35% people working across all creative sectors are self-employed, compared with 15% across the workforce as whole. In the arts the percentage of freelancers is a lot higher at almost 70% of the total work force.
So, what does it take to be a freelancer, often working in isolation from other people in your sector. Under those circumstances it can be damn hard to maintain standards and keep up motivation. Part of the answer may lie in understanding these five elements:
- Strong leadership and a principal sense of purpose.
- Access to appropriate infrastructure, equipment and resources.
- Knowledge of industry best practice, up-to-date information and robust strategies for development.
- A culture of collaboration, shared with a peer group that provides balanced perspective on achievements, normalising results.
- Formal accountability for clarity and focus, together with clearly defined key performance indicators.
Your environment dictates your performance
An environment that supports a high-achieving individual or organisation is contingent on these five essential elements.
This is easier to maintain in larger organisations that have ample resources and a well-established infrastructure, but it need not to be the exclusive prerogative of big businesses.
It is possible to build a personal high achieving environment, even when working alone in isolation as a freelancer. Because what can be achieved on a big organisational level can also be done by applying these five key concepts on a personal and individual level.
Leadership and a sense of purpose: A sense of purpose speaks for itself. It’s when you are passionate about what you do because it has true meaning for you. Leadership when working in isolation is trickier. But being a leader need not include being in charge of others—or being controlled by someone else. However, it does mean being responsible for and in control of oneself, able to express and act on one’s values and beliefs, and proactively taking action when action is called for.
If you do not have good leadership provided you have to provide this for yourself. With a true sense of purpose effective leadership of oneself becomes infinitely more possible, because a clear purpose and strong leadership go hand-in-hand.
Infrastructure, equipment and resources: Major arts and sports organisations are able to provide this for their people; warm studios with good dance floors for dancers, rehearsal and recording facilities for musicians, and appropriate practice environments for athletes and sports teams.
For a freelancer, however, it can be difficult to locate and access the right facilities and equipment, so resourcefulness, adaptability and creativity becomes key factors in solving these challenges for the lone practitioner. But then these are the personal qualities that often distinguishes a creative freelances from employed businesspeople, so make the most out the creative tools you already have in your professional “toll box”.
Industry best practice and strategies for development: Well-funded, established organisations will pay good money for skilled experts to lead training and provide professional development. When you are working alone without the benefit of highly qualified and experienced coaches, teachers and trainers it is necessary to find alternative ways to maintain standards and keep abreast of technical developments in your area of achievement.
The solution is to actively seek out professional relationships and striking up partnerships with other practitioners in your field. People with whom you have reciprocal arrangements for exchange of ideas, knowledge and services. To quote what I believe is an African proverb: If you want to go fast—go alone. If you want to go far—go together.
A peer group providing a balanced perspective, normalising results: This follows on from the point above about building a strong network of professional connections and partners. It’s no good being surrounded by fawning supporters telling you that everything you do is wonderful. To grow and develop you need likeminded people around you, with similar technical standards and shared aspirations for improvements, people who has a balanced and realistic outlook on the quality of your work.
That is not to say that positive reinforcement is not good, but it needs to come from a genuine appreciation of professional excellence. Collaboration with people who are encouraging but also able to tell you the truth about your work is essential.
Accountability and key performance indicators: The ultimate moment of accountability for the performing artist is the performance, for the athlete it is the competition. If you have had the benefit of working with an established organisation you will have been held accountable for ongoing development along the way in rehearsals and practice sessions by directors, coaches, teachers, and probably also by a high performing peer group.
For the sole operator it is harder to do this alone. Especially since you are not only responsible for your own personal development, but perhaps also for the successful management of an entire project. It comes down to smart project planning with clear objectives and sensible goal setting.
It’s tough to do all this when you’re on your own but with the right support it is possible. I work with my clients to help them explore value driven leadership of self, finding the right circumstances and equipment, discover relevant knowledge and information, connect with likeminded professionals, and establish goals and objectives that will keep them on track.
Together we create a bespoke working environment that is right for them, enabling them to maximise their personal potential so they can get to where they want to be.
It’s not easy.
If it was easy everybody would do it.
So don’t wish for it to be easier.
Wish to become better at it.