The ins and outs of freelancing

7th November 2018

By Alice Kay

A recent Stempra event, organised by our excellent Events Coordinator Emily Head, focused on a topic of high interest to a lot of our members: freelancing. A lot of Stempra members are freelancers and many more dabble in freelancing, but making the transition from permanent position to freelancer can seem daunting.

We heard from Ruth Francis and Kerry Noble —pros at the science PR game who have mixed full-time roles with some freelancing. They both made the switch to freelancing full-time within the last couple of years, and shared their experiences and what they’ve learned from doing so.

Both Ruth and Kerry take on a wide range of jobs — ranging from conferences to projects, to copy-writing to strategic comms advice — and they both enjoy the variety that comes with that.

The big draw to freelancing is the flexibility and control that comes with it. You can choose when and how to work and fit jobs around family life in a way that can still be difficult in an office job. You can create your own ethos and atmosphere, and do things in a way that suits you. If a contract doesn’t suit, you do have the power to say no and walk away (as scary as that can be!).

One key aspect to freelancing that Ruth and Kerry both emphasised was the importance of having a good network — people you can work with, seek advice from, or who can recommend you for jobs. Making sure you have those connections before taking the plunge makes life much easier. The first thing Ruth did was make a long list of people to speak to, which she found incredibly useful. They have both also kept in touch previous employers and so can pick up work from organisations they know and trust.

It’s clear that actually taking the plunge can be quite scary, and that’s where the support network comes into play again. If a job becomes too much, you can call in another freelancer to help deliver the work (although that will impact your pay!). If you’re unsure about whether to take on a particular job, you can check around to see if anyone has worked for that client before.

Some more practical tips from the speakers include:

– Get organised! Make sure your business admin is set up before you start and keep on top of it (invoices and paperwork can quickly pile up). Develop a good filing system!
– Remember to factor the time spent doing paperwork into your pricing (it will take longer than you think)
– Research what sorts of rates to offer — speak to people, or check out the National Union of Journalists website as a guide
– Invoice early to get ahead of yourself, as it may take some time for an organisation to pay for work
– Watch for potential red flags such as bad timing, lack of communication, or uncertainty over what the job will deliver
– Take advantage of the feedback offered — freelancers are more likely to hear how their work was received
– Remember to promote yourself and help build your reputation —whether that’s with a website, social media, networking, or causal coffees with people
– Do what you’re good at — if you have a particular skill set then utilise it

Overall, the advantages to freelancing seem to outweigh the mundane or moderately terrifying aspects!

Kerry and Ruth gave incredibly useful advice so a big thank you to them. And of course, if you are thinking of making the switch and need advice, they and many other experienced freelancers can be contacted via the mailing list (

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