourself time and permission to invest in yourself, your well-being, your business.

Simon also ran a 10 minute listening partnership where you’re liberated from the obligations of a conventional conversation so the “speaker can hear themselves”. Basically one person talked in a pair for five minutes whilst their partner listened, without asking questions, commenting or interrupting, before repeating the other way around. There was great feedback on this exercise from delegates, and many said this was a model they would be using in the future.

Amina Lone, co-director of The Social Action Research Foundation then finished off the morning session with an honest account of the ups and downs of a freelancing career and committing to an ideal.

After lunch four freelancers shared their varied takes on driving and dealing with change, hosted by heritage consultant Steve Slack.

  • Claire Turner, cultural consultant: My key takeaway from Claire was “Don’t ask yourself what do I want to do today, but how do I want to be today?”                                                                 

  • Adam Pearson, freelance research and evaluation consultant, gave a light-hearted presentation about his first few months as a freelancer                        

  • Dawn Varley, nfp strategist and do-er: Dawn asked delegates if they want to be a do-er or a facilitator/enabler with clients

  • Anna Faherty, writer, trainer and consultant: Anna recommended freelancers keep asking “why” to delve into a client’s brief and really understand what’s going on and what support they need.         

Laura Weldon, creative director, StudioLWD then gave an introduction to branding and how this is more than “logo slapping”.

“Notice what makes your heart beat faster”

And in a very popular and rousing keynote session, Esme Ward, director of Manchester Museum, gave a future-facing and reflective provocation on the role of freelancers. Some notes I scribbled along that stand out are:

  • “get off your arse” – if you care about something, do something about it

  • “do less and value more”

  • “change done to you is grim, but change you have agency in or lead is energising”

  • “notice what makes your heart beat faster”

  • “freelancers know what good looks like”.

We are over the moon with the feedback which included:

“Thank you for a well-organised and well thought through event. It's one of the best conferences I've been to and I was very impressed with how diverse but useful the content was.”

“I felt really fired up about work again, thank you!”

“I feel refreshed and ready to do some thinking about my business and my practice.” 

“It’s become an essential part of my year!”

Thank you to all of our contributors and delegates for making our third conference – and first outside London – such a success. We’re busy planning the next one…watch this space!

 Written by Museum Freelance Network co-founder Christina Lister.

It’s a marathon not a sprint: reflections on 3 years of independent work

Written by governance consultant, and runner: Mairead O'Rourke

Warning: This article includes running analogies – a lot of running analogies.

“I’m sorry to tell you that your application has not been successful.”

“After careful consideration we have selected another organisation to complete the work but thank you for your interest.”

“We have now assessed your bid and regret to inform you that you have been unsuccessful as you did not achieve the minimum scoring threshold set for one or more of the criteria or did not meet the overall threshold.”

Fellow freelancers will know the feeling only too well of investing hours, sometimes days into bids for no obvious return. The result of bidding for work is binary – you either get it or you don’t. It’s a race – there will be a one winner… and you might fall just before the line.

So why do we take part? How do you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and go again? I am guessing, like me, you have had to; to be in this business you need to.

When I was considering moving to freelance work, I remember a work colleague saying they didn’t think I could handle the rejection that comes with the territory. That was possibly, in part at least, a catalyst for me to take the plunge. I like to prove people wrong. A similar thing happened when a friend once said I’d never run a marathon as I’d no idea how far it was. They were half-right - I genuinely had no idea of the distance when I signed up for my first one! But 10 years later I have 15 marathons under my belt and I’m still running.

From planning a race/a bid, to committing to training/a project, right through to post-race/ post-gig reflection and learning for next time, there are many parallels between my running and working life: my company is called CultureRunner for a reason. Whether on the road or in the workplace, I have stumbled more than once – sometimes it’s just not your day. But I’m still running.

I am sure you will have your own ways of staying in the game. Here are just a few of mine.

Pick your race wisely

I am a long-distance runner and I am smart enough to save myself the humiliation of running against leggy teenagers on the track who will leave me for dust. I don’t always get this right in my working life, but I’m most effective when I focus on jobs which play to my strengths. I have worked in governance and policy for 13 years and these areas of work have naturally become my consultancy bread and butter. The governance gigs are where I feel most comfortable – where I’m stretched within my limits, not beyond them. But crucially, they are not the only things I do. It’s equally important to…

Move beyond your comfort zone

The best running training is a mix: some slow, some sustained effort, some lung-bursting intervals. This extends to races: I’ve learned that occasionally taking part in events beyond what I’m used to, is ultimately good for me. Taking on big challenges makes me a better runner, even if the experience isn’t a ‘success’ in itself – I ran a 30 mile trail race last year and seriously messed up eating and drinking during the run… so now I know from my own earned experience, not just from what wise runner friends were telling me before I found out the hard way! I recognise the same start-line feeling of ‘I can’t possibly do this’ in my work life when I take on a project that doesn’t fit my usual profile. I recognise the same finish line feeling of ‘oh, right, so that’s how these things can go’, too. Sometimes you have to do something that scares you and some of the best outcomes for me have come from taking a leap of faith.

Know your current boundaries

I have a dream to one day run the Antarctic Marathon – and I believe I could – but it’s unlikely I will be doing that anytime soon. Why? Because not only is it eye-wateringly expensive, it would involve a far greater intensity of training than I have time for at the moment. Sometimes you have to say no. No, because it’s not the right time. No, because it’s not within your current skill set. No, because you just don’t have the capacity to do it alongside other work. I’ve made the classic consultant mistakes of taking on too much at once, taking on the ‘wrong’ project and this has left me working late nights and holidays to catch up. Learning to say no constructively is like training a muscle to stay free from injury. If it’s really important, you’ll find a way to say yes in future.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

This is probably stating the downright obvious but if I don’t do enough training it generally doesn’t go well on race day. I’ve not yet been stretchered off (thankfully) but I’ve made myself pretty ill on a couple of races. In work there are times where I have also been a bit lax, leading up to the main event. I’ve not prepared well enough for a client meeting, not read all the relevant documents in advance before a workshop or not been on top of my diary management and missed deadlines. It’s not a nice feeling when it happens but each time it does, it’s a jolt of a reminder of the importance of being prepared.

Stay fit

Just like my physical need to exercise I also need to keep my brain engaged. Of course, the work I do this is exercise in itself, but it’s concentrated effort. Like the best mix of running training, work effort needs mixing up with more reflective time to develop knowledge and insight. It’s training events and conferences, meetings with other freelancers and – especially for me – a rich diet of podcasts, some of which relate directly to my work, alongside plenty that have nothing to do with it but stretch my brain in other interesting directions (if you’re not already listening, try Radiolab and This American Life – constant classics).

