Working as a freelancer? Remove the shame, and the work will come

Kate Russell, General Manager of Business Development at Commtract

For professional communicators, COVID-19 is changing how we work as well as the future of work in our industry. To explore the skills communicators will require to thrive in their professional careers, Commtract reached out to renowned journalists, Tracey Spicer and Ky Chow, who have both move away from their journalistic careers to pursue consulting life. 

The Australian communications, media and marketing landscape is facing structural change accelerated by COVID-19. There is a significant rise in journalists, communications and marketing professionals moving from permanent roles to freelance and contract work in the short term.

Demands on communications departments and newsrooms continue to increase, however, the ability to service these with a diminished full-time workforce is a challenge for many organisations. Progressive leaders are increasingly realising the benefit of fixed and flexible workforces and the need to develop contract arrangements to access the full range of talent in the market.

For communicators, the future is likely to include periods of freelance work. The question then becomes – what work is available, where do I start and how do I market my skills for a long-term sustainable career?

How do you define your skills in the market?

While you might be thinking, Tracey and Ky have established brands in the market – isn’t it easier for them to get a start? We live in a time where you can build your own profile and brand online. While it might help to have an established reputation, each consultant is capable of growing their presence through social media. If you continue to follow your passion and unique skillset, you will be able to carve out your own personality online and differentiate yourself from other consultants in the market.

In terms of how you position your skills, Tracey says consultants should simplify their offering. Tracey says humans can digest information better in threes, so she has defined her own skills by offering three distinct services; writing, speaking and training.

Another way consultants can “even up the odds” is through networking. Ky says to make the most of networking events, it’s important to follow up after meeting someone new. When following up, use something you have in common as the basis for your communication. If you can go that little bit further, it will elevate your pitch from the pack.

But if the thought of networking makes you cringe, it doesn’t just have conducted in a formal environment. You can network anywhere – you just have to have curiosity, and a desire to meet people and explore new fields.

What did you learn about the job market being a freelancer?

You will likely get work in the most unexpected places and in the most unexpected ways – you just have to say yes to everything.

Tracey says you have to get over the idea of anything being shameful. When you have a portfolio career, there is nothing to be shameful about. You should be open to roles that may offer less than you would usually be paid. But rather than simply looking at the immediate monetary benefit, look at the future financial reward of making that connection.

Beyond this, Ky says it’s important to remain humble throughout your career. While there’s an expectation that employees should be modest early in their career, Ky warns it’s vital to carry this humility throughout your career, providing you with resilience when thing go wrong.

Don’t rule out other mediums of communicating

There are communication skills that are common across all types of platforms. Don’t rule out podcasting or blogging, for example, simply because you haven’t used that medium before. Sure, there are obvious differences between writing and broadcasting, but Ky says it’s a much easier transition than people might think.

When Tracey transitioned from journalism to consulting, there was a glaring gap in her skillset – writing. To get started, Tracey explored all the publications she wanted to write for, analysed their styles and cold-called editors.

Ky says his first consulting job came from a fund manager via LinkedIn. Despite not having consulted in this area before, Ky was able to use his broadcast experience to assist with media training and video production.

What are the fears when taking the leap?

In terms of managing the psychology that comes with an insecure income, Tracey says consultants should look at the week past, not the week ahead. “Sometimes you will have moments where you will see tumbleweeds, but if you look at the past 3-6 months you will see that you did actually get work.”

Ky urges consultants to take the time to work on those long-term skills such as writing, networking and digital, since it could be what ends up paying your bills down the track.

Commtract’s Executive Director, Vanessa Liell, interviewed Tracey and Ky for an exclusive webinar. You can view the full conversation here.

 Tracey Spicer and Ky Chow are consulting to businesses via the Commtract platform, which has over 4000+ vetted communications and marketing experts. 

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