Being a freelancer is not a failure
When a colleague at Sky News once said to me "Why do you care so much you're just a freelancer?", to say I was taken aback is an understatement. As someone working self-employed (as I preferred to label it) I always care about my work and ensure I give value to any outlet or company hiring me. On reflection, of course it said more about that colleague than it did me, but it indicated a snobbery I have often seen and felt around the work of freelancers*.
The suggestion was that because I was not at that company all the time I was less invested in its reputation and success. My work has taken me to many organisations in the last 30 years and I can assure you that I have met many full time staff that are not invested in that company's fortunes. In fact, clockwatchers and people that shirk responsibility have more often than not been staff rather than freelancers.
In mentoring sessions I have been asked about whether it is an issue that someone works in different places, doing different jobs. Sometimes it is suggested having no full time role is a failure. This could not be further from the truth. Often you need to work in different organisations and outlets to gain more skills and learn about different approaches. Imagine graduating and going straight into a company and staying there for 30 years. Your career might have progressed into management but you will have seen just one way of working, one way of treating staff and one organisational culture. Far better to have experienced more variety.
In the 25 years that I have been freelance, I have experienced many challenges that kept me growing and refreshed my skillset. Each new role I start makes me nervous but it is rewarding to advance and take on new skills. Recently I have started teaching adult education classes, offering different challenges to being a university lecturer. I have also helped launch an international podcast with a major news organisation that utilised existing skills and knowledge but has given me a whole new range of experiences.
I could not have plotted my path through my career, but I am very happy with where it has taken me and continues to do so. I would not have progressed to a management role in radio, without that rich tapestry of experience I had. A close friend once asked me why I was considering giving up being self-employed. He said I had established a brand and why throw that away. People hired me because of my experience and what I brought to each shift or project, not just because I was available.
These days the traditional staircase careers - as I call them - are not as common as they used to be. Therefore, developing a portfolio of skills and work is important. A 'portfolio career' tends to be associated with those that are older, but you can equally apply the rules to someone starting out and doing lots of jobs and different types of work.
If you are starting out and working freelance across the industry, then be proud. Do not apologise for not having a full time job. Your personality and working style might suit being your own boss more. You can be freelance for a short time and make contacts and gain experience that being in one place would not give you. Embrace the opportunities and don't be embarrassed.
*I have had lengthy conversations about whether 'freelancer' is a word, with suggestions it should just be 'freelance' but I choose to add the r. Language evolves and the dictionaries will catch up with the media lexicon eventually!
The word freelance seems to come into use in English in the early 1800s. Then it was used to refer to a medieval mercenary who would fight for whichever nation or person paid them the most.