You don’t get a PB every time

Sometimes it doesn’t work out. It’s just not your day. You’ve done the training; you know you are prepared; you know you can do it, but this one time, it’s just not meant to be. Projects sometimes feel like a real struggle, or don’t end quite as I had hoped they would. There is always something to learn from these stumbles and while it can feel icky and unbearable at the time, I now know it will pass. I allow myself the time to wallow a little, to feel grumpy then reflect more constructively, then I move on. I say this as if I have mastered the art – I haven’t yet! It is something I am constantly working on. But I do keep running.

Find your running buddies

I have learned both in my running and working life that having good people to run and work with ultimately helps me to be better. By working with others and sharing experiences I have improved what I do. My ‘running buddies’ add a richness to my work and life that keeps me going. When I can’t find my way and I’m struggling with a project they help me back on my feet and back on track. 

YOU run the distance

As important as buddies can be, the key parallel between my work life and running life is: it’s down to me. I never work entirely on my own, and I value all the help I get, from colleagues and clients alike, but the truth of the freelance life is: YOU have to get on with it. And that is the beauty of running, too. It’s a simple sport, you get back what you put in. And in the end, the only person you’re ever really racing is yourself. It’s down to me to pick my races, to plan my training, to get the shoes on and get out the door, to set my own standards and try to better them. When I do that, I’m winning.

 Find Mairead on twitter, LinkedIn and via her website.

Looking after yourself: reflecting on the Museum Freelance Conference

Written by Research & Evaluation Consultant, Adam Pearson

I was at the Museum Freelance Conference earlier in March. It was ace.

The theme for the day was ‘change’. There were some great speakers. Honest. Inspiring. In some cases, emotional.

I also had a slot. I probably over-delivered on honesty when I confessed to jet washing the drive instead of working. But it went ok.

The theme for the day might have been change, but what I’ve taken away from it is the importance of looking after yourself.

This cut across pretty much every talk and session. Every conversation.

I find it a big challenge as a freelancer. The conference has got me thinking about some things I hadn’t before.

Looking after your health and wellbeing

This can be hard when the work is piling up and you can’t quite tear yourself away from your desk. But with no sick pay, it’s vital to our businesses that we make time for our health.

You might already have this in hand, but I don’t.

I like to remind my wife that I never get ill, and to be fair I rarely do. But it’s bound to strike at some point so getting the flu jab is on my list for next winter.

My diet is pretty poor. Working from home, I should be making healthy lunches and snacks. Instead I usually turn to cheese on toast and an afternoon of crisps and biscuits, with a steady supply of coffee washing these down. I need to do something about it and plan to start by cutting down on the caffeine and getting to know the Freelancer’s Cookbook.

One thing I am good at is getting out for walks with the dogs every day. It’s great from a wellbeing point of view. Fresh air. A break from your desk. If you’re thinking about getting a canine companion, do it!

I like running but I’ve got out of the habit over the last few months. There’s always some client work or business admin that seems more important. I’m slowly getting back into it though and started a group on Strava for freelancers to share what we’re doing to keep fit.

If I don’t get back into the swing of running then my fall-back option is to join the gym. As a tight Lancastrian, by virtue of paying for something I’ll make sure I get value-for-money! If you’re a member of IPSE there are a range of offers on gym memberships. Finally, I’m going to book a bloody holiday! It’s not just about keeping fit, it’s about taking time off and resting too. If you’ve got any recommendations for UK dog-friendly holidays, let me know.

Looking after your family

I’ve overlooked this one up to now. It took a couple of moving stories at the conference to bring this home to me. What if something serious happens?

I’ll be honest, I’ve never had life insurance. I think it’s about time I do. In particular I’ll be paying attention to serious illness cover. Any specific life insurance recommendations for freelancers will be gladly received.

Aside from the insurance side of things, it was another reminder to really think about what we value in life. It’s just work, after all.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the work I do. But I love the people around me a hell of a lot more. Do I really need to take on that extra project if it means I can’t take time off? Does that side project really need to be done now or can it wait? These are the questions I’m asking myself.

Looking after your business

Aside from our health and families, it’s also massively important we’re looking after our businesses. If we don’t get that right, not only could it get messy but it’s going to impact on your life anyway.

I’ve started asking myself the ‘what if’ questions and whether I’m really protecting my business. What if I get a difficult client? Are my contracts and terms of service going to cover me? What if there’s an issue during a project? Do I have the right levels of insurance in place? I also want to look at the data security side of it too. I think I’ve got decent processes and controls in place, but cyber-crime is big and I’m not sure to what extent my insurance would cover that.

This is quite timely as my business insurance is up for renewal. If you’re about to look at your own insurance, I hear good things about Get Dinghy and With Jack.

I also find Dave’s Work Notes site a really useful reference point. He’s super hot on contracts and protecting your business. He’s also incredibly generous with his time on Twitter if you’re ever stuck. Well worth a follow.

Looking out for each other

All things considered, my biggest takeaway from the conference is the importance of looking out for each other.

As a freelancer, you’re not alone.

Don’t suffer in silence. Reach out. Speak to people. Join networks. Attend events and conferences. Value the connections you make. Be open to the advice and knowledge of others. Give back where you can.

We should cherish communities like Museum Freelance. The same goes for Freelance HeroesBeing Freelance and Doing It For The Kids (to name a few).

One speaker at the conference said she wished these networks were around when she started out. She’s right. We’re lucky to have them.

This blog was first published by Adam Pearson on his website, and is reproduced with kind permission here.

Museum Freelance Conference 2019

Written by Beth Thomas, Heritage Consultant

I first came across the Museum Freelance Network around a year ago when I heard about their conference last year which was held at the London Canal Museum. As a relative newcomer to freelancing it was great to be with other freelancers facing the same problems that I was: work flow, insufficient budgets and juggling work-life balance. More experienced freelancers generously shared information and tips with newbies like myself. It was a great event both practical and inspiring.

Since then I have been following the inspirational duo who head up the MF Network Marge Ainsley and Christina Lister on Twitter and through their e-newsletter. I recently attended their How to set up, survive and thrive as a freelancer in the cultural sector, a one day training course which was full of information that Marge and Christina wished that they had known when they first started out. They have another one coming up in June and I heartily recommend it if you are thinking about freelancing or have just started.

I’ve always believed that networking events like this year’s Conference in Manchester at the Manchester Art Gallery are essential to support professional development. They can reinvigorate and remind you of what you love about the sector, confirm or challenge your ideas, refresh your practice and introduce you to new ideas and best practice by other organisations or colleagues.

The fringe event at the People’s History Museum provided an opportunity to discover how this institution is changing its role as a campaigning museum rather than a museum of campaigns with a myriad of stories about people who challenged society from early trade unions, anti-slavery, equal pay, votes for women and the Chartists. There were lots of artefacts on display telling the stories of the many brave individuals who, in some cases, sacrificed their lives or suffered hardship to provide the freedoms that we often take for granted.

