After a heady few weeks at five university career events in Leeds and York, ranting at students about why freelancing’s such a great way to live your life, I’ve finally sailed into calmer waters and it’s time for a little reflection.
First, a confession
I’ve essentially been conducting an experiment to see whether there truly is an appetite in Leeds for frank insight and advice on freelancing.
Sure, it’d be sensible to promote the The Human Freelancer book, but after writing a regular blog on freelancing and talking about it in front of people, I suspect that there’s a movement lurking behind this happier, honest freelancing ideology.
The book, which extols both insight and advice in print, was primarily an act of catharsis; it was never going to be a lone cash cow, which is probably why it’s been languishing on the shelves of Amazon and Lulu for over a year.
Freelancing is a way of life that can set creative people free. And, put simply, the change I want to inspire in people is bigger than just one irreverent treatise.
There’s another angle to the experiment too: I’m a bit of a show-off who doesn’t take things too seriously, so this seemed like a good excuse to engage with people on a subject I’m passionate about and have some fun too. Vain you might suggest, but if people want insight and I like sharing it – there’s a chance to make us both happier.
Yet freelancing is still surrounded by myth and misinformation
Even when I was writing the book it felt I should reach out to the communities of people who ought to be making a living doing what they enjoy as freelancers. Those people are either stuck in dead-end jobs or about to begin their professional careers, so it seemed like the latter would be easier to locate in a university city like Leeds.
My first move was to email Leeds University, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds Trinity University and York University and offer myself as a guest speaker. And after a modest wait they kindly invited me to appear at their student enterprise and freelancing career events in Yorkshire this autumn and winter.
So far I’ve participated on two panels and held three, guest speaker lectures, all of which have been very positively received by students. And that brings us right up to the present day.
I want to be clear about what I’m doing though. It’s not me telling students how to freelance, it’s more about inspiring them get on with doing it, pointing out the traps and sharing tips from lessons hard learned along my journey. I believe people are smart enough to work out the how themselves, it just needs coaxing out (although I accept that’s what some people want, so there’s practical advice thrown in for good measure).
Everything I wish I’d been told 7 years ago when I started freelancing
I’ve set myself the (hopefully) realistic goal of inspiring just a handful of students to make the leap into freelancing a few years down the line.
Not immediately, like I say in the presentation, it helps to get a crap job first while you find your place in the world. The kind of crap job you ought to do, in the absence of any better alternative at the time.
So it’s about planting a seed, a seed that lies dormant until one day, probably when they’re at their wits end, they recall that lanky fool who once ranted at them about freelancing in a Leeds university lecture theatre.
And I think it’s working. In a room of twenty-odd people you see one or two faces light-up when I talk about the type of person who suits freelancing, then lay bare the truths about freelancing in Leeds, tackle fear and confidence, and dispel unhelpful myths like job insecurity and the misguided fixation on portfolios, money and experience.
All this is sort of a selfish legacy too
I’m approaching middle-age and have yet to feel the compulsion to breed. Maybe this is just another way to leave your mark on the world using your talents – which is, after all, what this whole experiment is about.