by Kierston Drier
Film and television production is a freelance industry. And freelance industries are complicated for the people they employ. In one corner, we have making your own working hours, as much free time as you desire, and the potential to make a lot of money when you do work. In the other corner we long stretches without work, the stress of a feast-or-famine work frame and FOMO when multiple jobs come our way at once. And worse still, if we are looking to advance our careers while still getting calls for the same type of work. How do we manage in the high-octane, fast-paced world that is freelance?
As a freelancer who has made a good living in an expensive city I’m here today to share a few tips with anyone is struggling or juggling to find balance in this intense industry.
The 80/20 Rule
This is my golden rule. You see it in lifestyle-diets : eat eighty percent healthy and twenty percent whatever you want. I correlate this to my working life. Eighty percent of the time I spend work that keeps my lights on. I like all the jobs I take but these jobs have a primary purpose- they pay my bills.
The other twenty percent of my working time is spent on passion projects. These passion projects fall under a number of headings- work I do on a friends’ project, work I do for free as a favor, or work I do for lower than a normal rate in order to gain a new skill of polish an old one. Some of them go on my resume and some I do just be help out a buddy. But all together- these are professional or semi-professional jobs I do, that I do purply because I want to. What has been wonderful about this twenty percent rule, is that every so often, this jobs or favors, lead me to a lucrative gig that I also enjoy doing, that can bleed over into the eighty percent of my jobs that pay my bills. That is a wonderful place to be in!
2. Utilize your weekends. Mostly.
The traditional Monday-Friday 9-5 is quickly disappearing. And while some people mourn that, freelancers may embrace it. You may not have a traditional 5 day, 40 hours work-week. You may be working 12 hour days, or you may have shifting schedules that don’t give you two days off in a row. No matter how crazy or unpredictable your schedule can be, you can still utilize these tools. I use this strategy when I’m working a standard set-based 12 hour day with two days off.
Pick two days where you can carve out free time. Even if it is only for a few hours.
On one of these days, plan to do nothing related to work. Seriously. Go out, see your friends, read a book, watch TV, take a bubble bath, go for a run. Live your life.
On the other day, divide the free time in half. Spend one half cleaning up your life, in whatever form you may need- manage your meal prep, check your emails, do your laundry. Whatever you have to do that you can’t find time for when you are working night-shoot crazy hours and have barely had time to wash the sweat off.
In the other half of the last day, do a work related thing that matters to your personal development. Work on a script you’ve been developing. Edit a reel you’ve been working on. Coordinate with creative partners on creative projects.
The bottom line here, is use maximum efficiency with the free time that you do have while still being able to live your life. If you have an off season, where you can potentially have weeks at a time free, have a plan of attack to devote more time to your creative projects.
3. Build Yourself A Float
Another vital rule I utilized early on in my career and reaped benefits from later. I did whatever I could when I had an influx of jobs to live below my means. I put aside a small stipend of liquid assets to utilize when lean months came. This helped me out by cutting down on the stress and panic that comes with the mindset of “I need a job, any job! I have to pay rent!” It allowed me to carefully weigh my options when jobs came my way, and gave me the freedom to choose to the best professional option for myself.
Understandably, this isn’t always an option everyone has access too. Sometimes jobs are scarce and you need to take whatever comes your way. Take the jobs you need, and set aside whatever you can for a rainy day. A good plan in freelance is have two to three months of basic living expenses saved up for when jobs are harder to find.
4. Find An Inspiring Side Gig.
Get a hobby for those dry spells. And make it something you love. Whether you blog about your favorite TV shows, write reviews for a local paper or online magazine, do freelance editing or script covering on the side, whatever helps keep your creative passions sharp and inspired. If it adds a little money to your pocket book as well, all the better. Freelance is all about versatility. Not just in taking on different jobs with different people, but with your ability to be hired for your many professional facets. What starts as a hobby today, can become a marketable and valuable professional skill later.
The freelance game isn’t always easy, but it can be hugely rewarding! For better or worse, our society is moving more and more towards a freelance and contract-based economy. It is a system, but with a little work and strategic planning, you can make it work for you in a very effective way.
Do you have any freelance tips? We’d love to hear about them!