The displays provided plenty of topics for discussion about museum practice as well as finding out about the work of the conference delegates with the conversation continuing afterwards over drinks and dinner.

  • A sense of history in the maing

  • Why can’t I touch?

  • Peoples History Museum

  • Peoples History Museum

The Conference proper consisted of a range of speakers, not all directly related to museum freelancing. They were all very generous in sharing their experiences honestly with us including how their personal lives had impacted on their work. A strong theme was well-being and self-care with a powerful listening exercise from Simon Seligman and the personal stories of Jim Richardson and Claire Turner where life events forced a complete re-evaluation of the way that they worked. The first and last speakers, Alistair Hudson of Manchester Art Gallery and Esme Ward of Manchester Museum both spoke about how the purpose of museums are beginning to change and perhaps even return to their original (mostly) Victorian, public spirited and philanthropic foundations. Museums should be ‘useful’, loved and be places of care and compassion not just places that dole out ‘learning’ from the great and the good. They should be ‘constituent’ museums that are part of the civic network. There was a generous spirit in the room and lots of networking chatter.

Not forgetting Caroline Newns, Amina Lone and Laura Weldon. All of whom gave inspirational and informative presentations.

  • Manchester Art Gallery

  • Manchester Art Gallery

There was lots to learn and share. There is power in joining together. The Network seeks to work with organisations such as the Museums Association and AIM to ensure that Museums and freelancers can work together to achieve the best outcomes for all.

See you next year?

This blog was originally posted by Beth Thomas on her website and is reproduced here with permission.

Your tips on freelancing

We asked the Museum Freelance community for tips on freelancing they’d like to share. We used 24 in our advent calendar on Twitter and LinkedIn but here is the complete set – thanks to everyone who took the time to share their thoughts.

  • Working in/as a team

“Work with people you enjoy working with - you are a freelancer, you can make your own team.” (Claire Adler, Heritage Consultant: Learning, Community, Development. @cladle www.claireadler.co.uk)

“Buddy up with others - do joint projects together, share ideas, give mutual support; Be generous to other freelancers - recommend people, forward on briefs, lift others up; (V hard but) try not to compare yourself to other freelancers - everyone’s journey is different.” (Laura Crossley @lfcrossley)

“Of the 4.8m freelancers in the UK, the best support comes from the other 4.799999m. So get out there and build your support network of trusted freelancers in your area.” (Ed Goodman @edagoodman)

“Team up with others. Find a partner in crime to hustle with - and to share the highs and the hard times. We feel stronger when we say ‘we’.” (www.interference-art.co.uk, Participatory Arts Projects @mckeemaura)

“The #1 piece of advice I’d give is stolen from @edagoodman: ‘no freelancer is an island’. @FHChat and @DIFTK are amazing communities for freelancers! I’ve been a freelance web designer for little over five years and wrote about this recently: https://medium.com/@websmyth/five-years-of-freelancing-20-practical-tips-82137c41f792” (Dave Smyth)

  • Your elevator pitch and marketing

“Become famous in your niche. Blog, write for magazines, tweet prolifically, podcast and speak at conferences. It’s much easier to win work when you’re known as an expert in that space.” (Jim Richardson, @museumjim)

“Work out an elevator pitch. It doesn't have to be fancy. A client raced over to me after I said "I ❤ words" at a networking event.” (Helen Reynolds, freelance copywriter and web content writer. Other tips here:  http://www.inkgardener.co.uk/business/small-business-owners-10-tips/ @InkGardener)

“Freelancers are people, not big blue chip companies. Trade honestly on your personal qualities and real-life experiences, rather than meaningless marketing waffle.”  (Steve Slack, Twitter: @steveslack, Instagram: @museumofsteve, Web: www.steveslack.co.uk)

“A freelancer's business should be in the middle of something they love, are good at, and makes money. If it isn't, it needs changing until it is so it can thrive.” (Ed Goodman @edagoodman)

“Invest in a simple online presence. It’s your shop window. No need for anything too fancy, but it’s worthwhile making yourself known.” (Steve Slack, Twitter: @steveslack, Instagram: @museumofsteve, Web: www.steveslack.co.uk)

“Learn to sell your skills. No one will do it better than you, once you have the confidence to pick up the phone or meet prospective customers face to face. No sales, no business. So learn to sell your skills.” (Ed Goodman @edagoodman)

  • Money and tax

“Keep three months money in the bank as a buffer for the hard times. This was the best bit of advice that was given to me before I became freelance 15 years ago 👍 Accredited conservator, LF Conservation and Preservation.” (Lorraine Finch @conserve_lfcp)

“Set aside time to deal with money. I do Money Monday on the last Monday of the month - chase invoices, pay myself, sort receipts. Really eases the tax return panic.” (Kate Rodenhurst @katerodenhurst)

“This is basic but keep a detailed spreadsheet of dates, invoices submitted and remittances. Makes you feel super smug when it’s time for your tax return 😎.” (Freelance conservator @zoecooksandsews)

“Get paid upfront - at least a deposit. And avoid these clients if you want to get paid: https://kreativcopywriting.com/8-types-of-client-to-avoid-if-you-want-to-get-paid/” (@KreativCopy)

“Invoice promptly and chase debts regularly.” (@stuartramsay)

“Don't forget to do your tax return! It's costly if you forget... and you won't be able to afford costly things!” (@DrNadiaSRandle)

“Always put aside tax money as you go! I move 25% of everything I get in across to a separate bank account for my tax bill. That way there are no nasty surprises!” (Jemma Pentney, Freelance Graphic Designer. @JemmaDesign)

Your approach and attitude

“Learn how to say no gracefully & constructively when your capacity is stretched, & always send your profile for future opportunities. Forward the brief to other freelancers - everyone benefits 😊.” (Carolyn Lloyd Brown @heritageangel)

“Being passionate about what you do is vital ... but remember, first and foremost, you’re running a BUSINESS.” (Caroline Newns @CarolineNewns)

“Pace yourself and don’t worry about keeping up with others. Particularly if you're relatively new to freelancing (like me). I liken it to running a marathon. https://pearsoninsight.co.uk/marathon-learning/” (Adam Pearson, @pearsoninsight)

“Be a fox, not a hedgehog. Don't over specialise, offer a range of services. The hedgehog does one thing really well (a specialist), whereas the fox can do many things well enough (a generalist).” (@BenjaminGammon)

“Don't be afraid to be a specialist and focus on your strengths. Following the @museumfreelance conference in March I realised I was being too generalist in a world of highly skilled, experienced specialists. I've since refined my offer and going back to uni to hone my skills.” (Stephen Miller, @stephen_history)

