I recently became a full-time freelancer, for those who are considering it, it’s awful… and brilliant. With lots to learn about my new lifestyle I’ve decided to interview the people who make freelancing work. Some hints and tips from the masters, that kind of thing. Welcome to the second in the series, meet Jolene Cargill.
I first met Jolene five or six years ago in Edinburgh. We lost touch until I met Jolene at the October ‘Freelance Friday’. We realised we already knew each other and laughed about how we’d last seen each other at a corset party, we hadn’t spoken since. It was only later I thought this might sound dodgy. Just to clarify to those who witnessed the conversation, it’s like a Tupperware party but with corsets, there’s a chance to try them on and buy them. They’re elegant and expensive hand-made corsets, anyway. It’s been great to be back in touch with Jolene once again, she’s lovely and her motivations for going freelance are an inspiration…
Media mad Jolene Cargill does all kinds of wholesome communications work with charities, social enterprises and ethically minded businesses. Originally from a tiny village in Lanarkshire and a graduate of Aberdeen University she moved to Edinburgh in 2001 to do a post graduate journalism diploma. During her years as a freelance journalist Jolene funded her writing pursuits with a host of part time jobs from assistant countryside ranger, waitress, dog walker, barmaid, marketing officer for a music venue and call centre worker. More than anything (except maybe The Beatles) she loves finding a good story and telling it to the world. She now considers Edinburgh her spiritual home but sometimes gets confused by salt and sauce.
1.How did you get started?
Doing PR work for the third sector was not planned. It sneaked up on me while I was working as freelance journalist and volunteering for a local media charity. I started helping with events, fundraising and PR. Then I realised I was able to use my skills as a journalist to help organisations get their messages out there. And it made me all warm and fuzzy inside. Most of the charities and voluntary groups who needed support to reach their audiences as part of their fundraising couldn’t afford PR agency rates. So I set up as a freelance PR to help plug the gap. And thanks to the North Edinburgh Business Incubator and funding from PSYBT I took on my first big contract back in 2005 beating competition from some of the top agencies. Now I get to support causes I care about. And when I can I still keep my hand in at feature writing.
2. If you could go back to when you started what advice would you give yourself?
Don’t attempt your own tax returns even if you love messing about with a good spreadsheet. Get a decent accountant that is prepared to badger you to get things in on time. I try to make my books a weekly task but accidentally forget on purpose. What else? For the sake of sanity get a good network of people around you. You will need support from kindred spirits who you can bounce ideas off. And it will motivate you to stop working at home in your PJs and get out and about if you can meet up with a fellow freelancer and share gripes. Preferably over cake.
3. What do you like best about being a freelancer?
The people I meet and the constant sense of possibility. I am driven by this sense that I can be more creative because of the sheer variety of work and the flexibility of not being bound by nine to five office culture. Above all I love constantly being tested and having to learn new skills as I go by just getting on with it. Well, except for the book keeping.
4. What do you find most challenging about being a freelancer?
Three things. Managing time, priorities and people’s expectations. Doing all the delivery, marketing, client management and accounts means I can’t take my eye off the ball on one project if another starts to get busier. If I have too much time on my hands my inner procrastinator takes over so I have learned to thrive on being busy. The adrenalin helps. And serious amounts of caffeine, which also helps when it comes to dealing with unrealistic expectations. I think to build decent relationships you have to develop a thick skin especially when clients say things like ‘What do you mean we can’t have front page in the Herald.’
5. How do you know when to stop working?
When I start twitching and/or eating all the snacks in the house. It’s great to get into the zone but not a good idea to stare at the computer screen too long. I get up every 15 minutes and do some weird stretching. That’s harder in the office as people tend to look at you strangely. It’s harder to switch off in the evenings recently since I gave in to buying a smart phone. The temptation is always there to check emails. I find it helps to arrange fun evening classes. Though if I have a deadline I have to keep going until it’s done even if that means my head spinning into the wee small hours.
6. What do you do in your breaks?
I tend to do a fair bit of pottering. I work part time from an office in Rose Street so I skulk about in town around Princes Street Gardens and St Andrews Square reading the paper and trying to resist over priced coffee. I go for long walks and drives out of the city as often as I can. If I can face sitting at the computer a bit longer of an evening I attempt a bit of creative writing. And at weekends I love to cook for family, have play time with friends or get in a bit of singing. Or more pottering indoors on the guitar.
7. Are you being paid to do what you love or do you do something else to finance what you love?
It’s both. I am being paid to do another thing that I love though it can be a trade off. With the PR work taking up so much of the week I have less time than I would like to write features.
8. What are your top money saving tips?
Avoid expensive coffee outings. If like me you are a caffeine monster make a flask of tea for working at home so you don’t need to boil the kettle a gazillion times a day. Get free business banking and allocate yourself a salary amount each month that you stick to rather than just spending whatever you have.
9. What new projects are in the pipeline?
It’s an exciting time ahead. My business name has always been my own name but with it being so busy I decided it was time to consider expansion. So I am turning over a new leaf. As of early next year I will be launching it with a new brand and website. And as for my other great love. Well, I plan to write a feature or two for Newsnet in the not too distant.
More at www.jolenec.co.uk or follow Jo on twitter @mediawummin.
If you’re an Edinburgh Freelancer why not meet Jolene and other freelancers at the next Edinburgh Freelance Friday on 16th December, 5.30pm at Sofi’s, Leith, more here.
If you enjoyed this interview you might like to read the first interview in this series: Alan McIntosh: Man of Mystery Behind The Broughton Spurtle.