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.

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.

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, 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: 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:

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,

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,

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,

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 and follow us on Twitter @museumfreelance