“Always remain positive and upbeat while with the full time staff of the organisation.  In fact do this with anyone connected to the organisation.” (@andrewsugars andrew martyn sugars, freelance facilitator)

“Freelancing isn’t a job. It’s a way of life. Embrace the freedom of not having a boss, and make the most of the opportunities that it offers.” (Steve Slack, Twitter: @steveslack, Instagram: @museumofsteve, Web: www.steveslack.co.uk)

“Learn to multi-task and love it, you could be working on multiple jobs in the same day. Be curious, do research and be interested in clients as people not just contracts.” (Pamela Johnson, www.bandjconsultancy.co.uk @pfrodo)

“Always say thank you to the team you’re working with-2 little words but they mean a great deal. Many people in the places I work in don’t hear them too often...” (Stephanie Lavery - Living History Interpreter - education and historical tour developer @TSlivinghistory)

“Don't get stuck in a rut, even if you specialise you could branch out to work with different types of clients, be open about revising the way you do things, keep learning from each commission and person you work with.” (Emma Parsons @emmajaneparsons)

“You can always learn something from ‘failed’ bids. Some of mine have really helped me on future projects. They are never a waste of time!” (@MaireadO)

“Develop a review process, I do every quarter an in depth process, where I review things like went (not) well, money (not) well spent, time management, client work and adjust goals for the upcoming quarter. And another thing, learn to charge for extra services and be a good negotiator on your behalf. Don't be afraid to renegotiate an offer.” (@anabelroro)

“Don't forget your own professional development and learning - read stuff, go to events and (if you can) try and work with interesting and inspirational people to keep you motivated and excited by the work you do. And think about your transferable skills, especially when starting out.” (@sarah_boiling)

"Don't stop until you're proud; for the day, for the project, etc. Your business is YOU!” (Ellie Reynolds, marketing and communications, http://www.truetold.com @elliedreynolds)

“Trick your brain into thinking you love focused work! Follow a small routine (water, music, scent) before you start working and do it everytime before you need to work to create a productivity habit that you will stick to. And reward yourself at the end if you've focused!” (@amandaappiagyei)

“Become more self aware about your intentions. Whether you are working on a document or talking to a client, think ‘what gear am I in?’” (@RHBDaveHowlett)

  • Network

“Chat to anyone & everyone at events, openings, coffee breaks. You never know what work might come up from seemingly random contacts!” (Briony Hudson: exhibitions, research & strategy @brionyhudson2)

“Network, network, network. You cannot buy too many cups of coffee - you never know which one might pay off in the future.” (Steve Slack, Twitter: @steveslack, Instagram: @museumofsteve, Web: www.steveslack.co.uk)

  • Time management

“Don’t allocate all your working hours to clients. You need time set aside for your own admin/marketing/cpd. When I started I was advised to do 3/5 client to 1/5 admin and 1/5 development. That worked well for me.” (Lyndsey Clark; exhibitions, interpretation, engagement. @ltclarkuk)

“Don’t underestimate the time to write up reports.” (@shakesjetty)

  • Self-belief

“Remember your initial courage! It takes courage to go it alone, takes courage to sell your ideas/tenders, takes courage to chase up unpaid invoices, takes courage to not compare your work to others, takes courage to stand in front of an audience and do what we do.” (Stephanie Lavery - Living History Interpreter - education and historical tour developer @TSlivinghistory)

“Ditch the inner critic! Listen to client feedback, especially positive feedback (learn from the negative too, but don’t hold onto it). I’ve framed my favourite positive feedback on my office wall to remind me of my strengths and fend off imposter syndrome.” (@mirrielou Miranda Ellis Consultancy, fundraising, training, evaluation, project management www.mirandaellis.online/)

“Believe in yourself and your product... try not to fall prey to ‘imposter syndrome’! Take the compliments and really listen to other people and take on board what they say.” (@TokayNicola)

  • Well-being

“Start the day with a walk outdoors when you can manage it. It really helps you think through what's ahead of you and reminds you why being freelance can be great. I need to remind myself to do this more often!” (Participation, learning, facilitation @quartosisters)

“Do not forget to schedule breaks, holidays, time off. Just because you might work for yourself doesn't mean you have to work all of the time. Look after yourself and rest!” (@DearFreelance)

“Try to find time for a fresh air break most days and allow your mind to wander. Being tied to a desk/laptop isn't conducive to creativity. Outdoor daydreaming is when I find solutions and my best ideas.” (Emma Parsons @emmajaneparsons)

“For your own sanity take your [work] email off your phone. Even better: anything related to work. Better than that: give up your phone.” (Mike Ellis @m1ke_ellis)




From employment to self-employment

A guest post from Becky Demmen. This was first published on Advocate & Create, and is reproduced with Becky’s permission.

After I finished my internship I struggled to find that next step job that I wanted. I come from a background where a lot of my family were self employed. Seeing this as I grew up instilled a want to be self employed too. There is something about being in charge of yourself that really appealed to me. So, as my struggle to find my next job continued I thought I would try it out.

In this post I will be exploring the process that I took to move to self-employment. This is by no means a guide - it's just my experience and the things I considered on the way. Keep an eye open as I plan to highlight a lot of different jobs and opportunities in the creative sector on this site in the future.

Who you know.

I started by writing a list of all of the contacts I had built up over time. Years of volunteering and meeting people. It became clear that I had built up a list of really useful people. Include everyone. Even if they aren't within your field you never know who you may need. Being self employed or freelance isn't just about working in your field. You never know if one day you'll need website advice, tax advice, social media advice, a cleaner etc. The list goes on. You will be in charge of everything and may come against something completely unrelated to your field that you need to outsource. 

What you know.

You probably have an idea of what kind of service/business you want as a freelancer. I knew I wanted to continue my creative work. 

Look at your CV. Look at every job you have had (both in your field and not) write down everything you did there. For every job, from a shop job you did for three months to your first job in your field. - what were your responsibilities? What did you do? What did you achieve? - Once you have this list use it to work out what skills you have gained through your work life. What skills are transferable to what you want to do now?  

An example: I had a temp job in a shop. During that time I had a front line customer facing role. Transferable skills? Absolutely. In this one temp job I gained skills in selling, relating to customers and I also arranged the shop window displays. 

Whilst these things are not exactly what I want to do in my business they are very important. Part of my work is Arts Administration - I have to be able to talk to people, relate to them and, although I may not be selling as such, I am often  convincing people of the value of artistic work and advocating. So even a job "unrelated" to my core field can be relevant.

All of this work will be useful when you come to create your website. Speaking about things you have already done is  great way of letting people know you can handle work. It also helps with your confidence. Even if you haven't had a job in your field before there are plenty of things you have done.


I started to reach out to companies and people I already knew. People I had volunteered for and people I had worked for. Just a courtesy email letting them know what I am up to now. 

