A day in the life of a Freelancer

Thinking about switching to freelance or want to get tips on how to manage your day when freelancing. We asked three freelancers what they get up to on an average day.

Neil Warbuton - Senior Producer

Being a night owl and hating the sound of my alarm clock, freelancing is a tough gig! The constant tight deadlines and lack of time to acclimatise can result in a lot of night / tube reading!

After battling the crowds and wishing destruction to all public transport, I arrive at my new found place of work and enjoy a well-earned cup of tea and a free breakfast of fruit and cereal (a bacon sandwich on a Friday) I'm at my desk from 9 and re-visit my task list for the day. Being a lead event producer, this list is constantly changing. After juggling my priorities between concept, design, logistics, consumer journey and the dreaded RAMS documents, I get cracking...

My time is split between meetings, speaking to suppliers and working out how on earth to best deliver an engaging and award winning brand experience. Powered by the magic of Yorkshire tea I power through the morning. Lunch time involves walking down the Thames, reading through football news and gossip, the inevitable 'how’s your day going?' chat with the girlfriend before taking refuge in a local eatery for 10 minutes peace.

Freelancing is great, you meet many people, work on a wide range of projects and learn a lot about what makes a good agency. You are exposed to many company cultures, practices and politics. It becomes very easy to tell what makes a successful and happy agency!....and what makes a crap one. The tough part is that it can be difficult to feel part of the team, you're viewed as a 'stop gap' a 'plug to fill a hole' or simply present to serve a purpose. Where is my invite to after work drinks? Why won't you talk to me?!

To be a freelancer you need to be a chameleon, seamlessly excel in a range of environments, no agency is the same, every agency has different ways of working, am i MAC or PC!? Where does the line lie between Account Handling and Production?! Where is the bloody tea making zone?!

I love to freelance; it’s a challenge and keeps things interesting. You will be tested and are forced to really come out of your shell and stamp your mark on day one. I say do it and take the plunge!

Emily Bishop - Brand Designer

Let’s talk about the start of your day – are you an early riser or a night owl?
I wish I was an early riser but no, I'm a snooze 6 times and drag myself out of bed type. I'm definitely a night owl.

What time do you start work?
Depends on my contract, usually between 8:30am - 9:30am

Do you work from home?
Occasionally but I prefer to work in-house. Less distractions and one of the parts I like about freelance is constantly meeting new people. 


Do you work more in the morning or afternoon?
I do my best creative work in the morning but work more hours in the afternoon and evening. I have my good ideas between 9am - 1pm and then spend the afternoon making them happen.

What are your key tasks?
I work on a mix of creative, print and digital design, which I think has really helped me to get more bookings. I regularly work on branding, brand style guides, pitch documents, brochures and digital campaigns.

How do you keep motivated? Do you have any particular techniques?
Pinterest helps me a lot. I have a variety of different boards that I pin all my design inspiration to and they get me pretty excited about how I can use different techniques in future projects. I also find attending industry events like the D&AD lectures really motivating. 

What time do you tend to sign off for the day?
About 6:30pm but it depends if I have bookkeeping to do when I get home or if I'm working on a particularly exciting project and want to sketch new ideas out while I watch The Great British Bake Off. 

What’s your favourite thing about freelancing?
Meeting new people. When I moved to London three years ago I didn't really know anyone and I now have a nice group of people from different workplaces that I call my friends. The variety of the work would be my second favourite. 

And your least favourite thing about freelancing?
Bookkeeping, accounting, anything to do with spreadsheets 

What tools/apps/gadgets/things could you not live without as a freelancer?
Obviously Adobe Creative Suite but in terms of things specific to freelance, probably Wordpress as it hosts my website, my invoice template and online bookkeeping system and my sketchpad.

What skills would you say every freelancer needs?
The ability to be flexible and easy going but also know how to stand your ground. Freelancing can be really rewarding but also very nerve wracking. Always keep in touch with recruiters, stay flexible with contracts but know what you're worth. 

Stein Olsen - Senior Designer and Art Director

I walk into a company I've never worked for. As usual I don't remember the name of my given contact and try to find it on my phone before they get to me at reception. I've a head for faces, not names. That doesn't help as a freelancer. Everyone's relegated to 'Hey' and 'Alright?' until the names take. Sometimes I wonder if they notice, I'm sure they do but I pretend I get away with it.

The place looks impressive and chunky with character. A mismatch of materials, arrangement and colour with just enough structure to remain intelligent. A change from the last agency I worked for. A culturally inept call centre drone factory. No music to stimulate the higher functions, which is why everyone wears headphones. I hate that and it's all too common these days. Casual work chatter is an essential part of any creative culture in my view.

