I've been fortunate enough to be on both sides of the fence when it comes to freelance social media and content opportunities in the UK and Australia.
When I first moved to London mid-2014, I had the good fortune of working with a couple recruiters who set me up with some fantastic contract opportunities in web content management and social media.
I will always be grateful for the good service they provided and for their efforts in assisting me to gain a number of interviews with brands that, in all honestly, I never would've dreamed would've been interested in my profile.
However, I didn't get an interview for every role I was put forward for. In fact, I was probably lucky to get one in three. At the time I couldn't quite work out why, but now as a recruitment consultant at Salt, which will be well-known to my UK/EU, US and APAC connections, I have a much more holistic understanding of why some brands and agencies decided against my profile.
Using my experience as a recruiter and contractor, I decided to put together a few helpful tips for those who are freelancing and struggling to pick up a consistent flow of work, and for those who working in a permanent role right now and are thinking about trying their hand at freelance, but don't really know where to start.
Below is what I think makes a great freelancer in social media, digital and content:
- They have a portfolio in addition to a CV. This is an area that I did not consider when I was contracting but I can tell you with great authority as a recruiter, the freelancers I work with who have a portfolio/professional website gain more interviews than those who don't. Without debate. A portfolio or website is not just for design/creative freelancers anymore.If you're in social media/content no matter if you're a community manager with three years experience or a senior strategy director with 20, it's incredibly beneficial to have a portfolio or website so clients can see some practical examples of your previous work and gain a better understanding of the key areas where you add value to their team. Your portfolio or website doesn't need to be something ridiculously fancy either. It can be a short, sharp powerpoint or pdf. It can also even be a simple blog that you update after each project. The important thing is that it provides an insight into a few recent or high-achieving projects you've delivered and identifies the parts you were responsible for, which will, in turn, highlight your relevant skills to the hiring manager reviewing your profile.
- Their CV is maximum 2-3 pages and it is tailored. This is an obvious point for most, but there are still some freelance candidates out who have incredibly broad 10-page novels they apply with. I can tell you hiring managers and/or an internal talent acquisition specialist doesn't have time to read long, clunky essays when looking for a freelancer. In most cases, they'll be reviewing your CVs at lunch when they've finally managed to get away from their email or on the train coming home from work. A hiring manager is going to read through your CV and needs you to capture their attention right away, which is why it's so important to tailor it for the specific roles you're applying for. If you're going for a Social Strategy freelance position, then highlight your key skills and experience that promote you as a strategist. Alternatively, if you're a Social Community Manager, highlight the specific skills and experience you possess that reflects the roles and responsibilities of that position and showcases your ability. It doesn't hurt to have a couple versions of your CV that are customised for the various roles you intend to apply for too.
- They have a degree of flexibility. Personally, I was shocked at this as a freelancer, perhaps it was because all my friends were contracting in banking at the time and day rates were three times mine. However, it bit me in the proverbial many a time because there were multi-week periods where I can recall eating baked beans for dinner each night, wasn't working but had offers that were a bit below what I thought I should command for a day rate. If I could travel back in time... With the experience I've gained as a recruiter, I now advise all the candidates I work with to have the desired rate (what you want/expect to earn) and a minimum rate (what you have to earn and a figure you won't go below without serious negotiation). I'm not here to tell anyone what they're worth. If you're strong in your resolve, believe you deserve a specific day rate and won't budge, more power to you. However, the top freelancers I work with who move straight from one contract to the next have a degree of flexibility in their rate and understand what the market is paying. For them it's better to be working, gaining experience, sharpening their skills, building professional connections and continuing their evolvement as an independent consultant than sitting around waiting for the phone to ring and eating baked beans. That doesn't mean they're going out and working for peanuts (though, peanuts are delicious). They understand that companies and agencies have budgets and sometimes you've got to be a little bit flexible to achieve an outcome that benefits all parties.
- They are rockstars in and out of contract. When they're tied up for a few months in a new contract, they let us recruiters know right away, and when they're soon to be available (within 1-3 weeks) they always provide an up-to-date CV and/or portfolio. It sounds simple enough, but the talent I see move from one contract to the next are almost always exceptionally organised and have terrific communication skills.
- They always keep focus. I think having sat on both sides of the fence, I definitely can appreciate how infuriating the freelance game can be. You work your butt off and followed the recruiter's instructions to a tee: updated your CV, provided some examples of recent work, made yourself available for a 6:30 pm interview on a Thursday evening, and then had a terrific connection with the hiring manager. The recruiter calls you the next day with a tremor of devastation in their voice and politely lets you know they've decided to go with someone else. There's no getting around it, those situations suck, particularly when you're just starting out as a freelancer. You can easily begin to lose hope and start second-guessing your decision to go freelance. It's at this point I need to stop and remind you of something: you're still a rockstar! You did everything asked of you, interviewed and conducted yourself like a professional, and for whatever reason the client chose to go in another direction - this happens and it's part of the career path you've chosen. There are so many positives to take out of that experience that you need to pause for a moment and pat yourself on the back because there was most-likely two handfuls of applicants who didn't get that far. It's so important in the freelance game to be able to ride the bumps and keep a positive attitude because there are always going to be more opportunities hitting your inbox tomorrow.
Freelancing can be such a rewarding and fun experience, however, there are always ways to improve your approach. Fingers crossed some of what's written above makes sense and that some of you out there can take away a tip or two you might not have considered in your approach to picking up freelance assignments.
Thanks for reading!
Tim spent 6 years working in social media, web content, radio and publishing before trying his hand at recruitment. Tim now specialises in connecting talent at all levels with interim opportunities in social media, digital and content across the UK and Europe. If you're a freelancer in Social Media and Content, please feel free to connect or email your CV/portfolio to firstname.lastname@example.org.