I also set out one day a week that could be used for further volunteering. That was really useful for me and has helped me meet new people and build contacts. It has also helped me to diversify my skill set. 

Once you start to meet people and show them examples of your work it's amazing how that can turn into contracts.

Will this work for me? 

This is something I thought about a lot. I had just completed an internship which I really enjoyed. I enjoyed working in an office with other people. It's no secret that working for yourself can become a little lonely. I get to meet a lot of people through my freelance work but at the end of it all I still spend days at home where I don't interact with anyone. 

Organisation is a big part of freelance. Scheduling everything in my diary can be a lengthy process. Keeping track of paper work and banking can take up time too. 

Work/life balance - I find it very difficult to keep a work/life balance. There is ALWAYS something else you could be doing. It's taken time but I have just started putting in organisational structures to ensure that I take more time for myself. I have found that pushing myself to do a 16 hour day doesn't actually get much more done than a well structured 9 hour day. 

These are all things to consider when thinking about if self employment will work for you. (There will be future posts of time management) 

Part time.

I now combine my freelance work with part time work. I really enjoy this balance and my part time employers are able to be flexible enough that I haven't had to turn down any freelance work. It provides a safety net financially and also helps with my morale. I am not working on my own everyday. I am building my experience and getting opportunities it may take years to get through self employment. My current part time job is connected to my freelance work in every way and really supports my work and keeps me inspired. The amount of times I have been at work and finally figured out the solution to a freelance problem is wonderful. It gives you space away from your freelance work for your brain to get a reset, solve problems and become reconnected to what you want. This has also given me time to look into the personal projects I'd like to do. So this is also worth considering. 

As I said at the beginning this is not a guide this is just a few things that i considered and the process  I took to become self employed. If you want a guide of the nitty gritty of becoming self employed then get googling or consider getting in contact with the Princes Trust https://www.princes-trust.org.uk - I did their entry course and it was extremely useful for understanding the other parts of business I knew nothing about. 

There are so many things to consider and it is about working out what is best for you. There may be a lot of trial and a lot of error but if it's what you really want then, trust me, it's worth it.

Audio Version of this post here.

Blog written by Becky Demmen, first published on Advocate & Create.

Booking now open for Conference 2019

We’re delighted to share that booking has now opened for AGENTS OF CHANGE: Driving and dealing with change as a freelancer in the cultural sector. For the full programme and to book please visit: www.buytickets.at/museumfreelance.

The conference is a Museum Freelance Network event for freelancers, by freelancers and will be held at Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester 10.30am – 4.30pm on Thursday, 14 March 2019.

About the conference

Speakers will share their journeys, practical lessons and tips and will explore many aspects of ‘change’ relevant to freelancers, including:

  • How can freelancers who aren’t attached to any particular organisation inspire and deliver change as ‘outsiders’?

  • How can individuals be the change they’d like to see? What power do they have?

  • How can freelancers be more resilient and prepare for or learn to embrace change?

  • How can freelancers cope and deal with change when it’s not change they were expecting, or perhaps wanting?

Speakers include:

  • A welcome by Alistair Hudson, director of Manchester Art Gallery

  • Jim Richardson, founder, MuseumNext: The worst day of my life and other stories

  • Esme Ward, director of Manchester Museum

  • Laura Weldon, creative director, StudioLWD: Using the power of branding for positive change

  • Caroline Newns, business coach, Caroline Newns Consulting: Growing and sustaining your freelance business

  • Simon Seligman, life coach and communications freelancer: The power of listening…to ourselves.

This year there is also a fringe conference programme which includes a group visit to the People's History Museum and facilitated networking with coffee ‘in the sky’ at 20 Stories on Wednesday 13 March in the afternoon, and a pre-conference social at The Alchemist in the evening.

After the core conference programme on Thursday, we'll move to The Refuge (Winter Garden) for drinks and we also have a special discount code for delegates for a cracking show at The Portico Library that evening for anyone who is staying on.

For the full programme and to book please visit: www.buytickets.at/museumfreelance

Early bird tickets are £70, after which tickets are £90. There are also 3 £15 tickets available – for more information and to apply visit: https://goo.gl/forms/XFns60J02pGmfPRB3.

Greening our work: guest post by Bridget McKenzie

This post was first published on The Learning Planet following a Museum Freelance Twitter Chat back in the summer. With thanks to Bridget for allowing us to share here.

Yes, I’ve been active and vocal about the planetary emergency for as long as I can remember. But I’ve never been very strong on environmental management of one’s work and life. I don’t want to say that I’m unconcerned with my own footprint: I do all the things I can. I don’t fly, don’t drive, eat mostly plants, only had one child, and use 100% renewable energy. The only air miles I count are the ones involve in transporting my food.

But that said, I’ve always pushed back against the way ‘environment’ is put in a box labelled ‘eco-naggery’: saving energy, smart meters, and light bulbs, and now plastic packaging. I’m just not interested in the detail! I’d rather we spend time campaigning or fundraising to promote an international law against ecocide, to end the influence of fossil fuel companies, to end deforestation, and to encourage a ‘regenerative’ revamp of economy and society. I think that cultural organisations should support and normalise ecological education, activism and enterprise, and that they should be braver at facing the truths of the climate emergency. They should prioritise such work over reducing their own operational footprints, which they should do but only as one of many other activities.

However, I’ve been aware recently how vital it is to show daily leadership in one’s practices. Not because you expect to make a difference to the global temperature dial by turning off your kitchen light, but because your actions can affect how much people care about that temperature dial. It is better to do the right thing than not to do it, when the stakes are so great (and when the steaks are doing so much damage). This awareness has been raised by reading Peter Kalmus ‘Being the Change: Live well and spark a climate revolution‘.

Last week I led a Twitter chat on the #MuseumFreelance hashtag about being a sustainable leader in one’s freelance or sole-trading work in the museums sector. I’m not strictly a freelancer as I run a small company of 2-3 people, plus associates, but I haven’t worked as a staff member in an organisation since early 2006, so have a strong ‘freelance’ identity.

I asked these questions:

  • How can we reduce our impact when we run focus groups or workshops?

  • Freelance work can mean a lot of travel: is digital communication the best alternative?

  • How can we help clients and audiences have more planetary awareness? What if that’s not in your contract?

It was a lively chat and generated a lot of advice and mutual support. Some ideas included:

Christina Lister showed us her kit to minimise dependence on single use plastics:

Christina Lister's kit

Reducing in-person meetings after a set-up meeting, using collaborative and conferencing tools where possible, but taking care and preparing well in advance to ensure they work well. Hilary Jennings shared this guide from the Transition Network on how to work better together online.

Using digital tools like Mindmeister to share and develop ideas with clients rather than using paper, or having to meet in person.


And a great tip from Steve Slack (left).

