I’ve been meaning to write a post for ages about how I freelance in PR while travelling, because people always ask me about it and it’s one of those things that seems like the most daunting thing in the world until you actually do it.
To give a bit of background, before living in Melbourne, I lived in France for six months while I did a ski season. After five knackering weeks working as a chalet host, I got sacked (happiest day of my life) and started freelancing in PR, working remotely from my laptop in my tiny studio flat. I founded Cucumber Rose, the brand I housed my freelance PR work under, and took on multiple projects for a range of different clients, mostly based back in the UK. I was suddenly able to work as a digital nomad for the first time, and it gave me a newfound confidence in myself and in my work, because when you freelance you have to do it all yourself. Everything from finding work, liaising with clients, sending invoices, chasing late payments, actually doing the work – it’s all on you.
The first two weeks were tense, as I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands and – to start with – no idea where to begin. Luckily, as the time difference was only an hour or so difference, I was able to utilise my network in the UK that I’d been building through uni and the first few years of my career, so I could quickly find work and source my own clients. Soon I was working half as much as I had done in Bristol, but earning nearly twice as much. It was ridiculous how perfectly it all worked out, and I and I felt like a smug skibum for the remaining 4 months of the season. In the same way I was used to pitching products and stories to the press, suddenly I had to pitch myself to potential clients and it was the most career shaping, confidence building thing I’ve ever had to do.
As I’m writing this, I’m currently living and working in Melbourne, Australia. I’m not doing the same thing as I did in France, where I had a bunch of different clients all based in the UK, purely because the time difference makes it awkward and the earning potential in Australia for a PR account manager is higher than at home, so it makes my life a lot more straightforward to take on short-term freelance contracts here instead.
Here is a list of tips I’d give anyone considering going freelance, wanting to continue their PR career as they travel, or just curious to know what makes it work for me. The things listed below make it possible for me to organise myself, and organisation is key to allow me (or you) to do this wherever in the world, or at least wherever there’s Wifi…
- Make a spreadsheet (or five)
I don’t just mean a fancy looking to-do list. When you’re working as a freelancer, keeping on track of everything is really important because you need to treat your work as a business. This is more for your own benefit than anyone else’s, and it’s not all just for tax reasons. It helps to visualise how much you’ve improved since starting and allows you to work out whether you’re charging the right amount per project.
When I was freelancing in France, I’d also keep track of my hours on my spreadsheet and note down the time taken on a project because I’d sometimes be paid hourly instead of my day rate. It’s also good to keep track of how much you’ve charged each client, because you don’t want to get confused and offer them a completely different rate the second time you complete a project. It sounds basic, but is easy to forget when you’re discussing multiple projects at once all requiring a slightly different skill set.
I work from a few spreadsheets to keep myself organised. I have one that lists my 2019 earnings and savings, broken down by month. This is the most important one I work from. The columns I have on here are broken down into: dates worked, date paid, employer, invoice, gross, net amount, tax paid, SA (superannuation which is basically my australian pension that I’ll be able to claim back when I leave the country), savings and spend. When in doubt, it normally says all of these details on your payslips so just have a read and fill it in from there. It’s also a good idea to create a “expenses” tab, and list all your work related expenses so you can include these when you do your tax return.
This spreadsheet allows me to clearly see how much I’ve earned each month, how much I can save and whether I’m on track for a successful month overall. I often set myself a specific target to reach by the end of the month. I find that having a set number written down motivates me to pick up extra projects and work more efficiently, to make sure I hit my target.
2. Curate a little black book of contacts
When you’re working for yourself, you often have to think really hard about who you’ve worked with previously so you can organically start a conversation, offering genuinely useful help, rather than just spamming strangers with offers of your time.
In whatever format you find useful (whether that be a notebook, spreadsheet, Word doc etc), create a list of all the people you’ve come into contact with through work. Split it into tabs and go through the lists and send an initial email to everyone on there to let them know what you’re up to and that you’ve available to work. Attach a copy of your CV, a link to your (up to date) Linked In profile and an email signature with all your contact details to make it as easy as possible for people to get back to you. Follow this email up with a call about a week later, and then I usually use a colour coding system to make a note of people’s responses. If they’re interested and you think some work could come from it, mark them in green. If they’re friendly and it’s a warm lead but not 100%, mark them in orange. If they tell you to piss off, mark them in red. You get the idea.
You can include a tab listing all the brands/organisations/individuals that you’d like to work with in the future, and spend a bit of time reaching out to them as well by phone or by email. If you write an email with a genuine list of reasons you think you’d be able to help a company and offer your services, with solid examples of your previous work, you’d be surprised how many people will come back and ask for a chat. You can aim as high as you like. The beauty of freelancing is you can make the decisions about who you pitch yourself to, so you can have a bit of fun with it. If your online presence is faultless, there’s no reason the brand of your dreams won’t come back and offer you work.
If you are working remotely and are based nowhere near the people you’re contacting, it doesn’t necessarily matter, as long as you make it clear you’re a remote freelancer. To be honest, some companies just don’t like working with people who are nowhere to be seen and can’t come into the office, which is totally fair enough. But there are plenty that do, so this shouldn’t hold you back.