Then they come for me. I'm taken to a desk with some basic pleasantries shared. Nothing jarring just yet. I've found breaking down barriers from an early start to be an excellent way to slide into an agencies culture but it does take a day before I can unleash my darkest side. There's nothing wrong with being a little naughty, they want real people, not a designbot. Being the real me means I'm invited to agency parties and nights out, even by agencies I haven't been at for more than two years. Bonus.

I'm apprehensive at this point. It wouldn't be the first time someone's got me in to polish the proverbial or asked me if I can work in Powerpoint. I always claim ignorance of course. Who wouldn't? If ever there was a program designed to suck the creativity out of anything that would be it. XL has a better chance to inspire.

Fortunately, the briefing is not only a relief but a stroke of bloody luck. Looks like I'm working on something the size of London designing it from scratch. The NDA I just signed means I have to be misleading on details but it's possibly the biggest project this agency has ever worked on and this is one of the old school greats who's seen it all. Juicy.

I love a good briefing, it's where a lot of my better thoughts start and this one's no exception. Not so long ago I went in as a creative team to one of the major ad agencies and my writer decided he had better things to do that first day. I made a suggestion during the briefing that ran all the way. We also covered plenty more ideas during the first week and the other creative teams did their best but this one went through easily. The ECD's were pretty happy and we spent another three weeks travelling to and from Paris helping the French team keep their client. They insisted we spent the evening's gorging ourselves on amazing food and endless old fashioned cocktails on the company credit card. Earn the respect of the ECDs and they'll become your friends. Just because your freelance doesn't mean you can't have longer lasting relationships.

Time to use the brain. First comes the splurge (not what you think). Everything that goes through my mind I write down. Sometimes what seems stupid at this stage can bounce into fertile ground later. Using words that jump out at me from the brief to start me off, then I divert, thinking from instinct and experience. Write it down and move on. I can already see rich territory but I ignore it at this stage. I'm running dry so I start picking out the stuff that works for me. I'm pretty ruthless. If it doesn't sound utterly compelling I ditch it. In my opinion there should be no safe options. Other creatives will have safe options so there's no point going there. It's no way to fill a portfolio of good work or inspire an agency or client. Go strong every time.

This takes about an hour, a bit more if I'm on a role, then I go for inspiration. When I started out designing I was an idiot. I thought it all happened in my head. Looking at other people's work was cheating or copying right? Like I said, Idiot. I've collected somewhere near 6000 images over many years and they're sitting in a folder called 'inspiration' on a USB stick. I flick through them one after the other and I listen until something shouts at me. It could be anything from a colour or a shadow, a photograph or composition that just feels right. That image resonates somehow with the brief in my head and I try to figure out why. Once I do, it get's noted and I move on. My mind walks paths it would never travel alone. I think all good creatives do this. You just need to look at the rise of Pinterest to witness the importance of being a magpie. I felt distraught when ffffound shut down but I'm guessing the over abundance of bare flesh got the better of them. All those young lads who made jolly use of it can always find plenty of skin on Shutterstock. Search for anything and you'll find some girl in lingerie holding it.

It's time for lunch and I take the full hour. Sure it's the first day but this bit's important. The amount of times I've re-designed, re-thought something or come up with a killer line in my head at lunchtime or over night would be hard to count. Space to clear your mind is as much a source of inspiration as any form of reference. It takes time for your mind to change speed so you need that hour. In an horrible way, I never really stop working. It's subliminal. I should probably be charging overtime when I'm sleeping.

I spend the rest of the day putting my deck together. Describing each idea in a short and simple sentence. Anything longer or more complicated will be much harder to sell in. Then one image if possible, more if needed, that gets as close to what I intend as possible. The choice here is so important. If I'm slightly off, the idea could vanish because someone couldn't connect it to the concept. Then I flesh out any thoughts on how the idea can live beyond what I've been asked for. This is essential in my mind. Not only does it give strength to your ideas, it also opens clients to the idea of spending more money if they think it worth their while. Add value wherever you can.

The agency's booked a meeting for the end of the first day. They want to know I can do what my portfolio promises and I'm not just bluster and babble. After the presentation they confirm me for the next three weeks. The ideas were sound and well received. Development starts tomorrow. This is going to be fun.

The darkness finally takes me and I make my first truly sarcastic comment, skirting the edge of propriety. They laugh. They like me. All is good in the world.