For anyone who wanted to go a bit deeper on this, I shared:

  • My Possible Culture website, with tools to do change work with organisations towards being more ecocentric and resilient for a climate-changed future.

Christina Lister summed up her takeaways from the chat: 1) start now 2) share what you’re doing with freelancers & (potential/) clients 3) question things that could be made greener 4) baby steps are better than no steps (e.g. recycled paper) 5) think all aspects of your practice. She’s also written up a post about the chat, here.

My own big takeaway came out of my third question: How to help clients have more planetary awareness, even if it’s not in the contract. One suggestion was to be more overt about sharing one’s own environmental policy, including it in the way you pitch and negotiate contracts. It was interesting how rarely we were ever asked by clients about our environmental policies. I realised that I hadn’t revisited our own company’s one since dashing one off to a boiler plate template perhaps 10 years ago on a single occasion when it was required for a tender.

So, I made a pledge to rewrite one, and will do this with colleagues as part of process of creating a new organisation: Flow Experience. This will be a more charitably-oriented company than Flow Associates, and we will gradually shift all our projects into it. It will also be a platform for Climate Museum UK. I had the realisation that instead of tagging a footprint-reduction policy at the end of a business plan, start with the big purpose of eco-social change. Environment isn’t an ‘issue’, or only about the smallest level of detail. It’s the biggest possible expanse. It’s the world that makes our existence possible, from time immemorial – but only for the time being. In writing this policy, we’ll follow our own  change planning model, where we begin with ‘Discover’ – taking an expanded perspective to discover all drivers for change. Then we’ll zoom in to focus on the impact we are able to have with the assets we have access to. Then we’ll start to Design the organisation in terms of how it uses resources and generates value, thinking in a regenerative and ecocentric way throughout.

I’ve recently written and spoken about the idea of the Possible Museum, or any cultural organisation that is more eco-centric, socially just and future-facing. I outlined an ethical path for such an organisation:

It will take a ‘Possitopian’ approach, not being stuck in either wishful Utopian or despairing Dystopian positions about the future, but look imaginatively and openly at the widest cone of possibility.

By looking honestly at what is happening in the world, and imagining the future, this organisation will see that the path of relevance is an ethical one.

  • It will proactively work with communities to shift towards more regenerative and circular economies.

  • It will explore ethical and participatory forms of entrepreneurship in order to sustain itself when or where public funding dries up.

  • It will provide safe, inclusive spaces for envisaging possible futures, for learning from past and indigenous cultures and from the capacities of nature, and for helping communities take action for eco-social justice.

These will be the principles to underpin our thinking as we dream up Flow Experience, and build on our 12 years of work to become an organisation that services and supports others to create a Possible Culture.

Bridget McKenzie, Flow and Climate Museum UK

Follow Bridget on twitter and find out more about Climate Museum UK here.

Create the Perfect Freelance Brief

With the aim of encouraging positive working relationships between organisations and freelancers, Lyndsey Clark and Marge Ainsley shared five freelance brief mistakes (and how to avoid them) at the 2017 Museums Association (MA) Conference in Manchester. This blog is a summary of their top tips written originally for the MA Blog.

Mistake 1: The Impossible Brief

We often see too many deliverables within the time and budget available. But how can you know what’s realistic? One way is to be less prescriptive in terms of the tasks and provide a budget. Or, if you do want to be prescriptive about the tasks, let us tell you how long it’ll take and the cost.

On the topic of rates, if you really don’t know where to start some organisations have published minimum rates online for copywriters, visual artists and some others. You’ll also find various resources on the HLF Forum. There’s a useful article available from BIG, the STEM Communicators Network, which relates freelance day rates to equivalent employee salaries which should help you budget.

Mistake 2: The PAYE-in-disguise Brief

Sometimes we see a freelance contract advertised that looks suspiciously like a job. But how do you know the difference? First, think about why you want a freelancer. Three main reasons are; to access expertise for a specific task, to add capacity for a specific period, or to get an external point of view (for example evaluation).

Businesses must ensure all their employees get holidays and sick pay, have a pension and are paying tax. Therefore HMRC is strict about who can be declared freelance and publish guidance online. A freelance relationship should have benefits to both parties. If all the benefit is to the organisation, then you may be acting illegally or unethically.

Mistake 3: The Need it Now Brief

Most freelancers plan work at least three months ahead so get your brief on our radar as soon as possible. Think carefully about when to send it out (avoiding key holiday periods) and at what stage of your project you need someone. Sometimes organisations expect work to be completed at very short notice. Do allow enough time for the freelancer to complete the tasks and remember a good freelancer won’t be able to work on your project 24/7 because they will have other clients.

Mistake 4: The Vague Brief

To get the best from your freelance appointment, you need to know what you want them to do for you. Give context about your organisation and project. Think about the work you want done and be clear in your own mind about what success would look like. Don’t make a freelancer guess if you already have a specific methodology or output in mind but do be willing to accept input. Know and communicate who the freelancer will communicate with and who will manage them, and most importantly who makes the decisions.

Mistake 5: The Krypton Factor Brief

It’s important to create a simple and straightforward application process. Think carefully about what you need to know to find the best match person for your needs. Check your requests makes sense to external people. For example, is the level of public liability insurance requested really required for the job? Please don’t ask the freelancer to complete the first part of the actual work as part of the proposal. Instead, ask for evidence of previous work and references, or set budget aside to pay for creative responses.

Now you have your perfect freelance brief. How do you find a freelancer?

Most freelancers get work by word of mouth. If you don’t know who to ask, speak to colleagues and your local networks. Use email lists; GEM, VSG and MCG jiscmail lists are popular. There’s also a LinkedIn group for the Museum Freelance Network where contracts can be posted.

Best of luck with your project or role, and feel free to contact either of us or the freelance network with any questions.


GDPR and freelancers

[reblog from Christina, co-founder, Museum Freelance Network]

I hosted a Twitter chat on the Museum Freelance account about the upcoming GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) legislation that comes into force on 25 May 2018 (search for #museumfreelance).

The legislation was “designed to harmonize data privacy laws across Europe, to protect and empower all EU citizens data privacy and to reshape the way organizations across the region approach data privacy” (www.eugdpr.org).

I’ve got to admit, it’s at times like these that I wish I was back in an organisation where someone else could take responsibility for trawling through the details, breaking it down into something meaningful and relevant for the organisation and where the workload for implementation was shared with colleagues. But I’m not, so I can’t – the buck stops with me! And really embracing it is the way forward – seeing it as an opportunity to tidy up, question what you are doing and why, and plan your approach going forward.