3. Write a list of goals
This one sounds a bit cringe, but hear me out.
Freelancing can get a bit frustrating at times and it can make you question why you’re not just getting a full-time role to adorn your CV with more solid experience (I’m talking about this from a PR perspective, but I guess you can apply this to most careers), as freelancing can be a massive ballache when you’re having a bad day. So, I find that writing a list of goals or things I want to do makes it easier to stay motivated and push forwards.
Mine are often travelling goals, holidays or festivals I want to do, set amounts of money I want to earn in a certain month – anything that reminds me why I work so hard.
4. Save 50% of what you earn
This might seem a little excessive and it’s not for everyone, but when you’re doing what I’m currently doing and travelling while you work, saving half of what you earn is a really easy way to organise your money – both in your mind and in your bank account.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely been easier to save 50% of my wages since being in Aus, because I’m getting paid weekly and earning slightly more than I would in the UK, but I’d recommend it anyway as a basic guide. This saving plan has helped me so much while travelling, as it lets me think ahead and will enable me to take some time off work too in the upcoming months. For example, me and the girls are going to be taking three months off after our farm work to travel down the east coast of Australia, and without saving a shit-ton of money, this wouldn’t be possible.
If this seems like a massive jump to begin with, start with splitting your earnings in thirds so for example:
- 33% = Savings
- 33% = Bills, rent, travel etc.
- 33% = Life (going out, food, fun)
This makes it easy to work out how much you have left to spend each month, and makes it easy to follow moving forwards. Realistically, I end up f***ing this up at least every other month by ‘treating myself’ to something unnecessary, but I still aim for this when I can to keep a clear idea in my head and make random splurges less financially damaging in the long run.
5. Create a professional email signature
I know this sounds patronising AF, but so many people don’t bother creating an email signature and it makes it so much less likely for people to get back to you and take you seriously. It’s the easiest thing to do, and it makes it so much easier for potential clients to respond and be given an accurate first impression.
You need to include: your name, phone number, email address, website address (and Instagram handle if you’re pitching yourself as someone who works in social media). It’s also worth creating a logo on Canva and including this too if you can, or paying someone to do it for you if design’s not your thing. Canva has loads of templates though so it’s not too tricky.
6. Have your own domain name and email address
Having a personalised domain name and email address (e.g. mine’s firstname.lastname@example.org) looks a lot more professional and it’s really easy to set up, so it can be worth looking into. This point’s pretty self-explanatory so I won’t go into too much detail.
7. Create an online portfolio of your existing work
When I worked in France, I created a website for Cucumber Rose and directed my clients to this to check out my list of services. At the moment, I’m working as a freelancer but not under a brand name, so at the moment I just use my blog and say that it’s a good place online to find examples of my writing, but I should up my game a bit really and feature more examples of national and regional coverage I’ve achieved and stuff like that.
The more you can feature the better, really. Anything from examples of writing, photography, posts about previous internships or work experience placements. I have a tab on my website especially designed to house stuff like this, called ‘PR Portfolio’. If you don’t want to make an actual website, you can use your Linked In profile to the same effect, and send potential clients a link to your profile to guide them. Having a website looks way more professional though and will result in more work in the long run.
8. Utilise your calendar
My friends take the piss out of me because I’m probably more obsessively organised than the average person, but keeping track of your time is one of the top three most important things when it comes to working for yourself. I use Apple calendars, which I like because my laptop, phone and iPad all sync together so it makes it really easy to stay on top of my meetings, appointments etc.
9. Dedicate time to new business pitching
When you get into the swing of freelancing, it can be easy to get lazy and depend on the same clients each month, which is great when there’s a consistent workflow coming in and those clients need your services on an ongoing basis, but it’s good to keep generating new work relationships and leads throughout the months.
Dedicate a few hours a week to contact new brands, companies and people you’d like to work for and make a note of the progress you’ve made on your list of contacts. I always have a notes column furthest left on whichever spreadsheet, where I’ll write the date of my last action and then a note of how it’s progressed. E.g. “13/03 – Emailed my CV, she responded to say they may have work for me in April. Call back on the 19th.”
10. Use Facebook groups to find work
This is a more practical finding-work tip, but I wanted to include it because I was surprised how much work I managed to get through joining different Facebook groups designed for digital, remote PR freelancers. Everyone is so friendly and helpful and you can talk to other people on there about their issues and get sound advice too.
The ones I’d recommend from my experience are:
- Marketing and Digital Freelancers
- PR Communications South West
- MoonHub: Bristol Networking Freelance Club
- Freelance PRs
- Freelance PRs – JOBS GROUP
- Freelancing Females
Hope these points were vaguely helpful, as always if you have any questions feel free to comment below or email me. I should also add, if you’re a PR, marketing or communications freelancer looking for work in Bristol, send your CV through to email@example.com as they may be able to link you up. They have loads of permanent roles on too, so do get in touch.