Many freelancers I’ve spoken to have been concerned, baffled or intimidated (or head-in-sanding) about the new legislation and its impact on how they run their business. And also it’s clear that the legislation is being interpreted in many different ways. So having been recommended a GDPR expert in the Facebook group GDPR – Shared Resources, I set up a Twitter chat to tackle questions specifically about GDPR and freelancers. A big thank you to Annabel Kaye, founder of Irenicon (a specialist HR and employment law consultancy) for joining us and answering our questions. Annabel has spent the last 18 months helping micropreneurs get ready for GDPR and runs a number of dedicated GDPR support groups you can join.

My main takeaways from the session were:

  • don’t delay, get prepared

  • start with an audit

  • what you do needs to be relevant to your business – templates or a one-size-all approach isn’t what it’s about (although they might be a helpful starting point)

  • it’s something you will need to revisit and work on as your business evolves

  • the 3Ss: “Seek only what you really need. Secure it and don’t share it unless people know you are.”

  • “Treat people’s data with respect, secure it and don’t abuse it.”

  • “It’s a mindset, not a checklist at the end of the day.”

Below are the questions we put to Annabel and her answers. Please bear in mind this is general guidance and Annabel doesn’t know your individual situations, so we do not accept any liability for any reliance you place on the guidance. At the end are some links to additional resources you might find useful.

What are your top tips for freelancers who don’t know where to start and/or feel overwhelmed by GDPR?

“Just start with working out what information you hold where – it is called a map or audit but it doesn’t have to be tricky.”

Are there resources that take you through a step-by-step guide of what businesses need to do in order to be GDPR-compliant that you recommend?

“We have a free checklist aimed a micropreneurs, solopreneurs and freelancers. It comes free if you sign up via https://koffeeklatch.co.uk/gdpr  there is a pop up. You can unsubscribe after if you want to.”

The ICO documents and advice feels very ‘large scale’ business focused – e.g. freelancers aren’t going to employ a data protection officer. How can sole traders best distil it down to something manageable and relevant?

“Remember 3 Ss. Seek only what you really need. Secure it and don’t share it unless people know you are. Treat people’s data with respect, secure it and don’t abuse it. It’s a mindset change not a hundred policies and checklists.”

What’s ‘reasonable’ when it comes to making sure that freelancers are compliant with sufficient measures in place? Is there a minimum ‘line’? Are there real risks of being fined?

“ICO has said year 1 they will be advising rather than fining. Like speeding tickets, you may find you don’t get a ticket ever or you could be the poor person that gets one. It won’t be instant.”

Do freelancers need some kind of privacy statement on their websites and email footers? If so, where can we go for guidance on this?

“You can write your own or buy one but be careful some are way too complicated for solopreneurs. We work with our GDPR groups to create ones that reflect how a particular industry works.”

“ICO guidance is really aimed at complex organisations with lots of data collection. Over the top for many tiny solopreneurs.”

“Privacy statements are needed but they don’t have to be long complicated documents.”

Do I need to encrypt my laptops or at least set up a password for particular folders that contain any personal data that I have e.g. from market research?

“Advise you to encrypt laptop and to set up separate spaces for personal work related data and your own personal use.”

“We did a free webinar on encryption a while ago. https://events.genndi.com/register/169105139238438867/662c02f066

“Templates are not sticking plasters they have to reflect what you are doing and how you are doing it. In our groups we work together to create appropriate ones. But they don’t suit all ways of working. https://koffeeklatch.co.uk/gdpr

Does my cloud storage need to have its servers in the UK and if so which clouds are acceptable (someone has suggested that Dropbox is not?) And linked to this: a freelancer has been advised that their online survey tools should have their servers in the UK, is this correct? In which case they’ve been told SurveyMonkey is not ok?

“Your cloud storage needs to be in a country the EU designate as having adequate regulation. This is all of EU/EEA. USA is only OK with the addition of the US Data Privacy Shield. You need to let people know if their data is leaving the EU/EEA but not prohibited if transparent.”

“Dropbox have Data Privacy Shield and now agree all packages will be secure. You still need to let people know if you are exporting their data and sometimes you need specific consent.”

“Servers in other countries can be used if EU views country as having secure laws (there is a list) and if contract provides for security – again as long as individual knows before completing survey data is going outside EU/EEA.”

What key things should freelancers working in research and evaluation fields be mindful of? Especially when collecting personal data through surveys/how will prize draw rules be changing?

“Minimise, anonymise, secure should be your mantra.”

“The client is the ‘data controller’ and is responsible. You are the ‘data processor’ when doing research and are also responsible.”

“The client should design to minimise data privacy impact and anonymise. Unless it is your job to design in which case you should.”

“Prize draws already covered by lottery regulations and existing marketing rules (PECR) – often ignored!”

“Approach with caution and customise your request. ICO site has some samples but they are not very marketing friendly. https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-the-general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr/lawful-basis-for-processing/consent/

Are there time limits for storing personal details from people who have booked onto an event or taken part in research, or how do we judge when to delete?

“Store data no longer than necessary. Some have fixed time limits – eg HMRC tax related data.”

“Sometimes your insurer requires you to keep for a particular time.”

“If the research builds up over years or decades you will need to keep it to enable the work to be completed.”

“Your ‘data retention’ period(s) should be decided in relation to your legal obligations, your contractual and insurance obligations and the natural cycle of your work. Don’t hoard stuff in case it comes in useful.”

“The more data you keep the more you have to secure, store, and sometimes update since you have an obligation to keep it accurate (probably not if doing historic research).”

Do freelancers need a written-down policy to show what measures they are taking to be #GDPR compliant?

“You should keep a record of your data audit/map and what you have done to secure your data, restrict it or otherwise comply with #gdpr. That is not a policy but a record.”

“A GDPR is a process not a policy. You will need to revisit your decisions and data map as your business changes and grows. It’s a mindset, not a checklist at the end of the day.”

Additional resources on GDPR that freelancers might find useful:

If anyone else has any guides or tips they’d like to share that I can share with the Museum Freelance Network, please get in touch.


Resilient Freelancing - our second MF event

Following the success of the first ever Museum Freelance event back in March about Proactive, Empowered and Confident Freelancing, I’m really excited to be organising the follow-up. This time the theme is Resilient Freelancing – ‘resilient’ is a word banded about so frequently in the culture sector, but we wanted to explore what it means for a freelancer. What makes a freelancer resilient? What makes there business resilient?

In what promises to be an inspiring and thought-provoking session, speakers and the topics they will explore include:

  • Christopher Barnatt, Futurist, ExplainingTheFuture.com: key future challenges and opportunities that no museum freelancer will be able to ignore;

  • Mike Ellis, Director, Thirty 8: the tools and techniques that are useful in helping freelancers to balance their working lives and ultimately find time to do things other than work;

  • Elizabeth Power, Head of Learning, London Transport Museum: a client’s point of view about what clients look for in freelancers;

  • Bridget McKenzie, Director, Flow Associates: how freelancers can be more effective in relating to others;

  • Ben Matthews, Director, Montfort: ideas and inspiration to break the cycle of trading time for services delivered, create regular recurring work, and increase your value to your clients.

Marge Ainsley will also facilitate a series of bitesize talks from freelancers as they share what tools, tips and lessons have made them resilient, and an optional social session at the end of the day.

For the full programme and to book please visit: www.buytickets.at/museumfreelance. The early bird rate until 15 December: £70, after which tickets are £90.

We are funding 4 free places for the participants on the Young Freelancers programme. Thanks to support from Montfort and Laura Crossley, there are also 3 free spaces with travel expenses paid for available, with the aim of increasing the diversity of participants and museum freelancers generally. For more information and to apply please visit: https://goo.gl/forms/DMoyXpNKmLrsKYvZ2.

Hope to see you there!

Museum Freelance Event Success

I originally wrote this blog post about the first Museum Freelance event day for the London Museums Group. To find out more about the event it’s worth checking out the Storify capturing the day’s tweets that Marge Ainsley kindly did, and also her insightful reflections on the day.

Fellow freelancer Laura Crossley and I founded the Museum Freelance Network following a #museumhour chat I guest-hosted in the summer of 2016 on freelancing. It seemed there was an interest and demand for some kind of platform for freelancers working in and with museums to come together, learn from each other, share ideas, jobs and issues.

We began with the @MuseumFreelance Twitter account, #museumfreelance discussion hours on Twitter, a LinkedIn group (now with 350 members) and an orange logo with a teapot!

Fast forward 18 months and I’ve just run our first event, with 52 freelancers and people thinking of freelancing attending. Entitled Proactive, Empowered and Confident Freelancing, it aimed to plug a gap in the market by providing high quality, relevant and good value training and time for reflection, organised by freelancers for freelancers and covering some of the main topics that regularly come up in our Twitter discussions. 

Two external speakers and trainers delivered sessions on how to get the most out of networking (Joanna Gaudoin from Inside Out Image), and making the time to think and plan what you want to get out of your freelancing business (Anna Lundberg from One Step Outside). We also heard about the UK’s freelancing landscape from Lydia Wakefield from the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), advice from Helen Wilkinson from the Association of Independent Museumsand from Tamsin Russell at the Museums Association (MA) about how the MA is planning to support freelancers in the coming years. In a ‘lightning talks’ session we enjoyed five punchy presentations from freelancers Dana AndrewHamish MacGillivray, Alex Homfray, Padmini Broomfield and Charlotte Tupper, hosted by Marge Ainsley. The event was priced more affordably than typical similar events, with a range of discounts for the Young Freelancers group, early birds, people who had helped with research and were helping run the event on the day. We also started later and finished earlier to allow more people to travel off-peak and do school runs or make other commitments.

Although I had done research with museum freelancers about their needs and tweaked the programme as a result, it was still a bit of a leap of faith and personal financial gamble and I had no idea how many people would come.

Fortunately however, the event seemed to resonate and we had a brilliant diverse mix of freelancers – from new to very experienced – and potential freelancers from across the country, covering almost every area of museums work and expertise.

For me it was a hugely rewarding day which met and exceeded my hopes. Hearing people connect, contribute ideas and questions, seeing reflections being shared on Twitter (see #mfconf17), reading and hearing all the positive feedback and the appetite for more was brilliant. Some of the feedback has included:

  • “It was a very friendly, supportive event. I was so pleased to see it advertised as I am considering freelancing but assumed getting any advice would be hard. I assumed it would be more of a closed and competitive world!”

  • “On the way home I looked through my notes from the day and wrote 15 things to do. Sign of a useful day! Thank you for organising!”

  • “I started the day thinking “I need to make a plan” for my freelance practice. By the end of Anna’s session I had one!”

We will now look at the evaluation that’s coming through, take stock and see how we can build on this day. I certainly have ambitious plans for what the Museum Freelance Network can become as the number of freelancers in the sector continues to grow. Watch this space!

Below are some reflections and insights from three of the event’s delegates:

Heidi Hollis, writer / editor / interpreter / creative collaborator, writerwithboots@gmail.com

The sun shone on our gathering on the waterside at the London Canal Museum. As someone returning to the sector, I enjoyed meeting a wide range of people – some just considering freelancing, some well-established consultants. I watched as two long-established colleagues, connected often by Twitter, finally and joyfully met for the first time!

Two big themes emerged for me:

1) Partnership – collaborative relationships with other freelancers help everyone – gaps in bids are filled and the skill package expanded.

2) Approach with care – in networking with other professionals, and in the gentle work of boosting a museum out of a risk-averse mentality, we perform a delicate balance of firm but flexible, strong but vulnerable, nurturing but fiercely creative in our approach to the work … when the work flows, we have the opportunity together to create something truly inspiring and astonishing.

Kathleen Lawther, Curator & Freelance Consultant, www.kathleenlawther.co.uk

I attended the conference with the help of a CPD bursary from the South East Museum Development Programme. I’ve worked in museums around the South East for several years, and having taken a new part-time employed role at the beginning of 2017, I am keen to develop a freelancing portfolio to round out my work. For me, as a beginner, the most useful thing about the event was the chance to talk to so many more experienced freelancers in a relaxed and supportive environment. I also found the networking and ‘how to get what you want from your freelancing business’ talks really useful, as most of the CPD I have done is focused on museum-specific skills, and working on these kind of personal skills is so important in developing my offer and my effectiveness as a freelancer.

Ben Couture, exhibition designer Jardine Couture Limited, www.jardinecouture.co.uk

The speakers covered a breadth of subject matter, centred on the growing tribe of freelancers within museums, and offered encouraging and informative content therein. Lydia Wakefield from IPSE (an NPA with 20k members) told us about their good work, lobbying and supporting the self-employed from all areas of industry. Coaches Joanna Gaudoin and Anna Lundberg gave a host of tips to ensure we were all presenting our best selves and suitably assessing life/work priorities.

Some excellent insight came from the quick-fire ‘Lighting talks’ giving condensed experiences from a range of practitioners, with refreshingly honest accounts from freelancers Padmini Broomfield and Charlotte Tupper. Of particular interest was the presentation by Helen Wilkinson from AIM (Association of Independent Museums) touching on the subject of organisational change, and musing the subject of trust and credibility – and how suppliers (enablers) can benefit from building a stronger methodology within their work.

The day as a whole provided the opportunity to meet a wide range of specialists (curators, educators, archivists, conservators, marketers, designers, consultants) – probably enough to start a museum.

If you are a freelancer or thinking of freelancing please join our LinkedIn group www.linkedin.com/groups/8438251 and follow us on Twitter @museumfreelance

@christinalister, www.christinalister.co.uk